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Why did the DOJ Refuse to Release Information on Kurt Waldheim, Nazi, UN General Secretary, and Austrian President?

November 16, 2010

Kurt Waldeim, Nazi, United Nations General Secretary, and President of Austria.

In March 2009, US Attorney General Eric Holder sent a memo throughout the federal government which outlined the new FOIA policies of the Obama administration.  He reiterated the President’s statement that, “The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears.” His department appears not to have taken his own advice.

The “History of the Office of Special Investigations: Striving for Accountability in the Aftermath of the Holocaust” which was initially denied under FOIA to the National Security Archive, and eventually leaked to the New York Times.  It’s is a terrific document which tells a balanced history of the US “Nazi Hunters.”  An objective read reveals no reason why the document should have remained classified.  One  example of the DOJ’s egregious overclassification can be found in its suppression of the case of Kurt Waldheim, a Nazi who served as UN Secretary-General (1972-82) and President of Austria (1986-92).

In his memoirs (published soon before he ran for president), Waldheim claimed that while fighting for the Axis in World War II, he had been injured in combat in 1941, and spent the remainder of the war studying law (Kurt Waldheim, In the Eye of the Storm: A Memoir). This was not the case. The New York Times reported on 4 March 1986 that Waldheim served with a German unit known for “brutal campaigns against Yugoslav partisans and engaged in mass deportations of Greek Jews.” His commanding officer was executed for war crimes.  (See History of the OSI, 310.)

In 1985, only nine days before the Austrian presidential election, information about Waldheim’s alleged crimes (compiled by the United States) was leaked to the press. The leak was interpreted by many Austrians as foreign meddling in their internal affairs. This led to a surge in support for Waldheim, and he won the election.

Two years later, an investigation of Waldheim was conducted by the OSI.  According to the newly available history:

OSI found [Waldheim’s] responses riddled with inconsistencies, distortions, and misleading statements. AAG Trott thought Waldheim’s submissions were starting “to sound like the ‘I-just-worked-there-and-followed-orders’ explanation.”

In April 1987, OSI completed a 204-page report containing a comprehensive account of Waldheim’s wartime service from 1942-1945 and a detailed refutation of Waldheim’s defense. The report concluded that Waldheim – who was awarded a prestigious medal by the Nazi puppet regime in Croatia – had been involved in the transfer of civilian prisoners to the SS for exploitation as slave labor, the mass deportation of civilians to concentration and death camps, the use of anti-Semitic propaganda, the turning over of Allied prisoners to the SS, and reprisal executions of hostage and other civilians. (pp.313-314)

The Departments of Justice and State subsequently placed Waldheim on the Watchlist “as an individual” in April, 1987; he was allowed to travel to the United States only for the purposes of executing his office as President of Austria, but never again as a private citizen.

Later, the Austrian government commissioned its own independent investigation:

In February 1988, the Austrian-appointed international commission of historians issued its report. Although they found no evidence that Waldheim was personally involved in war crimes, they strongly criticized him for not trying to halt atrocities of which he was aware and for concealing his wartime record. (p.318)

There is a key contradiction between the commission of historians and the classified OSI Report. Unlike the commission, the OSI Report found that Waldheim was directly responsible:

Although the Justice Department released the broad outlines of its Waldheim report, the document itself was not made public. When an international commission of historians appointed by the Austrian government to examine Waldheim’s past asked for the report, their request was denied. However, Director Sher sent a letter assuring the commission that the Justice Department’s findings were sufficient “to implicate Mr. Waldheim personally. (p.316)

So why did the DOJ originally refuse to release this important and informative OSI history if much of the information was already in the public domain (the DOJ’s original report on Waldheim was released without redactions in 1994)?  Embarrassment?  An aversion to disclosing mistakes made by the DOJ?  Speculative fears?  Perhaps Mr. Holder should reread his own memo on FOIA.

One Comment
  1. Anonymous but Well Informed permalink
    March 27, 2011 10:04 am

    Justice and History Betrayed: An Exercise in Character Assassination of a Former OSI Employee

    Diligent and objective examination of the non-redacted version of The Office of Special Investigations: Striving for Accountability in the Aftermath of the Holocaust by anyone who has followed the subject of Nazi war criminals and collaborators in the U.S. since the late 1970s and early 1980s (and there are only a hand full of us), reveals a stunning arrogance on the part its authors, both in terms of number and extraordinary significance of both the omissions edited out, and bias laden distortions written into what little OSI opted to reveal. A more comprehensive understanding of the total picture compels a conclusion that Report content is intended to cover more ass on the part of those mandated to identify, denaturalize and deport Nazi war criminals and collaborators in the U.S. and selectively defame one whose public disclosures brought unwanted attention to OSI, both in terms of its existence (widening the pool of potential critics) and more importantly, the limited scope of those whom it selectively pursued.

    Ultimate power resides with the story teller and their editors who collectively decide (based upon self promotion and job preservation), in light of an undisclosed, official agency editorial policy (intended for damage control), what subset of the total universe of evidence to reveal and how to best to couch it to the target audience.

    In the instant case, both elements find inspiration in an attempt to, on the one hand, defame one former OSI employee who sought a combination of heightened prosecutorial diligence and more, rather than fewer cases in light of the evidence and a history, revisionist in nature where necessary, to justify inaction in spite of that evidence. Only two of us fall into this category, one referenced by name in the Report and the other not.

    Those informed about the subject are left to ponder and identify virtue in the lesser of two evils. On the one hand there are those responsible for the underlying realities which catalyzed the OSI mandate, and then there are the career minded, pencil pushing bureaucrats who self assess and publicize their job performance. Through editorial license and slight of hand, OSI diminished the number of viable prosecutions by authoring its own Report, wherein it asserts the absence of viable targets and then withholds objective, independently verifiable and empirically based proof evidencing same. Package and peddle a product on official government stationary, engage some time tested, rubber band stretching theatrics (protracted public tug of war over disclosure, followed by the `reluctant’ release and surfacing of a redacted version (content otherwise available from public sources), and eventually followed by a `leaked’ unredacted version) and a naive public will seize upon and accept as gospel every word.

    Congress should release for public scrutiny the total of that which Loftus uncovered. The extent of the rhetorical gymnastics engaged in is nothing short of shameless. An undisclosed number of contributing authors and editors responsible for the content of this OSI Report makes it apparent that unfettered public access to the original files is the only means by which the truth on this subject shall ever see the light of day. If a former OSI director is capable of ordering the destruction of 40 plus archive boxes in the context of the Demjanjuk case, rather than hand them over pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, there exists no basis upon which to conclude the OSI Report at issue is complete and reliable, let alone factually accurate.

    The public has no idea how many individuals OSI failed and was unwilling to pursue in an effort to deny, both Loftus and others credit for what they found and publicly disclosed. Nor is it aware of just how sloppy it is with the facts upon which it built any number of cases. Paranoia, ineptitude and self preservation, both institutionally and as individuals, motivated OSI leadership to develop an `enemies list’ of those it mercilessly targeted for character assassination. Critics, both for what OSI did and failed to do, failure to feed and limit finding disclosures to the agency, and going public with any information which they, either had and were unprepared to disclose, or did not have, earned you a spot on the `list’ and made you a target. This is the overarching theme of the instant OSI Report and Loftus is clearly the target. But Loftus is in good company because Eli Rosenbaum (analysis of phraseology and editorial stylistics reveals him to be the author of the instant OSI Report) also went after and viciously attacked, both Simon Wiesenthal in his last book and others on any number of his publicly funded, nation wide, closed attendance, lecture tours.

    Report content reveals accountability by its author(s) to institutional leadership (themselves) of what is now a defunct agency, those who cut their pay checks, but most certainly not to history. In an office of so few, concurrently claiming so many and so few viable cases, with so little time left to act, one is left to ponder where they found so much free time to craft a 600 page report quantifying that which they already knew, nerve to rewrite history through the distortions written into and significant omissions edited out of it, or viciously attack one who identified merit in and remained true to their congressional mandate.

    /s/ Anonymous but Extraordinarily Well Informed

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