WASHINGTON — Clearing the way for accused Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk to return to the United States, Atty. Gen. Janet Reno said Wednesday that the government would not ask the Supreme Court to bar the retired Cleveland auto worker from re-entering the country while his deportation is reviewed.
Reno said that the Justice Department still believes Demjanjuk, 73, was properly denaturalized and deported in 1986 and will seek to uphold those actions but, "based on the law and the circumstances of this case," could not prevent his return.
Noting that Demjanjuk was determined by a court to have "intentionally misrepresented" his Nazi past when he came to the United States in 1952, Reno said: "We will continue to do everything possible to uphold the court orders denaturalizing and deporting Mr. Demjanjuk."
Citing new evidence from the former Soviet Union, the Israeli Supreme Court last month acquitted Demjanjuk of being the notorious Nazi concentration camp guard "Ivan the Terrible" of Treblinka. Although the court overturned his death sentence, it did not release him and will decide today whether he can be tried on new charges that he committed atrocities at another death camp, Sobibor in Poland.
If the court decides that he cannot be tried again, Demjanjuk, who has been in an Israeli prison for more than seven years, could return to the United States in a matter of days.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, promised that the White House would be deluged with "tens of thousands" of telegrams and letters urging the government to fight Demjanjuk's return and to prosecute his case vigorously, if he does return.
"I think that as a death camp guard, who every day picked up people at the train depot and took them to the gas chamber, he dishonors America by staying on American soil," Hier said.
Hier said that, while he expects Demjanjuk to be back in the United States very soon, he hopes "a small measure of justice will be done when the Justice Department finally wins this case and he is deported and has to seek refuge somewhere else."
A three-judge panel of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled Aug. 6 that Demjanjuk, born in the Ukraine, must be allowed to return to the United States while his lawyers challenge the propriety of his original extradition to Israel. Reno said that she does not believe the resolution of the issue requires his presence in this country, but a government appeal to the full 6th circuit court was rejected Tuesday.
Reno declined to explain the reasons that the Justice Department decided not to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, but legal experts noted that the department would have had the difficult task of demonstrating that irreparable injury would have resulted from Demjanjuk's return.
When asked whether Demjanjuk would be placed in custody if he returns, Reno said she would address those issues "as they arise."
In last month's acquittal, the Israeli court found strong evidence that Demjanjuk was at the Sobibor death camp, but a three-judge panel said that a new trial would violate his right not to be tried twice on the same charges. The panel said that double-jeopardy laws apply even though a new trial would not be based on allegations that he was "Ivan the Terrible" of Treblinka, where 850,000 Jews were killed during World War II.
After that decision, petitioners, including Holocaust survivors and international Jewish organizations, asked Justice Meir Shamgar, the court's president, for time to appeal the ruling to a larger panel of judges. Shamgar granted the time and is to decide today whether Demjanjuk can be retried.