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Soviets Should Not Try Linnas, Immigrants Tell Meese : U.S. Urged to Conduct Nazi Crime Trials

March 06, 1987|ROBERT GILLETTE | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Six groups representing Americans of Baltic and Ukrainian extraction urged Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III Thursday not to deport Karl Linnas, an accused Nazi collaborator, to the Soviet Union.

Linnas, 67, is a retired land surveyor from Long Island who has been accused of running a Nazi concentration camp in his native Estonia, which the Soviet Union annexed during World War II. A federal court stripped him of his citizenship in 1981, and his appeals were exhausted in January when the Supreme Court declined to hear his case.

"At a time when Jews are being beaten in the streets of Moscow for protesting (against emigration restrictions), I don't think it is right to be sending someone to the Soviet Union for justice," said Mari-Ann Rikken of the Estonian-American National Council.

Gets March 15 Deadline

However, a Justice Department spokesman said that Meese has given Linnas until March 15 to find an alternative country to accept him. When the deadline expires, Meese told a news conference: "I will take appropriate action. . . . I will make a decision at that time."

The government maintains that the Soviet Union is the only country willing to accept Linnas. His lawyer, former Atty. Gen. Ramsey Clark, has argued that the government has offered insufficient proof that no alternative exists.

The six groups that met with Meese Thursday told him that accused Nazi collaborators should be tried for war crimes in the United States rather than deported to the Soviet Union. Although legal experts generally have agreed that U.S. courts have no jurisdiction over charges of war crimes committed outside U.S. territory, the six groups said that a legal basis could be found for such trials in the United States.

Face Non-Jury Trials

At present, suspected Nazi collaborators are not tried on war crimes charges but are subject to civil, non-jury trials to decide whether they obtained citizenship illegally by failing to report wartime activities.

Major Jewish groups are lobbying for Linnas' immediate deportation to the Soviet Union. The World Jewish Congress and the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles have called on Meese to hand him over immediately to the Soviet Union, where he was sentenced to death in absentia in 1962. He would be the first naturalized American to be stripped of his citizenship by the federal civil courts and deported to the Soviet Union to face a pending death sentence.

The Jewish groups broadly support the Justice Department's Nazi-hunting unit, the Office of Special Investigations. The OSI contends that videotaped testimony by Soviet witnesses and documents--which form the bulk of evidence in many of its cases--is no less valid than evidence from other countries.

Evidence Evokes Misgivings

Critics, however, argue that the Soviet Union has a long history of manipulating evidence, especially eyewitness testimony supplied under the control of a Soviet prosecutor. While most federal courts have accepted Soviet evidence, some federal judges have expressed misgivings and a few have rejected it.

In the Linnas case, testimony linking him to wartime atrocities, including the murder of Jews in the Estonian city of Tartu, came from the Soviet Union in the form of videotaped testimony from four witnesses who also had appeared at the 1962 trial .

The Soviets also supplied documents bearing Linnas' signature as chief of a prison and concentration camp in Tartu. An FBI expert testified in his 1981 trial that there were "strong indications" that the signature was authentic.

Testimony by Co-Worker

In addition, a Long Island co-worker testified that Linnas told him in the early 1960s that he had been a camp guard. Lawrence W. Schilling, an attorney in Clark's firm who is also representing Linnas, said that this testimony is "in dispute."

In revoking Linnas' citizenship in 1981, federal district Judge Jacob Mishler said that the evidence "overwhelmingly" supported the government's case. Mishler noted also that Linnas had "failed to testify at trial on his own behalf."

Linnas' daughter Anu explained that his former attorney, Ivars Berzins, advised Linnas to stonewall the government in the belief that "it would all blow over" and that the government would never deport a former refugee to the Soviet Union.

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