Accused mass murderer Andrija Artukovic was compared to Adolf Hitler by a federal prosecutor Thursday at the start of an extradition hearing in Los Angeles on Yugoslav war crimes charges.
Artukovic, 85, who has been judged to be mentally incompetent on some days and competent on others, smiled frequently as he sat in a wheelchair during the hearing in Los Angeles federal court.
Clad in a pair of blue pajamas and a hospital robe, the former minister of the interior of Croatia during World War II chatted happily with a Serbo-Croatian court translator during most of the hearing and at one point waved to his wife and family, who were among the courtroom spectators.
Artukovic, who suffers a variety of heart and brain problems connected with age, appeared more alert than at any other court proceeding since his arrest Nov. 14 on the Yugoslav charges.
But both his son and his lawyer maintained that Artukovic really had no idea of what was taking place in the courtroom.
"He was having a wonderful time, sitting there like a happy idiot," said his defense lawyer, Gary B. Fleischman. "I asked him if he knew it was a murder trial, and he said no."
"There's no question Dad was in pretty good shape today, but I don't believe he realized why he was in court today," added Artukovic's son, Rad, a Los Angeles stockbroker who has crusaded for his father's release.
Assistant U.S. Atty. David Nimmer, in a brief presentation of Yugoslavia's extradition request, said Yugoslavia's concern in prosecuting Artukovic is the same as that of the United States at the Nuremberg war crimes trials after World War II--to impose just punishment.
He called Artukovic "one of the overlords of a Fascist . . . state established by the Nazis" and said that as minister of the interior, Artukovic was head of the Ustasha police, which embarked on a "campaign of terror" against Serbs and Jews during World War II.
The Ustasha, Nimmer said, exceeded the atrocities of Hitler's SS and Gestapo in what amounted to a religious war by Croatian forces against Serbian Orthodox Christians during World War II.
Although Yugoslavia has accused Artukovic of complicity in the mass murder of 770,000 Serbs, Jews and Gypsies, Nimmer focused only on a small number of specific allegations against Artukovic in outlining the Yugolslav charges.
He said that "on a day in 1941" Artukovic ordered the murder of 500 Serbian civilians in reprisal for the killing of 500 members of the Ustasha.
Nimmer also charged that as Croatian interior minister, Artukovic had spoken of solving "the Jewish problem" in Croatia in the same way that Germany had solved it. He said Artukovic was "bent on the extermination of the Jewish race" and that his "vitriol was matched only by Hitler and the writings of (Nazi propagandist) Julius Streicher."
On one occasion, Nimmer said, Artukovic ordered 400 Jews taken to a concentration camp, then had them shot to death outside the camp because it was already full.
U.S. Magistrate Volney V. Brown Jr. accepted a massive file of documents from Yugoslavia as evidence in the extradition case, but he stopped the hearing after defense objections that the U.S. government had not provided English transcripts of the documents within a two-month time period.
Nimmer protested that there is no such time requirement for producing translated documents in the U.S. extradition treaty with Yugoslavia, but Brown said he would delay a resolution of the question until resumption of the hearing on Monday.
In contrast to requirements in other court proceedings, an extradition case requires only that the government prove "probable cause" that the Yugoslav claims against Artukovic are true. Both Nimmer and Fleischman said after Thursday's hearing that the actual evidence in the case will not be introduced during the proceeding.
'We Can't Challenge'
"This is one of the dreadful things about extradition proceedings," Fleischman said. "This totalitarian country (Yugoslavia)can say whatever it wants, and we can't challenge the claims or question the alleged witnesses in court. It's the law."
Under federal law, magistrates are assigned to extradition matters. If Brown decides that Yugoslavia's request is valid, he will issue a certificate of extradictability to the secretary of state. Fleischman could then appeal the results of the hearing on general grounds that Artukovic was denied due process or a fair hearing.
Chief U.S. District Judge Manuel L. Real will hear any appeal.
Outside the courtroom after the hearing, Irv Rubin, head of the Jewish Defense League, taunted Artukovic as he was wheeled away by U.S. Marshals.
"Your days are numbered, Artukovic," he yelled.
Jewish Defense League members also harassed Fleischman, who is Jewish, outside the U.S. Court House in downtown Los Angeles, calling him a "pig" and a "traitor." One man spit in Fleischman's face, and U.S. marshals were summoned to escort the attorney to his car.