Title: A vendetta isn't justice

Author: Peter Worthington
Date: 1998-03-26


SOURCE: The Toronto Sun

DATE: March 26, 1998

A vendetta isn't justice

by Peter Worthington

The Canadian government probably doesn't care, but its hiring of Neal Sher, former head of the U.S. Justice Department's Nazi-hunting agency, came at a very inopportune time - embarrassing, even, if Justice Anne McLellan chose to react.

For a dozen years, until 1994, Sher headed the OSI (Office of Special Investigations) whose only job was to track down Nazi war criminals and extradite them to Israel to stand trial or, failing that, to denaturalize them and deport them.

Provable guilt or innocence never seemed especially important to often over-zealous OSI investigators. In the 1970s, before Sher became director, they erred when they fingered Frank Walus as a war criminal when, in fact, at the time he was a 17-year-old Polish farm boy. And they really blew it when they insisted Cleveland auto worker John Demjanjuk was in reality Ivan the Terrible, the sadistic gas chamber guard at Treblinka death camp. When Israel's Supreme Court overturned Demjanjuk's guilty verdict in 1993 (he'd been sentenced to death) because he was the wrong man, the OSI was unrepentant and sought to still have Demjanjuk denaturalized and deported on grounds that if he wasn't Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka, he had probably been a guard at Trawniki or Sobibor camps.

Sher's deposition was one of many filed last year on behalf of the United States against Demjanjuk before Judge Paul Matia of the District Court of Ohio.

In February, Matia's court rejected the U.S. motion, restored Demjanjuk's American citizenship and condemned the OSI and its investigators for perpetrating "fraud" on the courts; for acting "with reckless disregard for their duty to the court;" for behaving in a manner that "constitutes further fraud upon the court."

Judge Matia wrote: "Doubt cast upon the fairness of one judicial proceeding infects the whole justice system. Such behavior, whether or not intentional, must not be tolerated." He dismissed the justice department's case "without prejudice." Matia supported the findings of an earlier appeal court that the OSI has withheld evidence, "acted with reckless disregard for the truth" and participated in a great injustice which, thanks to the Israeli Supreme Court, was eventually rectified.

But not before Demjanjuk, now in his mid-70s, has spent over 17 years widely viewed as a Nazi war criminal.

Happy ending

That the story has a (relatively) happy ending, with American justice slightly salvaged, is due in large part to Demjanjuk's American-born son-in-law, Ed Nishnic, who was indefatigable and resolute in traveling the world (with the help of Ukrainian groups and individuals) in pursuit of evidence that would clear his father-in-law. it was Nishnic who went to the Ukrainian village the real Ivan the Terrible - Ivan Marchenko - came from. Nishnic, with legal help (some from Jews) showed the Nazi identity card that indicated Demjanjuk had been a guard at Trawniki and Sobibor was a Soviet fake. While even Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal accepts that Demjanjuk isn't Ivan the Terrible, there are still those who suspect Demjanjuk was a guard elsewhere. Evidence refutes this conjecture, and Judge Matia noted: "The fraud committed with respect to Treblinka cannot be isolated so as not to infect the Trawniki findings." When questioned by the OSI, Jacob Reimer, a clerical official at Trawniki, had no recollection of Demjanjuk - but this was withheld as evidence (and from the defence) by the OSI, which no longer cared about justice but wanted a conviction. All of this is history. The Canadian government seems anxious to punish suspected or accused Nazi war criminals, without regard to proving their guilt - hence the deportation ploy, which salves consciences without necessarily proving guilt.

This is a cop-out and a perversion of our justice system, which has been pretty fair in the past. It seems the only reason Neal Sher has been hired is to help bring the U.S. system of denaturalization and deportation to Canada.

I suspect if most Canadians were aware of this, they'd object - I certainly do, and I'm one of those who volunteered to go to war against Nazis and alter against communism. As Matia points out, the whole justice system can be poisoned by corrupting one aspect of it. Justice Minister McLellan should thank Sher for his interest, pay him off, and rely on the Canadian justice system which may err on the side of decency, but which has nothing on its record to match the abomination that was done against John Demjanjuk and Frank Walus.

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