WASHINGTON — Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall temporarily blocked the deportation Monday of Karl Linnas, a Nazi war crimes suspect, until the full court decides whether Linnas should be sent to the Soviet Union to face a pending death sentence.
The delay, as Linnas faced a 5 p.m. deadline for deportation to the Soviet Union, the only country that has agreed to accept him, marked the third time the Supreme Court has considered his appeals since last December, when three justices--one fewer than necessary--voted to accept the case for full review.
Order May Be Vacated
In a brief order, Marshall, who was not among those voting to hear the case in December, extended an emergency stay of deportation granted by the federal appeals court in New York, "pending further order of the court." The full Supreme Court is scheduled to meet next on April 17, when it could allow Linnas time to file a petition for review or could vacate the order.
The 67-year-old Linnas, a retired land surveyor who lived on Long Island in New York after emigrating from his native Estonia, which the Soviet Union annexed during World War II, has been held in a New York jail since last April on the ground that he might attempt to flee the country.
According to his daughter, Anu Linnas, requests to accept him are still pending with 17 Western countries. Last Thursday, she said, federal officers came within half an hour of deporting her father to the Soviet Union by way of Yugoslavia.
The Soviet Union has accused Linnas of running a concentration camp during the Nazi occupation of Estonia and supplied the bulk of the evidence against him, in the form of videotaped testimony and documents. The Justice Department submitted that evidence to federal courts in civil proceedings that began in 1979.
Linnas and his current attorney, former Atty. Gen. Ramsey Clark, contend that Soviet evidence in such cases is inherently untrustworthy and, in this instance, shows clear signs of falsification and coercion.
The Soviet witnesses whose testimony was videotaped in the Linnas case had also appeared in his 1962 trial in absentia in the Soviet Union, which resulted in a death sentence. A Soviet law journal reported the verdict three weeks before the trial took place.
Concerns on Soviet Justice
Earlier Monday, Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III said that "there is obviously concern about the Soviet system of justice" but that the Justice Department nevertheless would act on the deportation order issued and affirmed by lower courts if the Supreme Court again rejects Linnas' appeal.
Last Thursday, between the hours when the appeals court in New York vacated one stay of deportation and granted another, federal marshals sped a handcuffed Linnas to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, where they apparently intended to put him aboard a Yugoslav airliner. His daughter said that federal officials notified television and newspaper reporters of the impending deportation but failed to tell the family or his attorneys.
If his appeals fail, Linnas would be the first war crimes suspect whom the United States has deported to the Soviet Union against his will. In December, 1984, the government deported Fyodor Fedorenko, a Treblinka death camp guard, but Fedorenko voluntarily chose the Soviet Union, where members of his family remain, in the belief that he would not be prosecuted. He was tried last June and sentenced to death for treason.