The Senate sponsor of a law requiring government agencies to disclose information on postwar U.S.-Nazi cooperation has told CIA officials he would convene hearings to determine why the agency is withholding some documents.
In a meeting between intelligence officials and members of the Nazi War Criminal Records Interagency Working Group investigating the files Tuesday, Sen. Mike DeWine, an Ohio Republican, said he would call CIA Director Porter Goss before the Senate Judiciary Committee in two weeks to discuss the files, according to participants in the conference.
The prospect of an open hearing further ratchets up the standoff between members of Congress and the CIA over implementation of the 1998 law requiring full disclosure of records on Nazi war criminals and setting up the working group to analyze them.
“If I were them, I wouldn’t want a public hearing,” said Elizabeth Holtzman, a member of the interagency working group, after attending the conference in Washington on Tuesday. “I don’t think their position is going to sit well with the American public.”
Adding to the pressure is a tight timetable. The legislation authorizing the working group is to expire at the end of this month, although Congress is likely to offer an extension.
Goss, the current CIA chief who was a Florida congressman at the time, was a cosponsor of the bill, which passed overwhelmingly in both houses.
The CIA has already handed over more than 8 million pages of documents to the working group, which was established by President Bill Clinton in 1999 and is also charged with investigating war crimes by Japan. Hundreds of thousands more documents related to Nazis are believed to still be outstanding. Intelligence officials have said they interpret the bill sponsored by DeWine and Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a Manhattan Democrat, to mean that only documents related to Germans proven to have participated in war crimes were to be disclosed. Holtzman, who as a Brooklyn congresswoman held hearings in the 1970s to investigate former Nazis who live in the United States, said she had been told by intelligence officials that they considered files on “mere SS officers” not known to have participated in war crimes to be exempt from the disclosure requirement.
“That’s a nonsensical distinction to make,” said Holtzman. “They will tell us what an individual did for the Nazis, but not what that individual did for the U.S.”
DeWine told the intelligence officials Tuesday he believed the statute viewed the German officers in the same manner as they were judged in the Nuremberg trials: That membership in the Schutzstaffel, or SS, which was the elite unit of the Nazi party, or in the party itself, was criterion enough to be declared a war criminal.
Amanda Flaig, a spokeswoman for DeWine, said the senator stressed that it was impossible today to determine the actions of those named in the files in order to have them released. “We can’t have another Nuremberg 60 years later,” she said. “Membership alone should be enough to facilitate the opening of the documents.”
A CIA spokesman told The New York Times last week that the agency was preparing a report that will explain to members of Congress its rationale for withholding the documents, while insisting all data related to war criminals and collaborators had been turned over.