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Way Paved to Send Nazi Suspect to Israel

December 17, 1985|PHILIP HAGER | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court refused Monday to block the deportation of Nazi war crimes suspect John Demjanjuk, a 65-year-old retired auto worker alleged to be "Ivan the Terrible," an executioner at a camp where hundreds of thousands of Jews were put to death.

The justices, in a brief order, refused to hear Demjanjuk's appeal of a lower court ruling last summer approving his deportation to his native Soviet Union.

Could Face Execution

The action removes a key obstacle to a plan by the Justice Department to extradite Demjanjuk to face charges in Israel under a law there that provides for executions of persons convicted of murdering or persecuting Jews during the Nazi regime.

Alvin D. Lodish, an attorney for the department's Office of International Affairs, said that the government has chosen to proceed with extradition to Israel, rather than deportation to the Soviet Union, in the belief that extradition "takes precedence" in such cases.

Demjanjuk would be the first person to be tried in that country for war crimes since Adolf Eichmann, who was captured in Argentina, convicted in Israel in 1961 and hanged in 1962. It would also be the first time that the United States has delivered a war crimes suspect to Israel since the two countries signed an extradition treaty in 1963.

Lawyers for Demjanjuk, expressing dismay at the court's action Monday, said they plan to file a separate appeal to the justices this week challenging his impending extradition.

"This is a tragic case of mistaken identity," attorney Mark O'Connor of Buffalo, N. Y., said. "The state of Israel has no independent evidence against him."

Demjanjuk, now being held in a prison hospital, is accused of being a guard and gas chamber operator at Treblinka, Poland, where 900,000 Jews were killed in 1942 and 1943. Witnesses, identifying Demjanjuk from photographs, said that he was called "Ivan the Terrible" at the death camp. One witness said in an affidavit that "Ivan" first tortured prisoners with weapons as they entered the gas chamber and then released the poison gas that killed them.

Demjanjuk, a Ukrainian, said he was serving in the Soviet army when he was captured by the Germans. He came to this country in 1952 and took a job in Cleveland, becoming a naturalized citizen in 1958. In 1977, the United States began proceedings, eventually successful, to revoke his citizenship. A federal appeals court in Cincinnati last June upheld the U.S. request for his deportation.

In his appeal to the Supreme Court (Demjanjuk vs. U.S., 85-845), Demjanjuk, still maintaining his innocence of the war crimes, contended that he was the victim of fabricated evidence supplied by the Soviet KGB.

In other action, the court:

--Refused to hear an appeal from a drunk-driving suspect in Minnesota who was denied the chance to consult with a lawyer before deciding whether to take a blood alcohol test. The driver refused to take the test, and her license was suspended for one year.

'Implied Consent' Laws

Justices Byron R. White and John Paul Stevens voted to review the case (Nyflot vs. Minnesota, 85-636), although they acknowledged that most lower courts have ruled that barring access to an attorney in such circumstances does not violate the constitutional right to counsel.

In California, as in many other states with "implied consent" laws, motorists suspected of drunk driving are not entitled to counsel before the tests, according to the California Highway Patrol.

--Refused to review an appeal by a Baptist Church school in Charles City, Iowa, that contended it should receive the same exemption from state compulsory education and academic standards laws that previously had been granted to the Amish (Pruessner vs. Benton, 85-671). The Iowa Supreme Court said that the exception was justified for Amish children because they led more "isolated lives" than children of other religious groups.

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