U.S. court's Demjanjuk case ruling rejected Not legally bound, Israel asserts

August 05, 1993|By New York Times News Service

JERUSALEM -- The Israeli Justice Ministry, which is considering a petition that would require John Demjanjuk to stand trial for war crimes other than the one he was acquitted of by the Israeli Supreme Court, said a ruling by a U.S. court overturning Mr. Demjanjuk's extradition order and challenging Israel's right to try him for other crimes "is not legally binding on the state of Israel."

The statement came in response to a decision Tuesday by the United States appeals court. The court ruled that Mr. Demjanjuk should not be tried in Israel for any other wartime offenses. The U.S. court said Mr. Demjanjuk's extradition was concerned only with the charge that he was the sadistic camp guard known as "Ivan the Terrible," who worked at the Treblinka death camp in Poland during the Nazi occupation.

"The court in Cincinnati determined that Mr. Demjanjuk was extradited only to stand trial for being Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka, and any other charge is a different crime which he was not extradited for," the ministry statement read. "The question of what is a different crime in the case of Demjanjuk is a legal question which the Supreme Court has not ruled on."

The Israeli Supreme Court quashed Mr. Demjanjuk's 1988 death sentence, saying there was "reasonable doubt" that he was the guard "Ivan" at Treblinka, where 870,000 Jews were killed in 1942 and 1943.

But the court did not absolve the retired auto worker, 73, who settled in Cleveland after the war, of war crimes. The court said that evidence showed that Mr. Demjanjuk served as a guard at the Sobibor, Flossenburg and Regensburg death camps.

The justices refused to charge Mr. Demjanjuk with these offenses, saying he had not been given a chance to defend himself against the accusations. The justices also said that after more than seven years in prison too much time had elapsed to begin new judicial proceedings.

But just as it appeared that Mr. Demjanjuk would go free, a second Supreme Court panel agreed to a hearing yesterday to decide if Mr. Demjanjuk could stand trial based on evidence that he was a guard at other camps.

Mr. Demjanjuk's lawyer predicted he would be set free and allowed to return to the United States. "The next weekend Mr. Demjanjuk will be on a plane home to Cleveland in the United States," Yoram Sheftel said.

The ministry also questioned the American court's ruling that Mr. Demjanjuk's security was threatened in Israel, saying "there is no factual basis for this."

Efraim Zuroff, the director of the the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, which searches for Nazi war criminals, said his organization would join the two Israelis challenging the Supreme Court decision, based on evidence that Mr. Demjanjuk was a guard at the Sobibor camp.

"People have to understand Sobibor was not a summer camp," he said. "Those involved in those activities murdered 250,000 innocent men, women and children."

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