US report shows Nazis given 'safe haven' after WWII
A newly revealed "secret history" written by US officials has detailed how successive administrations provided refuge to Nazi war criminals in the aftermath of World War II.
"America which prided itself on being a safe haven for the persecuted became -- in some small measure -- a safe haven for the persecutors as well," said a report from the Office of Special Investigations (OSI) first revealed by The New York Times and examined by AFP.
Created in 1979 to hunt Nazis residing on US soil, the OSI has since merged with other units in the Justice Department.
But the 600-page report -- which the government worked to keep hidden for four years -- raises numerous ethical questions about US practices after the collapse of the Third Reich in 1945.
The report highlights "ethical compromises involved in the US policy in using former high-ranking Nazi officials as informants and in putting to work Nazi scientists for the American space programme or other classified military projects," said Efraim Zuroff, head of the unit tracking down former Nazis at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
"While there is little new information in the revelations," Zuroff wrote in an op-ed piece for The Guardian newspaper, the issues are worth re-examining, he said.
An administration official, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity, said the report was a draft copy that "was never finalized and contains errors and omissions," but added that finishing the report would have "diverted too many resources."
The report revealed that one of the alleged ex-Nazis was Arthur Rudolph, a scientist who who ran the Mittelwerk munitions factory where Auschwitz detainees were forced to work.
Rudolph was brought to the United States in 1945 for his rocket-making expertise and later took part in a US space program that resulted in the development of NASA's Saturn V rocket.
Justice Department investigators later found evidence that Rudolph had been much more actively involved in exploiting slave laborers at Mittelwerk than he or American intelligence officials had originally acknowledged. Nevertheless, some intelligence officials objected when the Justice Department sought to deport him in 1983.
The report identified another Nazi as Tscherim Soobzokov, a former Waffen SS soldier who worked for the CIA before emigrating to the United States in 1955.
Soobzokov became a naturalized US citizen in 1961 and was outed as a former Nazi in 1972 but subsequent investigations were dropped and the case against him allowed to lapse.
"Some may find ironic that we must terminate this litigation because the defendant admitted his affiliation with organizations loyal to the Third Reich. But that, in my opinion, is the law, ironic or not, as it applies to this case," said OSI director Allan Ryan to the press in July 1980.
Soobzokov was assassinated in August 1985 when a bomb was set off at his home in New Jersey.
The history of granting entry to German and Austrian scientists in the years after Nazi Germany's fall, to accelerate victory over Japan to begin with, and then to gain a technological edge over the Soviet Union, has been documented.
The report however provided key details on procedures for welcoming individuals with Nazi pasts, and notes they were granted entry to the United States "knowingly."
The Department of Justice "is committed to transparency and providing information in accordance with relevant laws," spokeswoman Laura Sweeney told AFP, saying redactions in the first revelation of the report were based "on privacy and other considerations under the law."
Due to the amount of deleted passages, the report in its entirety was eventually given to The New York Times.
David Sobel, counsel at the non-profit National Security Archive, pointed out that now "we can compare the redacted document with the complete text of the original report, it is clear that the Justice Department is withholding information without legal justification."
Noting the administration of President Barack Obama and his Justice Department had pledged an "unprecedented" level of transparency, the issue of the OSI report "provides a troubling example of how far the reality is from the rhetoric," added Sobel.
"We're still covering up, we're still hiding the role that some in our country played by some perverse sense of national interest. I think it's time that our country knew," Anti-Defamation League director Abraham Foxman said on NBC this week.
© 2010 AFP