A U.S. immigration appeals board on Thursday denied a request to reopen the deportation case of John Demjanjuk, who is wanted in Germany to face accusations that he served as a Nazi death camp guard. Meanwhile, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Demjanjuk's only avenue of appeal at the moment, asked the Justice Department and Demjanjuk's attorneys to provide it more information.
Lawyers have one week to respond, meaning the 89-year-old retired autoworker will remain at his suburban Cleveland home for now.
An arrest warrant in Germany claims Demjanjuk was an accessory to some 29,000 deaths during World War II at the Sobibor camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. Once in Germany, he could be formally charged in court.
Family and lawyers representing Demjanjuk have said that flying him to Germany would amount to torture and that he might not even survive the flight.
Deportation stay in effect
The Cincinnati-based appeals court halted his deportation Tuesday, shortly after immigration officers carried Demjanjuk from his home in a wheelchair to start him on his journey to Germany. He returned home a few hours later. The appeals court's deportation stay remains in effect.
On Thursday, the appeals court said the U.S. Department of Justice must provide a copy of the doctor's report it used to determine Demjanjuk is healthy enough to travel. It also asked for the government's plans for taking Demjanjuk to Germany and wants Demjanjuk's lawyers to file papers addressing whether the court has jurisdiction.
A Division of Immigration Health Services doctor who recently examined Demjanjuk determined he is "medically stable" to travel from the United States to Germany, but the family and Demjanjuk's lawyer on Wednesday questioned whether all information has been released about the flight being potentially lethal.
John Demjanjuk Jr. said his father is so frail that even if given additional oxygen aboard an aircraft he might not be able to breathe.
Justice Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney was aware of the immigration board's ruling but said the agency would not comment because of the matter still pending before the appeals court.
The department has argued that the appeals court lacks jurisdiction to rule on Demjanjuk's deportation. Demjanjuk Jr. said the Board of Immigration Appeals' decision Thursday "makes our case for jurisdiction before the 6th Circuit clear cut."
Germany would check health
If Demjanjuk is deported and arrives in Munich, a doctor would determine whether he should be held in a prison or at a secure hospital. A medical expert would examine him by the time formal charges are filed.
Elderly, frail Nazi suspects with health problems have stood trial in the past: in 2001, Anton Malloth, an 89-year-old former guard at the Theresienstadt fortress in occupied Czechoslovakia, sat through his trial in Munich in a wheelchair, connected to an IV drip. He was sentenced to life in prison for beating a Jewish inmate to death, and died a year later.
However, health issues have prompted rulings in other cases that defendants were unfit to face or continue facing trial.
A German attorney for Demjanjuk, Ulrich Busch, suggested this week that that would leave his client, whose U.S. citizenship has been revoked, stuck in Germany.
"There is no going back to the U.S.A. And then what?" Busch said. "Into a nursing home until his death? All the while separated from his family? He doesn't speak the German language. Is that a solution?"