WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Accused Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk on Monday lost a Supreme Court appeal that sought to block his deportation to his native Ukraine.
Without comment, the high court refused to hear an appeal by the 88-year-old retired Ohio auto worker that argued the nation’s chief immigration judge lacked the authority to order his deportation.
The rejection of the appeal marked the latest development in a battle between Demjanjuk and the U.S. Justice Department that began in 1977.
The deportation order, issued in 2005, says that Demjanjuk can be sent to Germany or Poland, as an alternative, if Ukraine refuses to accept him.
It appears that no country is willing to take Demjanjuk, either by granting him a visa or to prosecute him for war crimes, according to a former prosecutor in the case.
“I haven’t heard any indication that any country ... is willing to accept a war criminal of John Demjanjuk’s notoriety,” Jonathan Drimmer, who is now in private practice, said in a telephone interview.
“He will remain free, pending whatever removal occurs,” Drimmer said. “At this point, any country can accept him.”
Demjanjuk was once convicted of being the sadistic guard “Ivan the Terrible” and sentenced to death in Israel. But the Israeli Supreme Court overturned the conviction when new evidence showed another man was probably “Ivan” at the Treblinka camp in Poland where 870,000 people died.
Demjanjuk was twice stripped of his U.S. citizenship, the second time in 2002, when a federal judge ruled he had been a guard at three other Nazi death camps in Poland and Germany.
Demjanjuk has argued that Chief U.S. Immigration Judge Michael Creppy did not have the authority to order his deportation. Creppy can only do administrative duties, Demjanjuk’s lawyers said.
But a Board of Immigration Appeals and a U.S. appeals court based in Cincinnati rejected his arguments, prompting his appeal to the Supreme Court.
Demjanjuk’s lawyers have said he could be prosecuted and face harsh prison conditions or even torture if he is sent back to Ukraine. But Creppy and then the Board of Immigration Appeals said there was no evidence to support those claims.
Demjanjuk was first stripped of his U.S. citizenship in 1981 and extradited to Israel, where he was sentenced to death in 1988 on eyewitness testimony from Holocaust survivors that he was Ivan of the Treblinka camp.
The Israeli Supreme Court overturned his death sentence in 1993 and freed him after newly released records from the former Soviet Union showed Ivan Marchenko was probably the Treblinka guard.
The United States restored Demjanjuk’s citizenship in 1998, but the following year the U.S. Justice Department refilled its case against him on the grounds that he had been a Nazi guard at three other death camps.
Demjanjuk, said by his former son-in-law to be in ill health, lives in the Cleveland suburb of Seven Hills. He immigrated to the United States in 1952 and became a naturalized citizen in 1958.
Demjanjuk has said he was drafted into the Soviet army and was captured by the Germans. He has denied that he ever helped the Nazis.
He still has support in the Ukrainian community, including the Rev. John Nakonachny of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Church, in Parma, Ohio, where Demjanjuk is a parishioner.
“We believe in his innocence. It doesn’t matter what the Supreme Court says — they can’t overturn history. Jews and Ukrainians suffered at the hands of the Nazis,” Nakonachny said.
(Additional reporting by Andrew Stern in Chicago)
Editing by Xavier Briand