Extradition of Nazi War Criminals


The term "laws of war" refers to the rules governing the 
actual conduct of armed conflict. This idea that there actually exists 
rules that govern war is a difficult concept to understand. The simple 
act of war in and of itself seems to be in violation of an almost 
universal law prohibiting one human being from killing another. But 
during times of war murder of the enemy is allowed, which leads one to 
the question, "if murder is permissible then what possible "laws of 
war" could there be?" The answer to this question can be found in the 
Charter established at the International Military Tribunals at 
Nuremberg and Tokyo:

 Crimes against Humanity: namely, murder, extermination, 
enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against 
any civilian population, before or during the war, or persecutions on 
political, racial or religious grounds in execution of or in 
connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, 
whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where 
perpetrated. Leaders, organizers, instigators, and accomplices 
participating in the formulation or execution of a common plan or 
conspiracy to commit any of the foregoing crimes are responsible for 
all acts performed by any persons in execution of such plan.1 The 
above excerpt comes form the Charter of the Tribunal Article 6 section 
C, which makes it quite clear that in general the "laws of war" are 
there to protect innocent civilians before and during war.

 It seems to be a fair idea to have such rules governing armed 
conflict in order to protect the civilians in the general location of 
such a conflict. But, when the conflict is over, and if war crimes 
have been committed, how then are criminals of war brought to justice? 
The International Military Tribunals held after World War II in 
Nuremberg on 20 November 1945 and in Tokyo on 3 May 1946 are excellent 
examples of how such crimes of war are dealt with. (Roberts and Guelff 
153-54) But, rather than elaborate on exact details of the Tribunals 
of Nuremberg and Tokyo a more important matter must be dealt with. 
What happens when alleged criminals of war are unable to be 
apprehended and justly tried? Are they forgotten about, or are they 
sought after such as other criminals are in order to serve justice? 
What happens if these alleged violators are found residing somewhere 
other than where their pursuers want to bring them to justice? How 
does one go about legally obtaining the custody of one such suspect? 
Some of the answers to these questions can be found in an analysis of 
how Israel went about obtaining the custody of individuals that it 
thought to be guilty of Nazi War Crimes. Not only will one find some 
of the answers to the previously stated questions, but also one will 
gain an understanding of one facet of international law and how it 

 Two cases in specific will be dealt with here. First, the 
extradition of Adolf Eichmann from Argentina, and second, the 
extradition of John Demjanjuk from the United States of America. These 
cases demonstrate two very different ways that Israel went about 
obtaining the custody of these alleged criminals. The cases also 
expose the intricacy of International Law in matters of extradition. 
But, before we begin to examine each of these cases we must first 
establish Israel's right to judicial processing of alleged Nazi war 

 To understand the complications involved in Israel placing 
suspected Nazi war criminals on trial, lets review the history of 
Israel's situation. During World War II the Nazis were persecuting 
Jews in their concentration camps. At this time the state of Israel 
did not exist. The ending of the war meant the ending of the 
persecution, and when the other countries discovered what the Nazis 
had done Military Tribunals quickly followed. Some of the accused war 
criminals were tried and sentenced, but others managed to escape 
judgement and thus became fugitives running from international law. 
Israel became a state, and thus, some of the Jews that survived the 
concentration camps moved to the state largely populated by people of 
Jewish ancestry. Israel felt a moral commitment because of its large 
Jewish population and set about searching for the fugitive Nazi war 

 The situation just described is only a basic overview of what 
happened. The state of Israel views itself as the nation with the 
greatest moral jurisdiction for the trial of Nazi war criminals, and 
other states around the Globe agree with Israel's claim. (Lubet and 
Reed 1) Former Israeli Attorney General Gideon Hausner was interested 
in confirming Israel as the place for bringing to justice all those 
suspected of genocide of Jews. Hausner sought to confirm Israel's 
status by proposing to the United States that they extradite Bishop 
Valerian Trifa to Israel for trial as a war criminal. Israel was 
reluctant to support Hausner's proposal, which resulted in delaying 
the extradition process and thus gave Trifa the time needed to find a 
country willing to give him residency. Portugal granted Trifa 
residency and thus Hausner's proposal was in vain.

 Israel, sometime after losing their opportunity of obtaining 
Trifa, decided that Hausner's idea of establishing Israel as the place 
to bring Nazi war criminals to trial was a good one, which lead them 
to seek the extradition of John Demjanjuk from the United States. The 
Wall Street Journal reported:

 Israel's request for the extradition of a suspected Nazi war 
criminal living in the U.S. . . appears to be a test case that could 
determine whether Israel pursues other suspects . . . The decision to 
seek the extradition of Mr. Demjanjuk follows months of negotiations 
between U.S. and Israel officials about specific cases and the broader 
question of whether Israel wanted to go through with extraditions 
requests . . . Gideon Hausner, who prosecuted Eichmann, said Israel's 
decision to ask the U.S. to extradite Nazis for trial [in Jerusalem] 
is an important step. "This creates the opportunity for at least tacit 
admission of Israel's special position with regard to crimes against 
Jews anywhere in the world," he says.2 After much negotiations the 
United States arrested Demjanjuk in November of 1983. On April 15, 
1985 United States District Judge Frank Battisti ruled in favor of 
Demjanjuk's extradition. After the Sixth Court of Appeals affirmed 
Battisti's ruling and the Supreme Court denied Demjanjuk's petition 
for certiorari, Demjanjuk arrived in Israel on February 27, 1986. 
(Lubet and Reed 3) It would appear, from what has been presented, that 
the extradition process is simple. But this conclusion is not correct 
because there are a few issues that make extradition problematic. One 
such issue that complicates the process of extradition is that of 
identification and proof.

 Leading Nazi war criminals such as Adolf Eichmann and Klaus 
Barbie offer no real dispute in the matter of identification, but war 
criminals that were not so prominent leave room to question whether 
they truly are who they are accused of being. The type of criminal 
cases that most of us are familiar with are those that attempt to 
prove whether a defendant committed a particular act or acts. 
Extradition cases involve two distinct questions: 1) The prosecution 
must prove that the defendant is actually the person sought by the 
requesting country. 2) The court must find probable cause to believe 
that the accused committed the offense.3

 In Demjanjuk extradition case Judge Battisti concluded that 
identification "requires only a threshold showing probable cause."4 
How this threshold is achieved can be done through the aid of a 
photograph comparison with the accused, fingerprints, or an 

 In the matter of probable cause the appellate court used the 
formulation of "any evidence warranting the finding that there was 
reasonable ground to believe the accused guilty."5 Furthermore it has 
been indicated that the extradition process incorporates these rules:
Probable cause to support extradition may be based entirely on 
hearsay, and the defendant cannot present exculpatory evidence, which 
the presiding judge would have to weigh or balance.6 It must be kept 
in mind that the extradition process does not attempt to prove the 
innocence or guilt of the accused but rather whether the individual is 
whom he or she is accused of being. The accuracy of the identification 
is an issue that is resolved during the course of the actual trial, 
and not in the extradition process. Simply identifying Demjanjuk does 
not make him extraditable, the requirement of criminality has to be 
met as well. Concerning the requirement of criminality the Stanford 
Journal of Law said the following:

 The rule of dual criminality generally provides that 
extradition may be had only for acts extraditable by treaty and 
considered criminal in both the requested and requesting 
jurisdictions...Since sovereigns rarely define crimes using identical 
phrases and since treaty terms may be ambiguous or out of date, a 
substantial jurisprudence has developed interpreting and applying the 
requirement of criminality.7 In the case of Demjanjuk Israel was 
charging him with "the crimes of murdering Jews, [which are] offenses 
under sections 1 to 4 of the Nazi and Nazi Collaborators (Punishment) 
Law."8 The precise phrase, "murdering Jews," is not mentioned in the 
United States-Israel Extradition Treaty, also the previously mentioned 
phrase does not exist in current American penal statute.

 But, according to the American rule of dual criminality a way 
away around this small detail can be found:

 The law does not require that the name by which the crime is 
described in the two countries shall be the same; nor that the scope 
of the liability shall be coextensive, or, in other respects, the same 
in the two countries. It is enough if the particular act charged is 
criminal in both jurisdictions.9 It is clear to see that the 
previously mentioned American rule on dual criminality gives the 
United States the option of recognizing "murdering Jews" as simply to 
mean "murder." Therefore, the requirement of dual criminality in the 
case of John Demjanjuk is satisfied.

 The issues of identification and probable cause, along with 
the requirement of criminality help to demonstrate the complexities 
involved in the extradition process. Two more brief issues to consider 
regarding Demjanjuk's extradition are the questions of 
extraterritoriality and extratemporality.

 Extraterritoriality in relation to the case of Demjanjuk would 
have only been an issue had another country along with Israel 
requested the extradition of John Demjanjuk. In the case where two 
countries are requesting the same individual the Secretary of State 
would have to weigh the various forums' contacts in order to determine 
which request to honor. Israel has unofficially been recognized as the 
desirable nation for bringing Nazi war criminals to trial. Germany, 
Poland, and the U.S.S.R., for example, all waived their potential 
requests for the extradition of Eichmann in favor of trial by Israel. 
(Lubet and Reed 44-45)

 In the matter of extratemporality, the trial judge presiding 
over the Demjanjuk case ruled that murder was not barred by lapse of 
time because the United States recognizes no statue of limitations for 
that offense. (Lubet and Reed 58) Even if murder were to be barred by 
lapse of time Demjanjuk could still have been extradited because of 
his misrepresentation of his wartime activities during his immigration 
process. Demjanjuk could have then been viewed as fleeing from justice 
and thus no statute of limitations would have been extended to him.
The extradition process of Demjanjuk because it only involves two 
countries would appear to be an easy process to complete. Even when 
countries are cooperative, as were the United States and Israel, 
concerning extradition it is clear that issues such as identification 
and probable cause, requirement of criminality, extraterritoriality, 
and extratemporality demonstrate how complex the process of 
extradition can be. Certainly, Israel could have avoided the 
complexities and length of time involved in extradition and gone about 
obtaining Demjanjuk the same way they obtained Eichmann, but that 
method, although it was effective, caused a bit of a commotion in the 
international community.

 Adolf Eichmann of the Reich Security Main Office was the 
alleged strategist behind the so-called "final solution of the Jewish 
question."10 There have been roughly six million murders attributed to 
him, so it is easy to understand why concentration camp survivors 
spent fifteen years searching for him. Perseverance paid off when 
Eichmann was found in Argentina living under an assumed name. A group 
of volunteers, some of whom were Israeli citizens acting without the 
support or direction of the Israeli Government, removed Eichmann from 
Argentina and brought him to Israel where they turned him over to 
government so that a trial could take place. So far it can be seen 
that this method of extradition is quicker and less complicated than 
the Demjanjuk method of extradition. There is no need for 
identification or probable cause, requirement of dual criminality, 
extraterritoriality, or extratemporality. The process is as simple as 
it sounds; Eichmann was found and Eichmann was removed. Although the 
method for extradition of Eichmann was quick it did result in leaving 
Argentina very upset.

 Argentina felt that Israel's exercise of authority upon 
Argentine territory was an infringement on its sovereignty. Israel 
defended itself by claiming that Eichmann left Argentina voluntarily, 
and the Israeli Government claimed that the group that removed 
Eichmann was working under its own direction and not that of the 
Israeli Government. Israel even went so far as to issue a letter 
expressing their regrets for the actions taken by the free acting 

 If the volunteer group violated Argentine law or interfered 
with matters within the sovereignty of Argentina, the Government of 
Israel wishes to express its regrets.11

 Argentina's rejoined that even if Eichmann left Argentina on 
his own free will that Israel should be responsible for the actions of 
the private persons who were Israeli citizens. One simple point to be 
made here in reply to Argentina's argument is that only some of the 
persons involved with the Eichmann removal were Israeli citizens. 
There is a small possibility that the persons who were Israeli 
citizens were only mere accessories to the act, guilty of only 
marginal involvement. Furthermore, the responsibility of states in 
connection with the acts of private persons is predicated upon 
territorial jurisdiction and not the bond of nationality. (Svarlien 
136) Israel has no jurisdiction within Argentina and thus has no power 
over the actions of its citizens within Argentina's borders. The sole 
power of jurisdiction in this matter lays in the hands of Argentina, 
and since the claim that Eichmann left voluntarily has neither been 
shown to be false or expressly denied it appears that no real 
Argentine law has been violated.

 Argentina went on further to argue that Israel's note 
expressing their regret in the matter of Eichmann's removal can be 
viewed as an apology, which constitutes an admission of guilt. The 
phrasing of the note of regret sent by Israel is embedded clearly with 
conditional terms, which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to 
derive an admission of guilt from it. At no time in the note does 
Israel praise or approve the volunteer group actions, and neither does 
Israel try to justify what was done. If anything can clearly be 
derived from the note it is that Israel in fact does regret the 
actions of the volunteer group, and possibly even condemns their 
behavior. But, Argentina's claim that the note is an admission of 
guilt is hardly an argument worth pursuing. Argentina's strongest 
argument against the abduction of Eichmann is that Israel chose to 
detain Eichmann after he had been captured.

 Argentina claimed that even though the abduction of Eichmann 
was an act committed by private citizens, the Israeli Government's 
decision to detain and try Eichmann made them an accessory. This point 
is Argentina's strongest argument because it is known that the 
jurisdiction of the court reaches only as far as the borders of the 
state of which it is in. If the court had no jurisdiction in the 
nation of the original seizure, then by what right does that court 
have to detain and try the accused? The only problem with Argentina's 
final argument on the Eichmann abduction is that proof of forcible 
seizure or arrest must be presented. Since the abductors were acting 
of their own free will it is doubtful that they arrested Eichmann in 
the name of Israel. It is, however, quite possible that the abductors 
used some force in the removal of Eichmann, but again, use of force 
must be proved to give validity to Argentina's final argument.
Argentina filed a complaint with the United Nations Security Council 
under Article 33 claiming that Israel violated international law, 
which created an atmosphere of insecurity and distrust jeopardizing 
the preservation of international peace. (Silving 312) After the 
presentation of arguments and debates before the Security Council the 
follow declarations were made:

 violation of the sovereignty of a Member State is incompatible 
with the Charter of the United Nations; repetition of acts such as 
that giving rise to this situation would involve a breach of the 
principles upon which international order is founded creating an 
atmosphere of insecurity and distrust incompatible with the 
preservation of peace. The "adjudicative" part of the resolution. 1. 
Declares that acts such as that under considerations, which affect the 
sovereignty of a Member State and therefore cause international 
friction, may, if repeated, endanger international peace and security; 
2. Requests the Government of Israel to make appropriate reparation in 
accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and rules of 
international law.12 The important part of the resolutions that the 
United Nations reached is the phrase "if repeated." It is almost as if 
the United Nations said, "this time we will let the infringement go, 
but next we will take action."

 Considering the unique character of the crimes attributed to 
Eichmann, and since such crimes are, for the most part, universally 
condemned, Israel's breach of international law seems to have been 
tolerated. It is quite possible that had the person who was removed 
been someone other than Eichmann the result of the United Nations 
Security Council would have been much different.

 The two cases of extradition expose the complexities of 
international law. In the case of Demjanjuk, Israel went about the 
extradition process in the correct manner, which resulted in the 
issues of identification and probable cause, requirement of 
criminality, extraterritoriality, and extratemporality. When Israel 
went about obtaining Adolf Eichmann the issues dealt with were ones 
resulting from the method of Eichmann's apprehension. Eichmann's 
removal from Argentina brought to light the issue of violation of a 
country's sovereignty. In both cases because the accused were being 
charged with Nazi war crimes, specifically genocide, there cases seem 
to get a little leeway and are not dealt with as extremely as other 
cases might be. Nevertheless, their cases demonstrate how one goes 
about bringing to justice those charged with violating the laws of 


1 Roberts, Adam, and Richard Guelff, ed. Documents of the Laws of 
War. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982.) 155.

2 Lubert, Steven, and Jan Stern Reed. "Extradition of Nazis from
the United States to Israel: A Survey of Issues in
Transnational Criminal Law." Stanford Journal of 
International Law. 23 (1986): 3.

3 Lubert, Steven, and Jan Stern Reed. "Extradition of Nazis from
the United States to Israel: A Survey of Issues in
Transnational Criminal Law." Stanford Journal of 
International Law. 23 (1986): 15.

4 Lubert, Steven, and Jan Stern Reed. "Extradition of Nazis from
the United States to Israel: A Survey of Issues in
Transnational Criminal Law." Stanford Journal of 
International Law. 23 (1986): 15.

5 Lubert, Steven, and Jan Stern Reed. "Extradition of Nazis from
the United States to Israel: A Survey of Issues in
Transnational Criminal Law." Stanford Journal of 
International Law. 23 (1986): 18.

6 Lubert, Steven, and Jan Stern Reed. "Extradition of Nazis from
the United States to Israel: A Survey of Issues in
Transnational Criminal Law." Stanford Journal of 
International Law. 23 (1986): 18.

7 Lubert, Steven, and Jan Stern Reed. "Extradition of Nazis from
the United States to Israel: A Survey of Issues in
Transnational Criminal Law." Stanford Journal of 
International Law. 23 (1986): 20.

8 Lubert, Steven, and Jan Stern Reed. "Extradition of Nazis from
the United States to Israel: A Survey of Issues in
Transnational Criminal Law." Stanford Journal of 
International Law. 23 (1986): 23.

9 Lubert, Steven, and Jan Stern Reed. "Extradition of Nazis from
the United States to Israel: A Survey of Issues in
Transnational Criminal Law." Stanford Journal of
International Law. 23 (1986): 23.

10 Silving, Helen. "In Re Eichmann: A Dilemma of Law and Morality"
The American Journal of International Law 55 (1961):311.

11 Silving, Helen. "In Re Eichmann: A Dilemma of Law and Morality"
The American Journal of International Law 55 (1961):318.

12 Silving, Helen. "In Re Eichmann: A Dilemma of Law and Morality"
The American Journal of International Law 55 (1961):313.


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