Behind the News: Department of Justice’s Office of Special Investigations

Posted By on November 15, 2010

In the 1970′s, the presence of Nazi persecutors living among Americans came to the forefront of national attention with the deportation case of Hermine Braunsteiner Ryan, a former Nazi woman’s prison camp guard who was living as a housewife in Queens.  Previously, the INS handled suspected Nazi persecutor cases on an individual basis with no national oversight.  After the Ryan case, there was an outcry for the creation of more systematic investigatory body.  The Office of Special Investigations or OSI was created in the late 1970s to investigate and take legal action against those individuals who had participated in Nazi persecutions.

The New York Times has obtained and posted a complete version of a Department of Justice Report detailing the history of this office and its investigations.  The Office of Special Investigations: Striving for Accountability In the Aftermath of the Holocaust is both a fascinating and terrifying read.  Did the U.S. help Nazi persecutors emigrate?  Many people know about Operation Paperclip and other post-war programs that allowed scientists and other individuals with special skills to emigrate.  This report documents many of these programs and raises interesting questions about the moral and legal implications of these acts.  It also details many of the investigations undertaken by the agency.

Now under the authority of the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, OSI’s mandate has expanded to include not only investigations of Nazi war criminals residing within the U.S., but also, any individual who has committed human rights violations or acts of genocide and torture abroad under color of foreign law.

Interested in reading more about this topic?  Using Lexis Congressional available through the Law Library’s Research Database page, run a search for “Alleged Nazi War Criminals” in 1977 to find the two House hearings that set in motion the creation of the OSI.  Also, take a look at DOJ’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section’s online archive for reports about other Nazi war criminals.

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