Sunday, January 30, 2005

THREE DAYS AGO, WORLD LEADERS gathered in Oswicm, Poland, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. I wrote here about the irony of Dick Cheney saying Auschwitz proved that evil is real and must be confronted when the U.S. government gave refuge in the United States to former Nazis after the war and hired them as scientists and spies. Now there is an article in Sunday's New York Times about the efforts of a government working group to get classified C.I.A. records that relate to Nazi war criminals. The working group was created by a 1998 law that tasked the group with finding all government records related to former Nazi war criminals and assessing the records for declassification for the purpose of making them available to the public at the National Archives and Records Administration. To accomplish this end, the law mandated that the C.I.A. provide all such documents to the working group. Although well over a million pages have been handed over, for the past 3 years the C.I.A. has refused to grant requests for additional documents, in apparent violation of the law.

The documents provided so far reveal that the relationship between the U.S. government and Nazi war criminals and collaborators was even stronger than we already knew or suspected. In the years after the end of the war, dozens of former Nazis were put on the C.I.A. payroll in an effort to pick their brains for information that would help the United States in the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Many of these individuals were at the top levels of Hitler's regime: at least five of them were close associates of Adolf Eichmann. Eichmann was the mastermind of the Final Solution to exterminate the Jewish population of Europe.

U.S. officials have tried to justify Operation Paperclip (so called because of the paperclips that were placed on former Nazi officials' C.I.A. files, for quick identification purposes) by saying the program was "essential to gaining access to intelligence after World War II, particularly about the Soviet Union and its cold war allies." But, to borrow a phrase from Pres. Bush's comments about stem-cell research in the context of its potential for saving life, "That doesn't change the ethics of it."

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