Within an hour of losing his "last hope" appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, accused Nazi war criminal Andrija Artukovic was extradited Wednesday, ending a 35-year legal struggle to avoid returning to Yugoslavia to face charges of ordering mass murders during World War II.
The 86-year-old Seal Beach resident, who is legally blind, suffering from a heart condition and sometimes mentally confused, was flown from New York's Kennedy International Airport to the northern city of Zagreb aboard a commercial Yugoslavian airliner.
Reuters news service reported from Belgrade that witnesses saw Artukovic on a stretcher as he was carried off a plane and driven away, reportedly to a hospital. No trial date has been announced.
The extradition of Artukovic, who served as minister of the interior and minister of justice for the Nazi puppet state of Croatia from April, 1941, to May, 1945, has been sought by Yugoslavia since the early 1950s.
He is accused of complicity in the murder of thousands of Serbs, Jews and Gypsies. According to Yugoslavian officials, 700,000 prisoners were killed in the Jasenovac concentration camp while Artukovic was in charge of Croatian police and security. He has been described as the highest-ranking Nazi war criminal to come to the United States.
Complaint by Defense
After his client's extradition, one of Artukovic's attorneys, Gary Fleischman, complained that the defense was never permitted to complete the appeals process.
"It is appalling that they removed him from the country without letting the old man say goodby to his wife and five children and consult with counsel," Fleischman said. " . . . I think this whole matter has been a travesty of repeated violations of basic due process, including the summary dismissal of our appeal."
Assistant U.S. Atty. David Nimmer, who headed a three-member prosecution team seeking Artukovic's extradition, defended the government's legal actions.
"Although none of the victims of Nazi genocide ever received any sort of due process, this country afforded Artukovic 15 months of hearings," Nimmer said. "The courts received all his evidence and considered all his arguments. Only then did each of the four levels of federal courts that reviewed this case conclude that Artukovic must face trial in Yugoslavia for thousands of acts of murder. The government's position has been vindicated."
Allan A. Ryan Jr., who was director of the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations when it reopened the case in 1979, called Artukovic "the highest-ranking Nazi war criminal ever to come to this country. . . . He was in charge of the secret police. He was in charge of the death camps."
Ryan called on the Yugoslav government to hold a "trial open to all the world. Let the world see what the evidence there is."
During his final hours in the United States on Tuesday and early Wednesday, the frail, white-haired Artukovic lost two attempts to avoid extradition. Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist rejected his last appeal at 12:20 a.m. EST Wednesday.
Shortly before 1 a.m., according to government accounts, Artukovic walked aboard a Yugoslavian Airlines jet where an official from the Yugoslavian Embassy joined the traveling group, including U.S. marshals and a physician.
The quickly moving events began around noon Tuesday when two federal appeals court judges in Los Angeles denied Artukovic's request for an emergency stay of extradition.
No 'Serious Legal Question'
U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judges Harry Pregerson and Alex Kozinski issued an order holding that Artukovic's appeal did not present a "serious legal question." They said Artukovic could defend himself at the trial in Yugoslavia.
Within two hours of the decision, Artukovic was removed from Terminal Island and left Los Angeles International Airport on a commercial flight at 4:15 p.m. PST. At the time, Artukovic's lawyers, Fleischman and Michael Dacquisto, were composing a three-page telegram to Rehnquist.
"Why did they take this old man?" Fleischman asked later . "It's interesting that a few weeks ago he thought he was in Yugoslavia. They removed his body, but physically they have not made any change in his emotional state. They are going to punish him, and he doesn't know they're doing it."
Artukovic entered the United States in 1948 under an alias and on a temporary visitor's visa. Years later, he successfully fought several attempts by U.S. officials to deport him. He has been in custody since November, 1984, when Yugoslavia renewed its extradition efforts and the U.S. Office of Special Investigations, the Nazi-hunting unit of the federal government, reopened the case.
In Los Angeles last March, U.S. Magistrate Volney V. Brown Jr. found "overwhelming probable cause" to believe that Artukovic ordered mass murder, and he ruled in favor of extradition.
A government certificate ordering Artukovic's return to Yugoslavia, signed Aug. 8, 1985, said he could be extradited for the murders of:
- Between 400 and 500 people killed by machine gun fire after being removed by motorcade from Kresimir's Trg toward Kerestinec in late 1941.
- The entire civilian population of several villages near Vrgin Most, slain in a nearby valley by machine gun fire in early 1942.
- Approximately 5,000 people killed by rifle fire and other weapons near the Moscenica monastery in the Kozara region in 1942.
- Several hundred people captured in the Zumberg region, slain by machine gun fire and by being crushed under moving tanks in the vicinity of Samobor Castle in early 1943.
- Dr. Jesa Vidic, who, according to the U.S. Justice Department, was arrested in the Independent State of Croatia in 1941. According to an affidavit, Artukovic ordered Vidic's death after the man's wife had offered him 150 acres of land for his release.
Artukovic's attorneys appealed Brown's ruling, and last week Chief U.S. District Judge Manuel L. Real denied Artukovic's request for a writ of habeas corpus and upheld Brown's decision.
The attorneys then filed a notice of appeal of Real's decision with the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals while trying to get an emergency stay of extradition until it could be heard.
It is this appeal, never presented to the court as a brief, that Fleischman insists was denied Artukovic when Justices Pregerson and Kozinski ruled Tuesday.
Fleischman said the immediate problem has been to arrange counsel for Artukovic in Yugoslavia. Artukovic's son, Rad, declined to tell reporters at an afternoon press conference Wednesday whether he or any members of his family plan to go to Yugoslavia.
"We're looking at every single option available," he said. "It is my intention to proceed with an appeal of habeas corpus (with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals). Secondly, I will proceed with a lawsuit in Washington, D.C., (filed in July) charging civil rights violations against the government of Yugoslavia and OSI.
"The events of the last couple of days are significant. They mark a drastic departure for the United States in the administration of justice. What has really happened here is very simple. The Office of Special Investigations of the U.S. Justice Department has collaborated with a Communist country in obtaining a fabricated affidavit (concerning the Vidic case).
"I think it's a travesty . . . and I'm saddened our government collaborated to such an extent."
The 37-year-old stockbroker reiterated his belief in his father's innocence and said, "I'm proud of him."
Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles saw in Artukovic's extradition an irony. Hier noted that Artukovic was returned to Yugoslavia on the same week that Soviet dissident Anatoly Shcharansky crossed from East Germany to the West.
"It is ironic that after all these years that Shcharansky sat in prison in the Gulag while Artukovic sat overlooking the California seacoast that yesterday was chosen to finally balance the record and restore that grave injustice when the innocent man went home to freedom and the accused man went before the bar of justice," Hier said.
Times staff writers Ronald J. Ostrow in Washington and Penelope McMillan and William Overend in Los Angeles assisted in reporting this article.