Within an hour of the denial of a final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, accused Nazi war criminal Andrija Artukovic was extradited today, ending a 35-year fight to avoid returning to Yugoslavia to face charges of ordering thousands of murders during World War II.
The 86-year-old Seal Beach resident--who is legally blind, suffering from a heart condition and sometimes mentally confused--was placed aboard a Yugoslavia Air Lines plane at Kennedy International Airport shortly before 1 a.m. New York time and flown to Zagreb, accompanied by U.S. marshals and a physician.
The U.S. Justice Department acted swiftly after Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist denied at midnight a telegraphed "last hope" appeal filed by Artukovic's lawyers to stay the extradition.
The last hours the frail, gray-haired defendant spent in the United States started about noon Tuesday when two federal appeals court judges in Los Angeles denied an emergency stay of extradition.
No 'Serious Question'
Judges Harry Pregerson and Alex Kozinski of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order holding that Artukovic's appeal from an extradition order did not present a "serious legal question." They said he could defend himself at a trial in Yugoslavia.
Assistant. U.S. Atty. David Nimmer, head of a three-member government team of lawyers who prosecuted Artukovic, said Artukovic was taken from a federal prison ward at Terminal Island and flown to New York City at mid-afternoon Tuesday.
Artukovic's attorneys, Gary B. Fleischman and Michael P. Dacquisto, were working hurriedly on a three-page telegram to Justice Rehnquist as their client was heading for New York.
"It is appalling that they removed him from the country without letting the old man say goodby to his wife and five children and consult with counsel," Fleischman said today. "We were never permitted an appeal. I think this whole matter has been a travesty of repeated violations of basic due process, including the summary dismissal of our appeal."
"Why did they take this old man?" Fleischman asked in an interview. "It's interesting that a few weeks ago he thought he was in Yugoslavia. They've moved his body but physically they have not made any change in his emotional state. They are going to punish him and he doesn't know they're doing it."
'15 Months of Hearings'
Nimmer said, however, that, "although none of the victims of Nazi genocide ever received any sort of due process, this country afforded Artukovic 15 months of hearings. The courts received all his evidence and considered all his arguments. Only then did each of the four levels of federal courts that reviewed this case conclude that Artukovic must face trial in Yugoslavia for thousands of acts of murder. The government's position has been vindicated."
Yugoslavia has sought Artukovic's extradition since the early 1950s. Artukovic came to the United States on a false passport in 1948. He is accused of complicity in the deaths of thousands of Serbs, Jews and Gypsies while serving as interior minister of the Nazi puppet state of Croatia during the 1940s.
He has denied the charges, maintaining that affidavits accusing him of war crimes were based on lies made up to punish him for being anti-communist.