The U.S.’s Nazi Imports

A Florida appeals panel recently upheld an order to deport General Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova. A former defense minister of El Salvador, Casanova is accused of gross human rights violations, including the 1980 murder of three nuns and a missionary. He was granted entry into the United States in 1989. Now, a unit of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is looking to send him back to his native land. The message is a simple one — the U.S. government won’t tolerate or harbor human rights abusers.

Or…maybe it will.

After the end of WWII, the United States was met with a large number of people who desired entry. Individuals from all over Europe clamored to leave their war-torn homelands and start fresh. Operating under the National Origins Act of 1924, which set strict quotas on immigration based on country of origin, many were barred from entering.

Immigration during this time was (supposedly) compounded by an additional consideration. That is, the U.S. government was supposed to ensure that no former Nazis or Axis sympathizers gained entry into the country. The Allied program of “denazification” was in full effect, attempting to remove former Nazi members from positions of power and influence.

It may come as a surprise, then, that well over 1,000 former Nazis would be assisted in gaining entry into the United States.

Despite a commitment to bar former Nazis from immigrating, and an international program aimed at removing such individuals from positions of power, the U.S. government violated both of these commitments before the ink was dry. The reason? “The Communists.”

I’ve discussed in previous posts how fear is one mechanism through which the government may expand the scope of its operations. The period following WWII is perhaps one of the best illustrations of this effect. Fear of communism led the U.S. government to not only break international agreements, but led to events which, at a minimum, violated long-standing medical and research ethical codes, and, at worst, were gross violations of human rights.

The victims of the vast majority of these violations were U.S. citizens.

In 1946, President Harry Truman authorized “Project Paperclip.” Under the project, Nazi scientists would be brought into the United States in order to fight the communist threat. When discussing Project Paperclip, many have pointed out that the U.S. imported scientists who worked on military equipment such as rockets. However, this new crop of recruits featured more sinister characters.

Under Paperclip, for example, the U.S. government imported some of the same scientists who were responsible for conducting the infamous hypothermia experiments, altitude tests, and salt water experiments on prisoners in Dachau Concentration Camp.

The operation also brought individuals like Kurt Blome, former head of the Nazi bio-weapons unit, into the United States. Blome had conducted tests of Sarin nerve gas on prisoners in Auschwitz. With him came the scientists and doctors of Ravensbrück Camp, who, as discussed by political journalists Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair,

…instigated battlefield traumas by taking women prisoners…and filling their wounds with gangrene cultures, sawdust, mustard gas, and glass, then sewing them up and treating some with doses of sulfa drugs while timing others to see how long it took them to develop lethal cases of gangrene.

Reality and fiction become increasingly blurred…

Not only were these individuals brought to the United States, but the government actively worked to shield their identities and prevent their extradition for war crimes. In fact, their former affiliations were seen, as described by the former head of the Joint Intelligence Objective Agency (JIOA), Bosquet Wev, as “a picayune detail.” Kurt Blome, for example, although eventually extradited to face charges of infecting members of the Polish resistance with Tuberculosis and Plague, was acquitted after United States officially deliberately withheld damning evidence. After his trial, Blome returned to the U.S. where the government awarded him a $6,000 ($63,000 in today’s dollars) a year contract and assigned him to work at an Army Base in Maryland.

My co-author Chris Coyne and I have discussed how, when individuals with particular skill sets are adopted into an organization, their skills and the methods they employ tend to become normalized. The case of the Nazi scientists is no exception. In fact, numerous tests and experiments were conducted on U.S. citizens, against their will or without their knowledge, in the period following WWII up through at least the 1970s. As had occurred during the war, those subjected to these abuses were often groups who could not fight back, particularly prisoners and members of the military.

U.S. soldiers, for example, were used to test mustard gas when they were told they’d be “testing summer clothing.” Conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War, mostly Seventh-Day Adventists, were used in experiments and exposed to rabbit fever, hepatitis A, and plague during “Operation Whitecoat.”

Inmates from at least two prisons found themselves subjected to the most intimate of radiation experiments, as their genitals were bombarded with direct radiation. Men at these prisons received some 600 rads of direct radiation to their testicles, although it was common knowledge to the medical community at the time that only eight rads had measurable impacts of reproductive health. The men experienced a whole host of nasty side effects including rashes, blisters, and skin peeling. In the months and years that followed, the subjects experienced a variety of sexual problems, degeneration of their bones, and other diseases.

The U.S. frequently condemns other countries for equal or less serious sins. The Clinton administration, for example, condemned the Swiss government for financially assisting the Nazis during the Holocaust. Today, such issues are in the news once again with the imminent deportation of General Casanova. Other individuals are also being examined. In discussing recent cases of war criminals and human rights violators like Casanova living in the U.S., Lisa Koven, the chief of the human rights section of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said:

If you have committed these crimes, we will find a way to hold you accountable.

Unless it’s for “national defense,” of course.

Abigail R. Hall is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and an Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Tampa.
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