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Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                       Aug. 2, 1996 V4, #141
All the News the Big Guys Missed

Italy Frees Nazi SS Capt. Erich Priebke

By Ruth Gruber (VOA-Rome)

In a verdict adding more controversy to an already dramatic trail, a military court in Rome Thursday absolved former Nazi SS Capt. Erich Priebke of war crime charges stemming from the World War 2 massacre of 335 Italian civilians. Citing extenuating circumstances, it ordered him released from prison.

Presiding Judge Agostino Quistelli said in effect that the 83-year- old Priebke, who had admitted taking part in the massacre, was judged guilty of participating in it. But it was ruled that he could no longer be punished for the war crimes charges of acting with cruelty and premeditation as these fell under a statute of limitation.

Quistelli also mentioned extenuating circumstances arguing for Priebke's release, including his age and his good behavior while in jail. Friends and relatives of the victims who listened to the verdict being read erupted into outraged shouts of assassin, fascist, and shame, shame.

The Italian government also issued a statement expressing bitterness and Rome's mayor ordered that the lights on Rome's monuments be dimmed. The March 1944 massacre at the Ardeatine Cave south of Rome is regarded as the worst Nazi atrocity to have taken place in Italy during World War 2. It was ordered by the Nazis in reprisal for a partisan bomb that killed 33 German soldiers. The verdict added further controversy to a three month trial that will surely be one of the last times a former Nazi will appear in court on war crimes charges.

Both the prosecution and lawyers for relatives and friends of the victims had unsuccessfully tried to get the judges dismissed, claiming they were biased in favor of Priebke. Both requests were rejected by an appeals court. It was not immediately clear what Priebke would do or where he would go now. Prosecution lawyers said they were considering appealing the verdict. And Germany has issued an arrest warrant for Priebke.

Priebke had lived with impunity for nearly 50 years in Argentina after escaping from a POW camp in Italy after the war. He was discovered in a resort town in the Andes, where he had run a hotel and a delicatessen, by an American news crew in May 1994. After an 18 month legal battle, Priebke was extradited to Italy last November where he was held in a military prison. The trial against him began May 8, the 51st anniversary of the end of World War 2 in Europe.

During the trail Priebke's lawyer argued that he should be acquitted as he was simply following orders when he shot two of the Ardeatine Cave victims and crossed off names of the victims from a list. The murdered men and boys, who included about 75 Jews, were led in groups of five into the cave with their hands tied behind there backs. There they were shot in the back of the head. The caves were later blown up.

Priebke said the order for the massacre had come from Hitler directly and that any officer who had refused to take part would have risked being killed himself.

Priebke May be Kept From Argentina

By Dawn Makinson (VOA-Buenos Aires)

Argentina's Weisenthal Center wants to keep a former SS officer, Erich Priebke, out of the country although he has been freed by an Italian judicial panel. The SS stands for the German word Schutz Staffel, a Nazi military elite. The Weisenthal Center has a global reputation for tracking down World War 2 figures who participated in the Holocaust and it accuses the officer of shooting two people.

Argentina's Weisenthal Center has asked the Argentine government to revoke the citizenship of Priebke. A representative of the center, Sergio Widder, says he suspected a possible not guilty verdict by the Italian judicial panel weeks ago, and launched a legal plan.

Argentine law allows the government to revoke citizenship obtained fraudulently, but the government has been reluctant to clamp down on the ex-Nazis who live here. The government has been given a list of 15 ex-Nazis who live in the country, three time in the last five years. It has never responded to requests to investigate those on the list.

Observers say now may be a good time to push for the revocation of Preibke's citizenship. Argentina's new justice minister, who is Jewish, replaced a justice minister who left because his former Nazi background was disclosed.

Argentina became known as a safe haven for Nazis after dozens of them immigrated here following the Second World War. Priebke was living openly under his real name in the south of the country, but had obtained his citizenship using another name.

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