Argentina’s Supreme Court Orders Ex-Nazi Extradited to Italy
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) _ Fifty-one years after 335 civilians were killed in caves outside Nazi-occupied Rome, a former SS captain will stand trial for the massacre.
The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the extradition to Italy of 82-year-old Erich Priebke, who has lived openly in southern Argentina under his own name since escaping from a British prison camp after the war.
The ruling, by a vote of 6-3, meant Priebke will return to Italy _ probably within weeks _ to face charges of participating in the 1944 massacre of 335 civilians, including 71 Jews, in the Ardeatine Caves outside Rome.
It also was another step in Argentina’s campaign to overcome its image as a safe haven for Nazi criminals.
Priebke’s defense lawyer, Pedro Bianchi, accused the Supreme Court of ``ceding to political pressure from Italy and Argentina.″ He added there was no way of appealing the ruling.
The Los-Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, which pursues Nazi war criminals, said the extradition order would be a ``graphic history lesson to younger Europeans attracted to Nazi and fascist movements.
``For 50 years, Erich Priebke avoided his past. That, half a century later, this man who committed mass murders will be brought to justice should be a warning to those still in hiding that their appointment with justice will come,″ it said in a statement.
The massacre was ordered by Hitler to avenge the killing of 32 German soldiers in an ambush.
Priebke was arrested in June 1994 in the Andean mountain resort of Bariloche, 1,100 miles southwest of Buenos Aires, after admitting to a role in the massacre during a television interview.
A court ordered him extradited, but an appeals court in August overturned the ruling, and Priebke was immediately freed from 15 months of house arrest.
His freedom lasted just 29 hours, as he was re-arrested the following day at the German government’s request.
Priebke has repeatedly proclaimed his innocence, saying that he was merely following Hitler’s orders and was ``small fry.″
``First the world mocked my client by releasing him for just over a day,″ Bianchi, the defense attorney, told The Associated Press. ``Then international pressure forced his extradition. Will picking on a poor innocent captain really make the Italians feel better?″
Of more than a dozen extradition requests for war criminals which Argentina has received since 1950, only three had been granted prior to the Priebke case.