The government is opening thousands of records showing the FBI and other agencies turned their heads from the murky pasts of alleged Nazi collaborators living in the United States.
Government historian Norman J.W. Goda, in a collaborative book based on records being released Thursday at the National Archives, said the FBI "did not dig deep for the truth" on these people because it wanted them on America's side in the Cold War.
Yes? And? The news here is ... what, precisely?
For heaven's sake, the government effectively hired people from Nazi Germany's rocketry program, the architects of the buzz bomb. Had Britain been able to get their hands on those people, they'd likely have been tried for war crimes. Surely, at this late date, the fact that we hid even more Nazis and collaborators cannot be all that much of a surprise.
Although, I admit, some of them do make you wonder what on earth the government was expecting to get out of them.
Among them was Viorel Trifa, an alleged student leader in Romania's fascist Iron Guard movement who became bishop of the Romanian Orthodox Church in the United States and once led prayers in Congress.
In the thousands of files released, the CIA also is shown seeking the Immigration and Naturalization Service's help in easing travel in and out of America for Mykola Lebed, a Ukrainian accused of aiding German storm troopers in brutal suppression of local resistance during World War II. The INS found "some basis for at least some of these allegations," according to a 1953 letter from the agency seeking direction from the Justice Department. If they were true, the agency said, Lebed should be deported.
But INS called off its investigation of Lebed at the CIA's request, even while declining at that time to give him freedom to leave and return to the United States at will. "I do not feel that we are in any position to give such assurance, since there is a strong likelihood that subject is inadmissible under the immigration laws," the INS commissioner wrote ... In another case, former Croatian interior minister Andrija Artukovic slipped into the United States under a false name in 1948. Goda said he had authorized anti-Serb and anti-Jewish legislation in Croatia, as well as mass shootings, deportations and creation of concentration camps. He said the Justice and State departments stymied Yugoslavia’s attempts to have him extradited for years, and Hoover believed he had “great potential propaganda value.” But he was finally extradited in 1986, sentenced to death, and died awaiting execution. The papers also detail the case of John Avdzej, a Byelorussian who was installed as a Polish mayor by the Germans during the war and came to America in 1950. Goda said Avdzej was thought to have participated in the execution of thousands of Jews.
Technically, I suppose, this somewhat rehabilitates the INS's renowned reputation for incompetence in letting quite so many alleged Nazis into the country; it wasn't all by mistake. Mind, that does raise the question of whether or not it's better to be a participant in criminal activity by choice or by accident.
In any event, the INS seems to have moved on from being a passive assistant in aiding criminal activity to more active persecution of journalists.
Last week a British reporter was detained by immigration officials and then expelled from the United States for traveling here without knowing that the visa rules had changed. More precisely, she didn't know that a decades-old unenforced rule was suddenly being enforced against friendly tourists long accustomed to entering the country without a visa at all. Elena Lappin, a freelance journalist from the United Kingdom (who has written for Slate), was stopped at Los Angeles International Airport, subjected to a body search, handcuffed, frog-marched through the airport, and then held in a cell at a detention center overnight—all because she dared travel to the United States without a special journalist visa. There has been a rule on the books since 1952 requiring foreign journalists to obtain special "I visas," but foreign journalists say it was invariably ignored by Immigration and Naturalization Service officials who required only that citizens of friendly countries apply for a visa waiver, an exemption allowing most residents of 27 enumerated countries to visit the United States for business or pleasure for up to 90 days without jumping through any INS hoops.
No more. When the INS was folded into the Department of Homeland Security in March 2003, the I-visa rule began to be enforced in earnest, sometimes, resulting in at least 15 journalists from friendly countries being forcibly detained, interrogated, fingerprinted, and held in cells overnight—with most denied access to phones, pens, lawyers, or their consular officials. Their friendly welcome at the detention center included lights that shone all night long and video surveillance of the entire cell, often including toilets. David James Smith of the Times of London described being denied a blanket, coffee, or a pen during his overnight detention last March. When he first learned he was being denied entry on an immigration technicality, he madly assumed he'd be put up in an airport hotel.
These reporters are not enemy combatants. They are not chroniclers of scathing injustices of the Bush administration. One Australian reporter was here to interview Olivia Newton-John. (God knows, someone has to.) She reported being "body searched and groped" by immigration and customs officials. Ten French and British journalists were here to report on last summer's Electronic Entertainment Expo, the video-game industry's annual trade show. Unless Super Mario Brothers are secretly accumulating weapons of mass destruction, this mistreatment of journalists from allied countries serves as yet another example of overzealous, unbridled discretionary excesses by government officials who still can't figure out who we're fighting in the War on Terror. [...] Far worse than the fact that we're singling out reporters for abuses: Since when is the U.S. government in the business of accrediting journalists—foreign or domestic? What possible journalistic standards must be met in order to prove to the INS that one is enough of a journalist to merit a press visa? The list of enumerated requirements would make it impossible for a reporter from an allied country to cover a breaking story in a timely way. Reporters must now provide a letter from their employer detailing their assignment and place their hope in the broad discretion afforded immigration authorities. Of course, freelancers just looking for a story without a contract in their pocket are presumably out of luck, too. Unless, of course, they elect to lie and call themselves tourists with super-big cameras. The state cannot be in the business of acting as arbiter of who's allowed to come and write about America.
Ultimately, it doesn't matter whether or not INS is in Homeland Security or Justice; the directive to enforce the terribly obscure I-Visa regulations has to have come down from the top of the department. The regulation itself is so obscure that there has to have been a concerted effort to teach and instruct screening personnel in what it was and what to do. Moreover, the treatment of these journalists is more harsh than of most inadvertent visa violators.
One wonders exactly what the administration hopes to accomplish with this crackdown on foreign journalists. In this day of satellite television and radio and of the internet, it's not as though the journalists can't get information in any event. For that matter, many of them probably have working cooperative arrangements with journalists and other sources here, who can get information for them. All this serves to do is to alienate foreign journalists, who will then understandably paint an even more harsh picture of the US that they have experienced. That picture is likely to be somewhat unbalanced, but the administration will only have itself to blame.Posted by iain at May 13, 2004 12:15 PM