Alex Constantine - November 22, 2010
" ... Information from newspaper stories, court decisions and congressional testimony were all kept out, as were footnotes citing those sources. 'We know precisely what was being withheld,' says David Sobel, a Washington lawyer representing the National Security Archive. ... This report is an important contribution to history. The shame of it is that an administration that claims to be devoted to transparency tried to hide it. ... "
By Ann Woolner | Bloomberg News
To whatever degree the U.S. knowingly or carelessly sheltered Nazi murderers after World War II, it's a national shame.
"America, which prided itself on being a safe haven for the persecuted, became — in some small measure — a safe haven for persecutors as well," according to a 607-page Justice Department report made public last week by The New York Times and National Security Archive, a private research group.
The astonishingly thorough 2006 draft report tells the story of how hundreds of Nazis came to be admitted into the U.S. following the war and what the government did about it. It lays out how Otto von Bolschwing, a former deputy to Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, went to work for the Central Intelligence Agency abroad and then entered the U.S. with the CIA's help.
The report offers details on the case of Arthur Rudolph, who brought forced labor into the munitions factory he ran in Germany. He later worked as a U.S. rocket scientist, helping to make the first moon landing possible.
In both cases, Justice investigators finally uncovered the extent of their wartime past and acted to have both men stripped of their citizenship and deported.
The Justice Department's failures and successes in some two dozen individual cases are described, along with efforts to track Nazi gold in Switzerland and seek help from other countries, some recalcitrant. The report provides the historical context and legal framework in which these cases were at first ignored and then pursued, thanks in large part to the persistence of New York Democrat Elizabeth Holtzman, then a freshman in Congress.
It is a story of historic significance, well worth telling.
But what is most astonishing about the report is how hard the government tried to keep it hidden. The central facts of these cases have already been reported. And it's not as if the Justice Department had anything to fear from its release.
If anything, the details show the department's Office of Special Investigations on the whole did a remarkable job under difficult circumstances to find Nazi persecutors and throw them out of America's sheltering arms.
And yet, the department refused to turn the report over last year when the National Security Archive asked for it, saying it was merely a draft and therefore exempt from disclosure. So the group went to court in May.
Perhaps sensing they would lose that battle, Justice Department lawyers whited-out whole passages and turned the draft over to the National Security Archive in October.
The group figures there are more than 1,000 redactions in all, according to Tom Blanton, director of the Washington-based organization.
The unexpurgated report was leaked to that group and to The New York Times. Both organizations posted it online.
Now you can see what the Justice Department lawyers whited-out. And a lot of it is material that was already publicly known. Information from newspaper stories, court decisions and congressional testimony were all kept out, as were footnotes citing those sources.
"We know precisely what was being withheld," says David Sobel, a Washington lawyer representing the National Security Archive. "It's outrageous seeing the types of material they are prepared to tell a court must be withheld."
Blanton said some of the redactions may be aimed at keeping internal conflicts secret. Whatever the reason, the attempted censorship was self-defeating and, in Sobel's opinion, illegal under the Freedom of Information Act.
Had the Justice Department simply handed over the full document, it's unlikely The Times would have run the story on the front page, Blanton speculates.
This report is an important contribution to history. The shame of it is that an administration that claims to be devoted to transparency tried to hide it.