US delays Demjanjuk deportation ruling

Former Sobibor guard to face charges in Germany; claims he is too old and sick to travel.

john demjanjuk 248 88 ap (photo credit: )
john demjanjuk 248 88 ap
(photo credit: )
A Virginia judge granted a last-minute stay on the planned deportation of John Demjanjuk on Friday. Demjanjuk was due to arrive Sunday in Germany, where he is expected to face charges of aiding in the death of 29,000 victims at the Sobibor extermination camp. Immigration Judge Wayne Iskra ruled that Demjanjuk's removal from the US should not go through until the court ruled on his request to reopen the case calling for his deportation. US courts found in 2002 that he had falsified his immigration papers by not declaring that he served at a Nazi death camp - an allegation he has steadfastly denied - a crime for which he can be thrown out of the country. It was only recently, however, that Germany agreed to receive Demjanjuk, as authorities planned to try him as an accessory to murder and issued an arrest warrant to that affect. But the family of the 89-year-old former autoworker, who resides in Cleveland, Ohio, have insisted that he is too old and sick to travel. In a three-page signed statement, Demjanjuk asked earlier in last week for asylum in the US and said deporting him "will expose me to severe physical and mental pain that clearly amount to torture under any reasonable definition of the term." "I am physically very weak and experience severe spinal, hip and leg pain, which limits mobility and causes me to require assistance to stand up and move about," the statement said. "Spending eight to 12 hours in an airplane seat flying to Germany would be unbearably painful for me." The US Justice Department argued strenuously against this assertion and called on the judge not to issue the stay or reopen Demjanjuk's case. "He relies merely upon his own subjective fear of physical and psychological suffering and discomfort due to his age and prior legal proceedings against him and the physical difficulty of the trip to Germany and incarceration. Subjective surmise does not articulate a claim of torture," Eli Rosenbaum, the US attorney in charge of tracking down former Nazis in America, wrote to the judge. "Granting the stay will injure the government's interest in the sound administration of justice," Rosenbaum maintained. He called these latest filings, coming after years of litigation, "virtually bereft of legal citations and support" and argued they "should be seen for what they are: a last-minute attempt to avoid the judgments of the numerous courts that have heard [the] respondent's case." Demjanjuk's son, John Demjanjuk Jr., said in interview that the family was relieved. "There's a sense of relief that we don't have to deal with the trauma for him and for our family and for the many, many people that have been sympathetic to his cause for many years, believing in his innocence and believing that he was a victim of the war as much as anyone else was, but he's still in pain. He's still ill," he said. Demjanjuk Jr. said sending his ailing father to Germany would have led to a medical emergency. "He would wind up in a German hospital. I don't believe they would ever put him on trial," he said. There was no merit to the German allegations, Demjanjuk Jr. said. "They are taking the old case and applying it to new allegations. There isn't evidence of one single murder, let alone my father being involved in 29,000." A court-appointed defense lawyer in Germany, Guenther Maull, said he would seek an examination of whether Demjanjuk is fit to be held in custody and stand trial. He said he did not expect a trial to begin before this summer. Maull said there were 120 guards at Sobibor and it was unclear which of them did what. As a result, he argued, it is unclear whether formal charges would be brought to court. Demjanjuk came to the United States after the war as a displaced person and became a naturalized US citizen. His citizenship was revoked twice, first in 1981. Demjanjuk was extradited in 1986 to Israel, where he was convicted of war crimes and sentenced to death in 1988. In 1993, Israel's Supreme Court determined he was not the notorious Treblinka death camp guard know as Ivan the Terrible, and he was allowed to return home. AP contributed to this report.