The Case of Ivan the Almost-As-Terrible

Once again, Justice Department goes after accused concentration camp guard John Demjanjuk.

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When it comes to the case of John Demjanjuk, the Justice Department just won't give up. The 79-year-old retired Cleveland auto worker was stripped of his citizenship in 1981, tried and convicted in Israel in 1988 for being the notoriously brutal guard "Ivan the Terrible" at the Nazi extermination camp at Treblinka, and freed in 1993 by the Israeli Supreme Court as a result of evidence suggesting another man could have been Ivan. On Wednesday, the department's Office of Special Investigations declared that though he may not have been Ivan, Demjanjuk nevertheless served in almost as grisly a capacity at three other Nazi camps: the Sobibor extermination camp and the Majdanek and Flossenburg concentration camps. The department moved once again in court to revoke his U.S. citizenship, and Demjanjuk’s family once again declared he was the victim of a government frame-up. The family pointed to a 1993 U.S. appellate court finding that the department had recklessly withheld evidence useful to the defense in the original case.

Wednesday's move should come as no surprise, says TIME Washington correspondent Elaine Shannon. "The unit is incredibly persistent and has always strongly believed in what they were doing. This shows they remain undaunted by the vicissitudes of litigation" -- and, apparently, sure of the incriminating evidence that was turned up in the prior proceedings. The refiling is "the right and courageous thing to do," said Neal Sher, the former head of Justice’s Nazi-hunting effort. Coming as it does now, in the era of Kosovo war-crime allegations, the revived Demjanjuk case is sure to rekindle the debate over why it matters to prosecute old men for war crimes allegedly committed more than half a century ago.