After serving for three years as the lead attorney on the U.S. government's deportation case against John Demjanjuk, I have grown used to hearing baseless claims about a Soviet plot to frame Demjanjuk as a Nazi guard. I do not expect to hear such claims from the editors of a serious newspaper, but that is precisely what I read in the April 17 News editorial, "In pursuit of justice." The editorial on the Demjanjuk case gives undue credence to claims that the KGB forged a key piece of evidence. In fact, the long-standing myth of a Soviet plot against Demjanjuk has been thoroughly investigated and firmly debunked.
A summary of the case will help place the issue in context. In the 1980s, Demjanjuk was mistakenly accused of being "Ivan the Terrible," a brutal Nazi guard at the Treblinka death camp. Those allegations were based on eyewitness testimony from Holocaust survivors. Demjanjuk was stripped of his U.S. citizenship, extradited to Israel, and convicted. After Israeli prosecutors found evidence confirming that another man was "Ivan," Demjanjuk's conviction was overturned and his U.S. citizenship was restored.
In 2002, a federal court revoked Demjanjuk's citizenship again after finding that he served as a guard at the Sobibor death camp and two concentration camps. This second case was based on seven wartime Nazi documents, each of which identifies Demjanjuk by name. In 2009 he was deported to Germany, where he is now being prosecuted as an accomplice to the murder of 28,000 Jews.
During each trial, prosecutors relied on a German "service identity pass" -- a document issued to men who were trained as Nazi guards. The pass correctly lists numerous details about Demjanjuk, including his father's name and the date and place of his birth. Demjanjuk once admitted that the photo on the pass resembles him.
The Associated Press recently reported that in 1985, the FBI's Cleveland office wrote a report claiming the pass is a Soviet forgery. Relying on that story, the editors of The Buffalo News opined that the case against Demjanjuk has been "cast into serious doubt." They further suggested that if Demjanjuk was purposely subjected to "emotional torture" based on "trumped-up" evidence, someone should go to jail for a "very long time."
Those are strong words, but the accusations are unwarranted. The editorial is written as if we know nothing more today than the FBI knew in 1985. In fact, we know much more, and everything we know confirms that the 1985 FBI report was wrong.
When that report was written, U.S. officials had very limited access to the original service pass and only minimal tests were conducted. Since then, the original pass has been thoroughly examined by forensic experts. In the words of a federal judge, the findings of those experts are "devastating" to any claims of forgery. The paper, ink and typewriters used to create the pass are consistent with material available in the early 1940s. The signatures of Nazi officials match the signatures of the same officials on other Nazi documents. The front and back of the pass were stamped, and defects in the stamps match defects in stamps on other Nazi documents. There is no evidence that the pass was altered or that anything on it was created later than the early 1940s.
None of this was known to the FBI in 1985. And while Demjanjuk has been given a fair opportunity to have the pass tested by his own experts, he has not produced reliable evidence to suggest that the pass was forged.
The forensic evidence alone is conclusive, but there is more to the story. After the Soviet Union collapsed, U.S. investigators located six more Nazi documents that identify Demjanjuk by name, all using the ID number listed on the service pass. Two documents were found in Russia, one in Lithuania and three in Germany. These documents display the distinctive characteristics of wartime Nazi documents, and in every respect they appear genuine. Together, they establish that Demjanjuk served as a guard at Sobibor and two concentration camps.
These documents were not known to the FBI in 1985 and were found after an exhaustive search by U.S. investigators. To believe that the service pass was forged, one must believe that these documents too were forged, and that Soviet agents scattered the documents in archives all over Eastern Europe and Germany in the hope that U.S. investigators might one day find them.
In February 2002, a federal judge found by clear, convincing and unequivocal evidence that the service pass and the other documents are authentic. There is nothing in the 1985 FBI report to raise even the slightest doubt about the authenticity of the documents or the validity of the court's decision.
In its editorial, The News demanded an investigation by U.S. authorities, but authorities have already conducted an appropriate inquiry. In 1985, FBI agents believed the pass was a forgery, but they had no solid evidence to support that belief. Based on further testing and additional evidence, other Justice Department officials correctly concluded that the pass is authentic.
The truth is really that simple, and I wish someone from The News had contacted me or another knowledgeable source before publicly questioning the integrity of the government lawyers and historians who worked on the case.
Stephen Paskey served as a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice from 1995 to 2007. From 2004 until 2007, he was the lead attorney on the U.S. government's deportation case against John Demjanjuk. He currently teaches legal analysis, writing and research at the University at Buffalo Law School. The opinions expressed in this article are entirely his own.