How Neal Sher|
Came to Earn the Title of
America's Leading Nazi Hunter
Neal Sher one-time US Office of Special Investigations (OSI) head, and today advisor to Canada's war crimes unit has always hunted with two arrows in his quiver:
(1) Neal Sher relies on Soviet evidence
Neal Sher's modus operandi has been to allow the Soviets to select targets for American prosecution, and to select the evidence that they would disclose to American prosecutors. The Soviet evidence was overwhelmingly that of putative eyewitnesses, and not documentary. Americans were denied access to Soviet archives, and denied the right to search for other witnesses among the Soviet population. When cross-examination by Americans was allowed, it was under the supervision of Soviet officials who interfered. No witness was allowed to travel to the United States to testify, and none even testified in American embassies where they would be free of Soviet supervision. The impression gained by some Americans who witnessed the taking of Soviet testimony is that it ranged from coached to coerced. The following excerpts from articles written by Robert Gillette of the Los Angeles Times in 1986 substantiate this negative view of Soviet evidence:
Concerns expressed in a number of federal court opinions, and by individual lawyers in a series of interviews, are both political and procedural.|
They note, for example, the Soviet Union's long history of bending justice and inventing evidence to suit its political aims, from the theatrical show trials of old Bolsheviks in the 1930s to the trials of Anatoly Shcharansky and other human rights activists in the 1970s and 1980s.
In the case of accused American war criminals, the critics believe, the Soviet aim is not only to bring a small number of bona fide murderers to justice but to tar traditionally anti-communist emigre communities in the United States as broadly as possible with the same brush. The Soviets, the critics say, want to stir dissension among emigre groups and to blacken them in the eyes of Soviet citizens.
Robert Gillette, Los Angeles Times, 27Apr86, Soviet Proof Key in U.S. Nazi Cases.
Judge's Ruling Cited|
"If the government deputizes a totalitarian state to obtain for it evidence to be used in a United States court, the government must take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that the evidence was not coerced or otherwise tainted by improper pressures," Debevoise wrote, and added that the government had failed to fulfill its responsibilities in this case.
Not only did the witness testify in an intimidating atmosphere, the judge said, but OSI attorneys contributed to this atmosphere by what he called their "extreme deference" to the presiding Soviet prosecutor, "who was nothing more than their partner in the prosecution of this case."
Debevoise gave particular weight to testimony by a former Soviet prosecutor, now living in the United States, who explained how witnesses are commonly manipulated in Soviet courts.
The former prosecutor, Frederick Neznansky, acknowledged that many witnesses are truthful and that many investigations are honestly conducted. But he said that when the evidence fails to support the desired result, there is intense pressure from prosecutors and judges alike to remold it.Latvian KGB Defector
"The way it's explained to a witness is often very lofty," Neznansky said. "The accused is a criminal against the Communist Party, against the state, and is probably a parasite and an enemy of the people. So it is the civic duty of the witness to testify in the appropriate way."
Failing this, he said, "sometimes they (witnesses) are threatened. Not in a serious way, but people could be told they will be fired (from their jobs) if their testimony is not appropriate."
Similarly, a former officer in the Latvian KGB who defected to the United States in 1978, Imants Lesinskis, said he found that witnesses in war crimes cases with which he dealt as a propaganda officer were often totally compliant.
"They had been in Soviet (labor) camps for many years and they were afraid to go back. So if you asked them the right questions, they confirmed all," Lesinskis said.
Robert Gillette, Los Angeles Times, 27Apr86, Soviet Proof Key in U.S. Nazi Cases.
A Soviet official, in an apparent act of conscience, warned the United States nearly three years ago that Moscow was trying to deceive the U.S. Justice Department through evidence it has supplied against alleged Nazi war criminals now living in the United States.|
According to informed government sources, the official confided to an American diplomat that some Soviet witnesses were being coached in their testimony for days before being allowed to give depositions to U.S. prosecutors, apparently to make their testimony more credible and incriminating.
The sources, who asked not to be identified by name or agency, said this information was relayed immediately to the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations in the summer of 1983.
However, the Office of Special Investigations, whose mission is to ferret out and deport suspected war criminals, dismissed the warning as insignificant and without substance and suggested that the official was merely "disgruntled."
U.S. prosecutors have continued to accept Soviet and captured German documents as authentic evidence and to travel to the Soviet Union to collect eyewitness testimony. In an interview, one government source with direct knowledge of the incident expressed dismay that the Justice Department had ignored the Soviet official's warning and failed even to disclose it to the defense lawyer involved in the specific case in which it arose.
The source said there was no reason to doubt the accuracy of the information or the sincerity of the Soviet official, who took a personal risk in passing it privately to a U.S. diplomat based in Moscow.
In doing so, the informant was said to have asked the diplomat in disbelief, "How could you Americans be taken in like this?"
Robert Gillette, Los Angeles Times, 28Apr86, Soviet Aide Warned U.S. on War Crime Evidence.
According to the government sources, however, direct evidence of manipulated testimony emerged in July, 1983, during a session in the Ukrainian city of Cherkassy in which OSI attorneys took depositions from five Soviet citizens.
The case concerned a retired, 75-year-old Ukrainian-born factory worker now living in the eastern United States whom the Soviets accused of taking part in a massacre of Jews in the Ukraine in 1942.
The defendant was not present at the hearing but, in keeping with a standard practice accepted by the Soviets, his attorney was present to cross-examine the witnesses. In addition, a Soviet prosecutor presided over the videotaped hearing.
The attorney, John Rogers Carroll of Philadelphia, asked that his client not be identified by name in view of the two bomb attacks last year.
The sources said the two OSI attorneys at the Cherkassy hearing were delighted with what the prosecutors called the "high quality of the Soviet witnesses, whose recall of events seemed remarkably clear despite the passage of 40 years."
Carroll, however, said he remembered the witnesses one in particular as some of the least convincing he had encountered in a long career of trial practice. The main witness, who claimed to have survived the massacre as a child, was a "joke," Carroll said in a telephone interview.
"He was as absurd a witness as I have ever heard testify. He was so bad, and the KGB guy sitting next to him was so embarrassed by his oratory he sounded like someone at a Soviet trade union congress that he told the guy to pipe down and just answer the questions."
Carroll said that only one of the five witnesses was asked to identify his client from photographs, producing an equivocal response.
"One has to wonder why," Carroll said. "They were witness to atrocities by someone in that village, but they were never asked to establish who. It left a substantial evidentiary gap."
Carroll said he left Cherkassy as soon as the depositions were completed, partly to escape what he called an "unbearably oppressive atmosphere."
"The Soviets kept referring to me as the private advocate of the Nazi murderer,'" he said. "Defense attorneys are not made to feel welcome."
The day after Carroll left, however, a Soviet official involved in the hearing approached an American diplomat who was serving as a liaison between the team from the Office of Special Investigations and local authorities.Tailoring the Testimony
Speaking privately and with some emotion, one source said, the official disclosed that the five witnesses had not been brought to Cherkassy the day before the hearing began, as the Americans had been told, but had been confined in the town for well over a week of intensive coaching and rehearsals of their testimony.
This source, who was fully informed of the incident that summer, said the official was unable to specify to what extent their testimony was actually perjured that is, false or misleading. But the official made it clear that the Soviet aim in drilling the witnesses on their stories was to tailor them to the needs of the American prosecutors, making the testimony as incriminating as possible.
It was in this context that the official asked in disbelief how the Americans could allow themselves to be "taken in" by what was, in fact, a staged performance.
"Don't you people know that we remember what we are told to remember, that we say what we are told to say?" the informant was reported to have said. He reportedly went on to describe Moscow's purpose in essentially the same political terms used by OSI's critics in the United States.
"This is the way the (Soviet) regime tries to legitimize itself in the eyes of Ukrainians, by discrediting the emigres," the official was quoted as saying.
The U.S. Embassy in Moscow promptly reported the incident to the Justice Department. Several weeks later, the American diplomat was flown to Finland, where representatives of the Office of Special Investigations among them the current director, Sher spent about 90 minutes debriefing him in the security of the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki.
In an interview with The Times in January in which this incident was not mentioned, Sher said there was no evidence that the Soviets have ever dictated how witnesses were to testify to OSI attorneys or in any similar war crimes cases.
"There is no indication that the Soviets have said (to witnesses), You have to say this or you have to say that,'" Sher said. He added that if at any time the KGB had "spoon-fed a witness," then this "would show up on cross-examination.... Our system provides the means to detect it."
Asked in a more recent interview how he reconciled this with the Soviet official's statement in Cherkassy, Sher acknowledged that he had debriefed the American diplomat in whom the Soviet official had confided but said the OSI concluded the incident had no significance.
"We looked at it very carefully," Sher said. "It was clear to us that there was no hard evidence about anything, that these witnesses were not compromised."
He said that he did not recall any reference to the coaching of witnesses. "It was clear to us that what was said was an offhand remark, nothing hard to it, a comment by someone who may have been disgruntled," he said.
However, a U.S. diplomat who served in Moscow and was familiar with the incident said this characterization was not correct. He said that although any Soviet official who would dare to make such a disclosure would be disgruntled almost by definition, this did not impugn the accuracy of remarks that seemed carefully considered, informed and sincere.
The official's point, the diplomat said, "was to let us know we were being misled."
Robert Gillette, Los Angeles Times, 28Apr86, Soviet Aide Warned U.S. on War Crime Evidence, blue emphasis added.
(2) Neal Sher conceals exculpatory evidence
Although Neal Sher has suppressed a great deal of exculpatory evidence, I will illustrate my thesis by demonstrating his suppression of the testimony of three key witnesses during the prosecution of John Demjanjuk.
The Commandant of Treblinka himself, Kurt Franz, at the time of the Demjanjuk proceedings was sitting in a West German jail, and Treblinka SS Sergeant Franz Suchomel was walking around a free man. These two were of particular relevance to the Demjanjuk case because independent documentary evidence existed that they had really been at Treblinka, which was not true of any of the five Jewish witnesses who testified against John Demjanjuk in Jerusalem. If there had been an Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka who was drilling holes in men's buttocks and cutting off women's breasts with his sword and braining prisoners with a pipe, an Ivan the Terrible who single-handedly closed the gas-chamber doors on 870,000 victims and started the diesel engines then surely he would have been the best-known figure in the camp, and would have remained the most memorable. Therefore, if Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka had existed, Franz and Suchomel would have known him and would remember him. And therefore too, if Franz and Suchomel did not know Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka, and could not remember him, then he couldn't have existed.
So why didn't Franz and Suchomel testify in the various Demjanjuk trials either in the United States or in Israel? The reason is that Demjanjuk prosecutors interviewed Franz and Suchomel, didn't like what they heard, suppressed their reports of the interviews, and suppressed even the information that any interviews had taken place. The Demjanjuk defense efforts to obtain the reports of these interviews failed. To this day, the OSI has never disclosed its reports on these two interviews.
Richard Glazar of Berne Switzerland, in turn, is a putative Treblinka survivor who was of particular interest because at the time of the Demjanjuk proceedings in the United States and in Israel, Glazar was writing a book on Treblinka. This put him a cut above the prosecution witnesses who did ultimately testify against Demjanjuk, as they had never written a word on their experiences, other than in a couple of cases to sign depositions written for them by others right after the war. Glazar, like Franz and Suchomel, was interviewed by the OSI the OSI paid for him to come to the United States with his wife, and put them up in a Holiday Inn in Alexandria but again the prosecutors did not like what they heard, suppressed the report of the interview, and to this day have never produced that report. From our vantage point today, we can be absolutely certain that Glazar disappointed the prosecution in that interview at the Holiday Inn, and in other interviews, because his book on Treblinka, Trap With a Green Fence has now been published, and offers no support for the prosecution case it never so much as mentions the title Ivan the Terrible. A transcript of a telephone conversation with Richard Glazar shows him confessing that he has on many occasions been interviewed by Demjanjuk prosecutors, and that he has promised them to not share his information with the Demjanjuk defense.
In my 08Sep1998 letter to Neal Sher, you will find documentation that the testimony of these three witnesses was first obtained by Demjanjuk prosecutors and then suppressed. Below I reproduce an excerpt from one of the many attempts to obtain the testimony in question:
It is simply inconceivable that in its investigation of the Demjanjuk case the OSI did not interview Mr. Glazar, a Treblinka survivor, and that it did not interview Kurt Franz, the Treblinka commandant, and Franz Suchomel, a guard at the camp. It is equally inconceivable that the interviewing OSI attorney or investigator did not prepare a report on the interview. Somewhere in OSI there should be at least three interview reports covering OSI interviews with Glazar, Franz and Suchomel regarding their knowledge of Demjanjuk.
Excerpt from a 24Dec88 letter from Demjanjuk attorney John Broadley to US Attorney General Richard Thornburgh continuing to plead for the release of witness-interview reports that had been first requested by the defense years earlier.
Israeli attorney Yoram Sheftel's judgment below does not merely indict the OSI generally for suppressing evidence, but assigns blame to Neal Sher personally, and this is a blame so severe as to give Sher a place in the history books:
HADZEWYCZ: If you had the opportunity today to speak with the two former directors of the OSI, Allan Ryan ... What would you say to
SHEFTEL: I would tell him that he is a key player in, in my opinion, the worst cover-up in concealing evidence in a major case taken by
an American public prosecutor in modern history after the second world war.
HADZEWYCZ: And what would you say to his successor, Neal Sher?
SHEFTEL: Exactly the same.
HADZEWYCZ: Those two are equally guilty of this cover-up?
SHEFTEL: I would say Allan Ryan more, because Allan Ryan was in charge of the OSI in August 1978 and through 1981 this is the
key, crucial time of the decision to prosecute or not to prosecute Demjanjuk. And the decision to prosecute was made by Allan Ryan, who
knew that Demjanjuk was not "Ivan the Terrible" and yet he prosecuted him for being "Ivan the Terrible." Again, I don't know of a major
case with such a deliberate cover-up as Allan Ryan, more, and Neal Sher, not much less, are responsible for.
Roma Hadzewycz interviews Yoram Sheftel, The Ukrainian Weekly, July 21, 1996, p. 3.
In my letter to you of 30Apr2000, I cautioned that in view of Steven Rambam's bad reputation, it was indiscreet to form a close association with him, and unwise to depend on his information without verifying it first. In the case of Neal Sher, the evidence above suggests that a much stronger caveat is warranted that it would be prudent to suspect any evidence coming from Neal Sher of being tainted, and that it would be dangerous to form a close association with a man who has attempted murder to advance his own career.