WASHINGTON -- Lawyers for John Demjanjuk, the retired Ohio autoworker now under death sentence in Israel for Nazi war crimes, urged a federal appeals court yesterday to order the U.S. government to bring him home and give back his U.S. citizenship.
Demjanjuk, his attorneys argued, was the victim of a "fraud on the court" by Justice Department lawyers who intentionally withheld for years information that would show he was not "Ivan the Terrible," the man who ran the gas chamber motors that killed millions of Jews at the Treblinka death camp.
In a 61-page legal brief, the lawyers urged the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati to undo decisions that took away Demjanjuk's citizenship, ordered him deported to what was then the Soviet Union, then extradited him to Israel for the war crimes trial that led to his conviction and a sentence to be hanged.
"In all three of those cases, an inequitable and unjust result occurred: the government prosecuted the wrong person without fully disclosing exonerating evidence, resulting in the wrongful deprivation of Demjanjuk's citizenship and liberty," the brief contended.
The brief said that documents the Justice Department has had in its files since August 1978 "show that another person named Ivan Marchenko" was Ivan the Terrible.
The Justice Department is expected to file a brief today arguing that the appeals court has no power to undo what happened to Demjanjuk and that, even if it does, it still should leave matters as they are.
The department has contended that there is sufficient evidence that Demjanjuk was Ivan the Terrible and that only the Israeli Supreme Court can free him from the Israeli conviction.
His lawyers said that if the U.S. government wants to start action anew against Demjanjuk, it then would be free to do so, "writing on a clean slate . . . untainted by fraud."