Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer has proposed combining the Criminal Division’s Domestic Security Section and the Office of Special Investigation. If approved by the Office of Management and Budget, the merger would represent the first major structural change in the division since Breuer took office.
The mandates of the sections have grown closer in recent years. OSI, created in 1979, has reshaped its mission from ferreting out Nazis living on American soil to hunting human rights violators who fled all corners of the world, from Rwanda to the former Yugoslavia.
DSS, established early in the Bush administration, targets human smuggling rings, immigration fraud, certain violent crimes and gun offenses, and international human rights violations. The section also has jurisdiction over crimes committed oversees by “individuals employed by or accompanying” the U.S. military.
The new entity would be called the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section. Meshing the resources of DSS and OSI could give the Criminal Division a competitive edge over U.S. Attorneys’ offices and other agencies vying to prosecute major human rights cases.
Breuer hinted at the possibility of a merger in an interview with The Washington Post over the summer. He announced the plan Tuesday during a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on human rights enforcement. Below are his remarks, compliments of DOJ:
I, myself, have recently completed a comprehensive review of the Criminal Division’s efforts in human rights enforcement. While no structural reform can take place without the approval of the Office of Management and Budget and notification to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, based on my review, I have recommended to the Attorney General that our already outstanding efforts in this area would be enhanced by a merger of the Domestic Security Section and the Office of Special Investigation into a new section with responsibility for human rights enforcement, MEJA/SMTJ cases, and alien-smuggling and related matters. That new section would be called the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section. The Attorney General has indicated his support for this change and the Department’s strong commitment to enforcing human rights, and we expect to move forward with this.
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to discuss the details of the merger ahead of the approval process. OSI, which is headed by Eli Rosenbaum, draws on a staff of 27, with 10 lawyers and eight historians. DSS has a staff of about 16, with 14 lawyers. Teresa McHenry is the section chief.
Both sections have grabbed headlines this year — DSS for its case against Charles Taylor Jr., the son of Liberia’s former president, who in January was sentenced to 97 years in prison for leading a paramilitary group that tortured political enemies; and OSI for the extradition of John Demjanjuk, who is charged in Germany with being an accessory in the murder of 27,900 people in the Nazi death camp Sobibor. His war crimes trial is scheduled to begin next month in Munich.
John Malcolm, a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Criminal Division from 2001 to 2004, said OSI’s expanded mandate put the sections nearer to one another. The merger seems like the natural next step, he said.
“It’s something that makes sense to me,” said Malcolm, who oversaw OSI and DSS. ”Both of them have to do with people who have no business being in our country and who pose a threat to the American people.”
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The Justice Department Criminal Division’s Office of Special Investigations was created 30 years ago to investigate and prosecute individuals who live in the United States and took part in Nazi war crimes committed during World War II. More than 60 years after WWII, there are few people with Nazi ties still alive which has forced the office to take a new direction, The Washington Post reported today.
The roughly 30 person office has turned its attention towards Africa and the Balkans as it enters the next chapter of its existence, according to The Post. The unit has filed charges for about six new war crimes cases including one that involves Lazare Kabaya Kobagaya, 82, of Topeka, Kan., who allegedly took part in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, The Post said. The office is also investigating 80 other war crime cases, according to the newspaper.
But perpetrators of Nazi war crimes are still being pursued. Earlier this summer, the office paved the way for the deportation of former Nazi concentration-camp guard John Demjanjuk, 89, to Germany where he faces a war crimes trial.
Criminal Division chief Lanny Breuer told The Post that there is a possibility that OSI and the domestic security section, which investigates torture, could merge in the future.
“There are certain acts and obviously the Nazi prosecutions are an example, where we have a moral and ethical imperative to bring them to justice,” Breuer told The Post. “There has to be a component of the criminal division that deals with human rights violations, no matter how much time passes.”