Court orders U.S. to let Demjanjuk in Temporary stay would allow him to argue case

August 04, 1993|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- A federal appeals court ordered the U.S. government yesterday to allow former Ohio auto worker John Demjanjuk to return to this country from Israel, where he has just won a reprieve from hanging for Nazi war crimes.

A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati said Demjanjuk must be allowed to come home at least temporarily, to help his lawyers fight a court battle over his desire to spend the rest of his life in the United States. He is now 73.

The Circuit Court is overseeing that battle as it ponders the possibility that U.S. officials acted illegally when they forced his extradition seven years ago to Israel to be tried as a Nazi war criminal.

The new decision to require Demjanjuk's temporary return could be carried out only if it survives an appeal that the Justice Department appears likely to pursue, and only if Israel were willing to give up Demjanjuk so he could return. That probably would depend upon diplomatic bargaining between the two countries.

The Justice Department said only that it was reviewing the new court order, to decide whether it wanted to appeal, and how. Its options are to go directly to the Supreme Court and ask it to block the three-judge court's return order, or to first make that plea to the full 14-member Circuit Court in Cincinnati.

The new ruling deepened the international legal controversy over Demjanjuk's future. He is at the center of complex disputes moving ahead both in this country and in Israel, and his legal fate appears to depend on the outcomes in both nations.

At this point, Demjanjuk is not free to leave Israel to go anywhere. He was freed temporarily, after Thursday's ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court wiping out a war crimes conviction based on the theory that he was "Ivan the Terrible," a sadistic Nazi guard and gas chamber operator at the death camp at Treblinka, Poland, during World War II.

He was due to go temporarily to his native land, Ukraine, but was promptly put back in jail in Israel while the Israeli Supreme Court weighs a new plea by a private organization and a private individual to permit another prosecution for different Nazi war crimes -- specifically, charges that he was a Nazi guard at the Sobibor death camp, and at another prison camp.

A hearing on the potential for new charges is set for August 11 -- a date the Israeli court refused yesterday to move up, as lawyers for Demjanjuk had asked.

The Circuit Court in Cincinnati, in its new decision yesterday, indicated that it would be a violation of international law if Israel put Demjanjuk on trial on new war crimes charges. It noted that it had ordered him sent to Israel seven years ago only to be tried on the charge of being "Ivan."

If there is no new prosecution in Israel, Demjanjuk would then be free to be sent out of that country -- including back to the United States, if the Cincinnati court's new ruling remains intact.

A legal expert in Israel predicted yesterday that Israel's highest court would be unlikely to clear the way for a new prosecution of Demjanjuk.

Kenneth Mann, a law professor at Tel Aviv University, said that the court last week had said that it would be "unreasonable" to force Demjanjuk to try to mount an entirely new defense to added Nazi war crimes charges.

That decision, Mr. Mann said from his home in the Tel Aviv suburb of Kfar Shamaryahu, appeared to "close out the possibility of going any further" with a new trial.

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