WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration, using polite legal language to deliver a blunt message, demanded yesterday that a federal appeals court stand aside from the continuing dispute over the war-crimes case of retired American autoworker John Demjanjuk.
The administration argued that it is up to the Israeli courts, or the U.S. government, to work out the fate of Demjanjuk, who has been convicted in Israel of murdering hundreds of thousands of Jews at the Nazi death camp at Treblinka, Poland.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lacks power to undo a 1985 decision to extradite Demjanjuk to Israel for the trial that led to a guilty verdict and death sentence, the government's new 45-page legal brief said. The court is to hold a hearing next Tuesday on the dispute over what, if anything, it will do next.
The U.S. brief contended that because Demjanjuk is imprisoned in Israel, he is beyond the court's reach and thus the court can do nothing, even if it did have authority to act.
Nothing should be done at all, it went on, until after Israel's Supreme Court decides on Demjanjuk's appeal of his case. Some justices on the Israeli court have raised doubts over whether Demjanjuk was the one who committed all of the crimes for which he was convicted.
The new brief was filed with the Circuit Court in Cincinnati as part of the Justice Department's effort to stop that court from reviewing the decision that allowed the United States to extradite Demjanjuk for trial as the hated Treblinka executioner known as "Ivan the Terrible."
Demjanjuk's lawyers and family insist that documents retrieved from the former Soviet Union show that Ivan the Terrible was another man, Ivan Marchenko.
The brief reported that the State Department is monitoring the appeal by Demjanjuk to the Israeli Supreme Court, and that the U.S. government has told the Israeli government to make sure that any conviction of Demjanjuk is limited to a verdict related to the murder charges for which he was sent to Israel.
Monday, Demjanjuk's lawyers told the court in Cincinnati that it has full power to undo the wrongs that those lawyers say were done to Demjanjuk, especially by the Justice Department when it withheld information tending to show that Marchenko was Ivan the Terrible.