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Statement of
Rep. Tom Lantos

at a hearing of the
Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology
House Government Reform Committee


"Implementation of the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act"

June 27, 2000

Mr. Chairman, thank you for convening this very important hearing on the implementation of the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act, and thank you for allowing me to testify today.

Mr. Chairman, before I begin my statement, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your unwavering support and strong personal commitment to bring to justice Nazi war criminals through the full declassification of documents in possession of the National Archives and Records Service. Throughout your distinguished congressional career, your commitment to human rights has been second to none, and your strong leadership was essential in the passage of the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act.

I would also like to thank the current Ranking Member of the Subcommittee, Congressman Jim Turner, and the former Ranking Member, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, for their strong commitment to declassification issues in the pursuit of Nazi war criminals and human rights offenders around the world.

I also want to thank Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Senator Mike DeWine, who introduced the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act in the House and Senate.

The Exemplary Implementation of the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act by the National Archives and Records Administration.

Mr. Chairman, the successful implementation of any bill passed by Congress will have to be measured against the goals it set out to achieve. The goal of the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act is to declassify and make public any remaining documents in U.S. possession concerning Nazi crimes, criminals and looted property. At the same time this "right to know" must be balanced against legitimate reasons to continue to withhold certain documents. Since we are dealing with documents that are now half a century old, however, there clearly should be a bias in favor of declassification.

For that purpose and in compliance with Section 2 (b)(1) of the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act, President Clinton issued Exec. Order 13110 on January 11, 1999, which created the "Nazi War Criminal Records Interagency Working Group (IWG)." The Members of the IWG are Chairman Michael J. Kurtz of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Thomas H. Baer of Steinhardt Baer Pictures Company, Richard Ben-Veniste of Weil. Gotshal & Manges, John E. Coilingwood of the FBI, former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzmann, Kenneth J. Levit of the CIA, Harold J. Kwalwasser of the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), William H. Leary of the National Security Council staff, David Marwell of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Eli M. Rosenbaum of the Office of Special Investigations at the Department of Justice, and William Z. Slany of the Department of State. In addition, a Historical Advisory Panel composed of seven outstanding historians supports the IWG in their endeavors. Two historians, in particular have played a critical role in the work of the IWG - Dr. Richard Breitman and Dr. Timothy Naftali.

Mr. Chairman, I want to pay tribute to the members of the IWG. No matter how well intended and carefully crafted legislation is, the people who are chosen to implement it have a great impact upon assuring that the intention of the Congress is met. I am gratified that the efforts of the IWG have been outstanding.

This has been a mammoth undertaking. In its interim report on the implementation of the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act - a report which is mandated in Sec. 2 (c)(3) of the Act - the IWG reported that all agencies completed a preliminary survey of their records which could potentially be covered by the Act's requirement for declassification review. In the first year of its operations, the IWG has screened over 600 million pages of material to identify potentially applicable files, principally at the CIA, Department of Defense, FBI, and archival records in the National Archives. During this initial screening, some 50 million pages of material meeting the criteria of the legislation has been identified and is being further screened to determine if declassification is covered by terms of the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act.

Mr. Chairman, this process is massive and tedious. An enormous amount of material needs to be categorized, catalogued, and systematically searched. In the all too frequent absence of an existing catalogue system responsive to the special focus outlined in the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act, a line-by-line review of many, many documents has often been required.

Additional problems have occurred when documents are found that were given to the United States by allied foreign intelligence services with the understanding that the United States would not publicly disclose them. Special permission to make such documents public in many cases has required careful negotiation.

Despite these problems, in its short life span, the IWG has declassified 1.5 million pages of documents and has released about 1.3 million pages which are now available to the public at the National Archives and Records Administration. In addition, the IWG has published "finding aids" to the records on Nazi war crimes and Holocaust-era assets which are housed at the National Archives in College Park in order to make the released documents more easily accessible and useable to the general pub!ic.

Mr. Chairman, while the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act authorizes the funds necessary to conduct all this work (Sec. 2(b)(d) ), the IWG did not receive any appropriations for its heroic effort. The Office of Special Investigations (OSI) of the Department of Justice made available $400,000 for IWG support from an appropriation related to the Act. The National Archives, which is charged by the President with the administrative support of the IWG, will provide from its own budget nearly $1 million in staff and other support services by the end of FY 2000. This support falls far short of what is required to satisfy the requirements of the Act.

In addition, the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act imposes a "Sun Set Provision" of 3 years after enactment of the bill (Sec. 2(b)(1) ). Mr. Chairman, I believe that the monumental task we as Members of Congress have given to the IWG cannot be fully completed in this time. Additional time will certainly be required.

Mr. Chairman, let us never forget why these very able people work extremely hard to bring justice to victims and survivors of the Holocaust. It is simply unconscionable that war criminals can escape justice - many times by hiding in the U.S. It is essential that we work so that family members of the victims of Hitler's tyranny can know the fate of their loved ones, and that assets illegally seized from the victims not remain forever hidden.

Mr. Chairman, as this review clearly demonstrates, we have made incredible progress in opening up United States archives to records relating to the war crimes and the crimes against humanity that were perpetrated by the government of Nazi Germany.

Japanese World War II War Crimes Disclosure Act

The Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act (Sec. 2(c)(1) ) defines Nazi war criminal records as those pertaining to persons who have committed their crimes under the direction of, or in association with the Nazi government of Germany, any government in occupied territories established by military forces, any collaborator government, or any government which was an ally for the German Nazi government. This broad definition clearly includes - and the Congress intended that it include - records relating to the Imperial Japanese government and atrocities that were committed under its responsibility throughout Asia.

I welcome and fully support the decision of the IWG to move now to wartime records relating to Imperial Japan in an effort to bring to light the war crimes that were committed by units of the Imperial Japanese military forces during World War II. The task of dealing with the Japanese records are more difficult. This requires the assembly of a whole new team of scholars and historians, and different language capability is required for these documents than is required for the Nazi records.

Mr. Chairman, in order to make clear the Congressional intention in this regard and to provide additional necessary time and resources for the completion of the task that has been begun, I will be introducing in the next few days "the Japanese World War II War Crimes Disclosure Act." This legislation has been developed by my staff in consultation with officials at the National Archives and Records Administration in order to enable them to complete this important work which they have begun. My legislation has several important provisions that enhance what has been done already under the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act.

First, it makes explicit the inclusion of Imperial Japanese government records during the World War II era in the work of the IWG, and it provides the appropriate dates for the Imperial Japanese records to be considered. As I have already noted, the original legislation on Nazi war crimes documents does include a broad enough definition to include Japanese records, but my legislation removes any doubt about their inclusion. Furthermore, the dates for Japanese records in this new bill are more inclusive, including periods of time before the Nazi government came to power in Germany but when the Imperial government was involved in activities that may involve war crimes.

Second, the new legislation provides for a one-year extension of the mandate of the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act and the IWG. It is abundantly clear that the tasks remaining, particularly those related to the examination and release of documents relating to Japanese war crimes, will require more time than that provided in the original legislation.

Third, my legislation provides for the authorization of $1 million for the work of the IWG in fiscal years 2002 and 2003. As I have noted already, the work of the IWG mandated by the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act has been carded out without the authorization or appropriation of any additional funds by the Congress. The National Archives and Records Administration with the assistance of the Office of Special Investigations of the Department of Justice has come up with the necessary funding from their own limited budgets. I commend them for this effort, but I think the Congress must provide additional funding for this important task. This is why it is important to include these authorization of funding for these efforts.

Fourth, the legislation requests that the Secretary of State inform the Government of Japan that the United States has undertaken this process of making our records public, and that the Secretary express to the Government of Japan the sense of the Congress that it should follow a similar process of making its records public. Records in Japan are less readily available, and it is important that we let the Japanese government know of our interest in this project.

Relation of this Legislation to Similar Legislation that has Already Been Introduced

Mr. Chairman, my staff has consulted with the Staff of Senator Diane Feinstein in preparing this legislation. Earlier Senator Feinstein introduced S. 1902, the Japanese War Crimes Disclosure Act. The same legislation was introduced in the House by our fellow Californian, Mr. Bilbray, as H.R. 3561. This legislation has serious flaws that will hamper the efforts of the IWG to carry out its work as intended in the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act.

First, it creates a duplicate organization to carry out the declassification of records relating to Imperial Japan. The legislation essentially duplicates the structures of the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act and ignores what has already been done under that act. As I have already noted, the IWG established under the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act has most of the authority it needs to carry out this declassification and publication of materials. S. 1901 / H.R. 3561 would create a duplicate structure. Since the existing IWG is already in place, it would be a waste of resources to create another similar body.

Second, S 1901 / H.R. 3561 does not deal with those problems and deficiencies of the existing authorizing legislation - a one-year extension of the period needed by the IWG to complete its work and the authorization of resources for the work of the IWG.

As I mentioned earlier, my staff has been working with the staff of Senator Feinstein and with the National Archives and Records Administration to come up with this new legislation that deals with these problems.

Mr. Chairman, I again want to thank you for your commitment to the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act. The bipartisan approach that you have taken in dealing with this matter is exemplary. I thank you again for holding these hearings today and for providing this opportunity for me to express my thoughts on the implementation of this important legislation.

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