Demjanjuk case trundles on

While perusing How Appealing this morning I came across a name that every Ohioan (and ex-Ohioan, in my case) recognizes, but I hadn’t seen in years: John Demjanjuk.

Demjanjuk came to the U.S. from the Ukraine in 1952 and settled in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1958. Over the decades he worked at (and retired from) a vehicle assembly plant, raised a family, the whole nine yards. A regular American Dream scenario, it was.

That all ended in 1977 when the Justice Department instituted proceedings to revoke Demjanjuk’s citizenship. The parties agreed that Demjanjuk, then a member of the Soviet Red Army, was captured by the Germans in 1942. There the stories diverge substantially.

Demjanjuk said that he remained a prisoner of war until shortly before Germany surrendered to the Allies. Justice said that Demjanjuk got out of prison camp by volunteering to serve in the SS and went on to become an extraordinarily sadistic guard at the Treblinka death camp known to inmates as Ivan the Terrible. The basis of the Justice Department’s demand for citizenship revocation was that Demjanjuk lied about his ties to Nazi Germany on his visa application.

After four years of litigation, a federal district court judge sided with the government and revoked Demjanjuk’s citizenship in 1981. While that decision was on appeal, Israel requested in 1983 that Demjanjuk be extradited for trial on war crimes charges. Extradition took place in 1986.

In 1988, after a fourteen-month trial, an Israeli court found Demjanjuk guilty on the war crimes charges and sentenced him to death by hanging. Demjanjuk stayed locked up in solitary confinement until 1993 when Israel’s Supreme Court reversed the conviction and entered a judgment of acquittal based on insufficient evidence.

Meanwhile, back in the States, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in 1993 vacated the 1981 trial court order revoking Demjanjuk’s citizenship. Lengthy investigations and legal proceedings revealed that the Justice Department was guilty of some pretty egregious misconduct in the original citizenship revocation proceeding.

Demjanjuk returned to the Cleveland area and instituted proceedings to get back his U.S. citizenship. A federal judge ordered his citizenship restored in 1998.

A year later the government instituted yet another revocation proceeding. The government argued that, regardless of whether Demjanjuk worked at Treblinka or was Ivan the Terrible, he clearly served as a guard at no less than three Nazi concentration camps (Sobibor, Majdanek and Flossenburg) and entered the U.S. illegally by lying on his visa application. The trial court revoked Demjanjuk’s citizenship in 2002 and the Sixth Circuit affirmed in 2004.

Later that year the Executive Office for Immigration Review instituted deportation proceedings. An immigration judge ordered deportation to the Ukraine or, alternatively, to Poland or Germany in late 2005. The Board of Immigration Appeals upheld that order in late 2006.

Today the Sixth Circuit denied Demjanjuk’s petition for review of the BIA’s order. Demjanjuk v. Mukasey (pdf, 5 pages). The petition was based solely on Demjanjuk’s allegation that the official who presided over the EOIR proceeding lacked statutory authority to decide the case. The Sixth Circuit rejected that argument.

The merits of the BIA’s order were not addressed in Demjanjuk’s Sixth Circuit petition. Demjanjuk’s primary contention was that deportation would result in his being tortured. The EOIR and BIA rejected that claim as speculative.

At this point it’s probably all academic. It’s difficult to imagine the Ukraine or any other country being willing to take Demjanjuk.

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