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Returning an Ohio man accused of being a former Nazi death camp guard to his native Ukraine would be like throwing him in a "shark tank," his attorney said during a court hearing on Tuesday.
But the Justice Department said John Demjanjuk has not shown he would be mistreated and that the Eastern European nation has made progress on human rights since the breakup of the Soviet Union.
Demjanjuk declined an opportunity to speak during the hearing to determine whether to defer an order last June that he can be deported from the country. Chief US Immigration Judge Michael Creppy said he expects to issue a written decision within 30 days.
After the hearing, Demjanjuk was quickly taken out of Cleveland's federal court building without commenting.
Demjanjuk lost his US citizenship based on a Justice Department case that he was a Nazi concentration camp guard during World War II.
The US government wants Demjanjuk deported because he was stripped of his citizenship for a second time in 2002. A trial judge ruled then that documents from World War II prove Demjanjuk was a Nazi guard at various Nazi death or forced labor camps. He made a private sworn statement for his citizenship case in 2000 and denied Nazi involvement.
Demjanjuk was cleared in 1993 in Israel of being Ivan the Terrible, a sadistic guard at the Treblinka concentration camp. He had faced a death sentence in Israel until new evidence emerged that someone else was the notorious Ivan.
But the US government never sufficiently disavowed its previous claim that Demjanjuk was Ivan, and Demjanjuk fears he would be tortured if he returns to the Ukraine, his attorney, John Broadley said.
"We have a situation the US government created, and now he still carries a blood scent of Ivan the Terrible and this would be like throwing him throwing him with that blood scent into a shark tank," Broadley said.
Demjanjuk, 85, is a former Ford Motor Co. auto worker, but Broadly said he is now frail and any physical abuse could be considered torture. He argued that there has been a history of abuse in Ukrainian prisons.
Broadley said after the hearing that no matter what the judge rules, Demjanjuk will ask the Board of Immigration Appeals to review Creppy's ruling five months ago that Demjanjuk can be deported.
Stephen Paskey, from the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations, which prosecutes suspected Nazi war criminals, argued that Demjanjuk has not proven that he would be mistreated in Ukraine.
He also asked the judge not to draw any assumptions about Demjanjuk's health based on his age and appearance in a wheelchair.
The Justice Department has suggested the judge consider sending him to Ukraine, Poland or Germany, but Broadley said there is no indication another country would be willing to accept him.
Demjanjuk walked into the Cleveland federal court building with the assistance of his former son-in-law Ed Nishnic and grandson Ed Nishnic Jr. Demjanjuk moaned several times in pain after the hearing started.
The judge told Demjanjuk to request a break if he needed one. About 35 minutes into the hearing, a court-appointed Ukrainian interpreter said, "Mr. Demjanjuk feels he needs to walk around a little bit."
Demjanjuk has a chronic back problem, and Nishnic said Demjanjuk was having spasms.
Demjanjuk came to the United States a few years after the war as a displaced person. He lives a secluded life in a Cleveland suburb.