Passport Video
FULL EPISODE

The General’s Ghost (Hour 1)

The film begins with vengeance: U.S. General Douglas MacArthur’s 1945 military trial of Japan’s General Tomoyuki Yamashita for horrific atrocities in the Philippines. Despite the lack of any evidence that Yamashita ordered or even knew about the atrocities, he was condemned to death, raising the question: Are commanders responsible for crimes their troops commit?

AIRED: 3/28/2017 | EXPIRES: 3/28/2021 | 00:54:16
Read Full Transcript

Narrator: The past is always present in places that have endured conflict.

On a recent fall morning in the town of Bugojno in central Bosnia-Herzegovina, a field owned by a local builder has been taken over by forensic scientists from the state''s Missing Persons Institute.

They came because the man unearthed human bones while digging a foundation for his new home.

Tens of thousands of people vanished in the Balkans during the wars of the 1990s.

War crime investigators have been searching for them ever since.

Man: Families may be primarily interested in identifying the missing, but then their thoughts also turn to justice.

So you may start off looking for graves for a humanitarian basis, which is identifying people, returning them to their families, but the same information and data can be used for a criminal investigation.

The better we do our work, the more detailed interpretation we can find and what happened to people, how they were killed, which you never get used to.

Second man: The pursuit of justice after war is one of the most difficult pursuits that one can undertake, principally because you''re working in an environment that is often dangerous.

You''re tying to collect evidence that the perpetrators do not want you to collect.

And you need to ensure that those who are responsible for widespread crimes are brought to justice.

[Gunfire] [Gunfire] Narrator: War is a constant of human existence.

[Indistinct shouting] Man: Reloading!

Narrator: But for all the carnage on the battlefield, warfare is governed by laws designed to minimize its lethality.

Man: The purpose of having a law of war is to first of all protect those who are noncombatants from the ravages of warfare, and secondly to protect those who are combatants from unnecessary suffering.

The laws of war are quite real.

They are in treaties.

They are in decisions of courts.

They are in the Geneva Conventions.

And they have been applied effectively in many cases.

Anytime that you see, for example, a military ambulance with a big red cross on the side, that doesn''t mean that it's part of the Red Cross organization.

That is the Geneva Convention requirement that says this is an ambulance, it is not a legitimate target.

But for as long as law has been thought to have a role on the battlefield, it has also been violated.

The question that arises is, what happens to those who violate the laws?

Narrator: The question has confounded the civilized world for millennia.

It took on added urgency at the end of the Second World War when Nazi crimes were exposed.

Man: Entering a concentration camp very soon after it''s liberated is entering Hell.

Total chaos.

But I had no time to waste with emotion or sentiment.

I had to get into the camp, gather the evidence of the crimes, and prepare a dossier... which then became the basis for subsequent war crimes trials.

Second man: The privilege of opening the first trial in history for crimes against the peace of the world imposes a grave responsibility.

Narrator: The mechanism invented at Nuremberg for investigating war crimes and prosecuting the architects has endured as a model of international justice... but the tribunal didn''t deter war crimes.

Conflict in 7 decades since Nuremberg has been plagued by crimes against humanity.

Woman: What you''re starting to see now is that civilians are actually targets of war, sometimes the major targets of war.

And the idea is that if you can terrorize the civilian population... you can bring the fighting force that''s your opponent to its knees.

[sirens] Narrator: Over the years, perpetrators of war crimes have been captured and prosecuted.

The courts that judge them were founded on principles first established at Nuremberg, principles that now have the force of international law.

Woman: A person against whom an indictment has been confirmed shall be taken into custody and transferred to the international tribunal.

Second woman: As a judge, I''ve always looked for prosecution and punishment, punitive justice, because of the disproportionate toll on civilian lives.

Of course I understand it''s difficult to render justice while a conflict is raging.

But you cannot drop justice and just seek peace.

Narrator: Time and again, these courts have uncovered evidence of genocide, sexual violence, torture.

Man: The bones are the witnesses.

They''re the best witnesses to what happened to them.

Second man: This work has nothing to do with the dead.

It has everything to do with the living.

Third man: The project here is not simply a highly technical legal idea of adjudicating right and wrong and punishment.

But it is the reconstruction of a society, the putting back together of people who have been totally divided.

Fourth man: International justice is always politicized.

It is going to be driven by the agendas of the major powers that create the courts and that fund them.

Woman: The chamber finds that soldiers committed murder as a war crime, rape as a crime against humanity, and pillaging against the civilian population.

Second woman: The decision taken by prosecutors is guided by nothing else, especially not political consideration, except the law and the evidence.

But we have our limitations.

We cannot intervene everywhere now.

[Gunfire] Ryan: Conflict endures. Conflict will always endure.

The suffering of the innocents will always be an aspect of war.

But the efforts of justice continue, too.

I think the true measure of our commitment to justice is not so much how many convictions we rack up but it is also the determination that we bring to the task of investigating and prosecuting these crimes.

And that''s what's important.

Narrator: The village of Timugan in the Philippines is a remote place in the hills bordering the rainforest.

Work is scarce here.

Villagers say that existence is largely improvised.

[Bell tolling] The village''s one unique feature is a Shinto shrine concealed behind a locked gate.

The shrine is dedicated to an Imperial Japanese Army general named Tomoyuki Yamashita.

The general''s forces occupied the Philippines during the Second World War.

Ryan: A shrine to General Yamashita is on Philippine soil, where so many atrocities were committed.

This is the place that established what has become known as the doctrine of command responsibility, that the commander is responsible for the crimes of his troops.

Narrator: As the U.S. Justice Department''s former chief war crimes prosecutor, Allan Ryan has searched for evidence around the world, most recently to identify the origins of a fundamental doctrine of the law of war-- command responsibility.

Franklin Roosevelt on recording: Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy.

Narrator: That doctrine evolved in the Pacific theater in the Second World War.

At the outset, Imperial Japanese forces inflicted ruinous defeats on Allied strongholds throughout Southeast Asia... [Gunfire] notably in the Malay Peninsula, where General Yamashita''s troops defeated a British force 3 times larger and captured the citadel of Singapore.

Ryan: General Yamashita was probably the most accomplished army commander in the Imperial Japanese Army in World War II.

His campaign down the Malayan Peninsula and the capture of Singapore was brilliant.

Winston Churchill called it the worst defeat in the history of the British Empire.

[cheering fades] Narrator: But by 1944, the Allies had recovered virtually all of the territory they''d lost at the war's start.

The Philippines was Imperial Japan''s last bulwark against an Allied invasion of the homeland.

Man: To the Japanese, the Philippines should be defended at all costs, and because of this decision, they sent their top Japanese general, General Yamashita, to the Philippines weeks before the largest naval battle in World War II.

Narrator: Yamashita was appointed supreme commander of the Philippines, but his troops were vastly outnumbered by those commanded by the Allied supreme commander, General Douglas MacArthur.

Just 3 years earlier, MacArthur had retreated from the Philippines, losing thousands of troops in the process.

Its recapture was both a military priority and a personal objective of a man who''d called Manila home.

The Philippines capital, once known as the pearl of the Orient, is today a sprawling metropolis of 17 million.

On a corner square in the old city stands one of the few memorials to the battle that took place here in 1945.

It''s called 'Memorare' and was commissioned by the late Johnny Rocha to preserve in bronze the suffering he witnessed as a boy.

Rocha: The Japanese came. They set our house on fire.

Intentionally. They walked in, they put firebombs inside.

And then they kept dragging people out.

As people ran, they started to kill them.

One of them was a...a young aunt of mine.

She was about 16 years old.

They gutted her. Literally.

Someone stabbed a bayonet.

She was cut up. They left her, guts open, to die on the sidewalk under the sun.

[Explosions and gunfire] Narrator: The Battle of Manila was among the bloodiest of the Pacific war.

In the space of two months, the American onslaught claimed 2/3 of Yamashita''s army and his remaining troops faced starvation.

Yamashita ordered a complete retreat from Manila.

Jose: You have Yamashita deciding that Manila cannot be defended.

Decides to move his troops into the mountains.

But what happens is the Japanese navy disobeys a direct order coming from Yamashita.

The navy decide that they''re going to hold Manila.

So, one issue we have here is, Where does command responsibility lie?

Is it still within Yamashita''s hand or did it go still higher?

Narrator: The Japanese admiral who defied Yamashita''s order vowed to defend Manila to the death with a few thousand troops.

These troops committed some of the worst crimes in the annals of modern warfare.

The atrocities here, at De La Salle College chapel, were typical.

Japanese troops slaughtered scores of civilians who''d taken refuge here during the battle.

Fernando Vasquez-Prada lost his entire family.

Vasquez-Prada: The Japanese went after me.

I was too big for them to throw me in the air like they did with the other children and bayonet them, so, they went after me.

They hit me once, they hit me twice, and the third one that they-- he came in for the third one, my mother jumped the Japanese.

Two or 3 guys turned around and cut my mother in pieces with the bayonet.

The blood was so thick that when the Americans found me, they had to cut around me the blood that had dried up.

I could not be lifted without having to cut everything.

Narrator: Japanese soldiers committed similar atrocities throughout the Pacific theater, targeting civilians, prisoners of war, women, and the injured.

Jose: What we find difficult to understand is what happened to the Japanese army such that they began killing women, children, even babies.

That does not fit into military logic.

Some people say it''s part of showing that you''re still in charge, that you show your power over the occupied people, even though they knew they were going to lose the war.

[Explosion, gunfire] Narrator: These atrocities continued as MacArthur''s forces took Manila street by street.

The battle ended after 28 days.

All the Japanese troops were killed along with 100,000 Filipino civilians.

The pearl of the Orient was reduced to rubble.

General MacArthur vowed to hold accountable the surviving Japanese commanders responsible for the destruction.

American troops pursued the Japanese army to the mountain village of Baguio.

It was here that General Yamashita and his remaining troops retreated when the U.S. Army first advanced on Manila.

Ryan: Yamashita held out in the hills and jungles until he heard on a shortwave radio that Japan had signed a surrender in Tokyo Bay on the decks of the 'U.S.S. Missouri' on September 2nd.

And at that point, the--ever the emperor''s loyal officer, he, uh, marched down and literally surrendered his sword to the Americans.

Narrator: Informed at the surrender ceremony that many of his comrades had committed suicide, Yamashita replied, 'If I kill myself, someone else will have to take the blame.'

Five weeks after surrendering, the prisoner was brought to trial.

[Fanfare] Newsreel announcer: In war-ravaged Manila, the former Japanese commander in the Philippines is charged with responsibility for the wholesale rape and murder committed by his forces in Manila.

This is the first time a military man has been brought to the bar of justice to answer for atrocities committed by his men.

[Gavel pounding] Man on recording: We will proceed with the trial of the 'United States versus General Tomoyuki Yamashita.'

Ryan: When I walked into the room where the trial was held, I really felt that I was in the presence of ghosts, not only the ghost of General Yamashita but the ghosts of the victims who had come there to testify.

Ghosts of the lawyers who had put on the prosecution and the defense.

This is the room, really, where post-war justice began in many real ways.

Narrator: Then as now, the presence of General Douglas MacArthur dominated the room.

MacArthur was headquartered in Tokyo, but he was determined to defeat his former enemy in the Manila courtroom just as he had on the battlefield.

Ryan: This was a Douglas MacArthur production from start to finish.

He hand-picked the generals who would sit in judgment of General Yamashita.

He approved the charge, uh, a charge that, uh, General Yamashita failed to control his troops, permitting them to carry out these atrocities against Filipino people.

Certainly it is a crime to order that atrocities be committed, to participate in committing them, but to say that, uh, he--he was unable to control his troops, uh, and that that is a crime, that is completely unprecedented as a--as a military charge.

Narrator: After hundreds of witnesses and survivors detailed the atrocities, General Yamashita took the stand.

Do you deny to this commission that you knew of or ever heard of any of those killings?

Narrator: He pleaded not guilty.

His U.S. Army defense lawyers argued that Yamashita had, in fact, done all that he could to prevent the killings of civilians by ordering his troops out of Manila.

When these atrocities occurred, they were committed in violation of General Yamashita''s orders, and it''s quite natural that those who violate a superior''s orders are not going to inform him that they intend to do so or have done so.

He says, 'If being a commander 'of troops who committed these atrocities 'is enough to make me guilty, then I''m guilty.

'But I did not know of these acts.

'I was not told. I didn''t have any communication.

I certainly would have taken action if I could have.'

And he gives, I think, altogether a very credible and straightforward case for himself.

Narrator: Prosecutors presented no evidence linking Yamashita to the atrocities, but they gave him no quarter.

We say that if Yamashita is responsible in any measure for the violations of the laws of war committed by the men under his command in the Philippines, anything less than the death sentence would be a mockery.

[Spectators murmuring] Narrator: The verdict surprised no one.

Man: During the period in question, you failed to provide effective control of your troops as was required by the circumstances.

Accordingly, the commission finds you guilty as charged and sentences you to death by hanging.

Narrator: While Yamashita awaited execution in this prison cell, his defense attorneys appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

A divided Court held that his detention and conviction were lawful, and denied his petition for acquittal.

The Court''s ruling established command responsibility as legal doctrine.

It''s now a core component of military and international law.

Ryan: The doctrine of command responsibility holds that an officer, a commander, who knows that war crimes are happening has a duty to stop them.

The question is not whether the crimes took place but what did he know, what did he do, what should he have known, what should he have done?

And in the case of General Yamashita, he did everything that he could to stop these, unsuccessfully, and what you have is a vindictive commander, General MacArthur, who is bringing this charge against a defeated enemy general, Yamashita, uh, and essentially, the conviction is based on the fact that he was the commander without looking at what he had done or should have done or could have done to, uh, prevent these crimes, because if that had been the question, I think he would have been acquitted.

Narrator: Following the Supreme Court decision, Yamashita submitted a clemency plea to General MacArthur.

The general reviewed the proceedings for mitigating circumstances and found none.

The inscription on his monument reads, 'This is where Shogun Yamashita spent his final days.'

[Wind blowing] Like command responsibility, other conceptions of justice conceived by the Allies in the aftermath of World War II would prove enduring.

The most influential--the International Military Tribunal, created by the Allied powers in the ruins of Nuremberg, Germany, to address the crimes of the Nazi state.

Man: Attention! Tribunal.

Narrator: The surviving leaders of that state were charged with crimes against peace, war crimes, crimes against humanity.

These charges were unprecedented.

The defendants pleaded not guilty.

Man: Rudolf Hess.

Hess: Nein.

Man: That will be entered as a plea of not guilty.

Narrator: Among the military investigators compiling the evidence against them was Benjamin Ferencz.

Ferencz: This was our answer to the war.

This is what we had threatened was going to happen.

And this was the response of the international community to prevent the outburst of vengeance and wild fury which certainly would have followed had there been no trials.

Narrator: 19 defendants were convicted.

Seven received prison sentences ranging from 10 years to life.

12 were sentenced to death.

But the tribunal didn''t solve a larger problem.

Allied investigators had published a registry of Nazi war criminals and collaborators.

The first edition contained over 60,000 names.

Ferencz: Eventually, it was recognized that we had only a very brief snapshot of what had happened in Germany, that you couldn''t have committed all those crimes without support of more than the 22 people who were sitting in the dock.

Narrator: Following the International Military Tribunal, each of the Allies held subsidiary trials for leaders of various sectors of Nazi Germany society.

Doctors, judges, industrialists were prosecuted and executed at the scene of their crimes.

[Gunshot] Man: Judges of military tribunal two.

Narrator: One trial was held after prosecutor Ferencz discovered military records of SS squadrons known as the Einsatzgruppen.

The squadron slaughtered Jewish civilians, mostly women and children, on the Eastern front.

The number killed exceeded one million.

Ferencz: I had a potential of 3,000 defendants who were the members of these murder squads, the Einsatzgruppen, whose assignment it was to murder in cold blood... [Sounds of rifle shots] millions of people.

How do you choose among 3,000 people, all m--murderers?

So, I took the highest rank and the best educated because I felt they would know what they were doing and would have the best explanation, which I wanted to know why.

Ferencz on recording: It is wholly fitting for this court to hear these charges of international crimes and to adjudge them in the name of civilization.

Interviewer: 22 defendants. Why only 22?

For the ridiculous reason that there were only 22 seats in the dock.

I could have had one sit on each other''s lap, but it would''ve looked silly.

I was interested in rule of law.

I was not interested in seeing how many people I could hang from a rope.

The charges we have brought accuse the defendants of having committed crimes against humanity.

Ferencz, voice-over: The defense varied, in fact.

Many of them just lied.

Uh, 'We didn''t do it. We weren''t there.'

And the most articulate defense was from my lead defendant, SS General Dr. Otto Ohlendorf.

He explained that, uh, when asked why they killed so many Jews, why they killed so many people, he said, 'The Soviets intended to attack us,' and therefore, it was necessary in self-defense to preempt that.

An anticipatory self-defense.

Why did you kill all the Jews?

'Well, everybody knows the Jews were sympathetic to the Bolsheviks,' so, uh, 'We have to kill the Jews, too.

That''s natural.'

Why did you kill all the Jewish children and the wives?

'Well, if the children grew up and they knew 'that we had eliminated their parents, 'they, too, would be enemies of Germany, 'and we were interested in a long-range plan of security for Germany.'

Ferencz on recording: The killing of defenseless civilians during a war may be a war crime or a crime against humanity.

Ferencz, voice-over: Our argument was that the presumption that you''re going to be attacked does not justify mass murder.

This is not an acceptable legal doctrine.

It has to be repudiated.

And it was repudiated, and Ohlendorf was sentenced to death, and he was hanged by the neck until dead, which takes about 7 minutes, according to the medical record which I''ve seen.

Narrator: But the task of holding accountable masses of war criminals quickly depleted the Allies'' resources.

Four years after Germany''s defeat, war crimes trials were all but abandoned while a colossal reconstruction program had begun.

In lieu of trials, the Allies imposed denazification laws, destroying all signs of the Nazi Party and prohibiting party members from holding public office.

Following West Germany''s independence in 1949, statutes of limitations and amnesties ended all Allied war crimes investigations.

Ferencz: People had the notion that we did justice at Nuremberg.

We did a sampling.

A small, small sampling of a few people.

That''s all we could do. Uh... we would be still trying people in Germany today, 50 or 60 years later, if we tried to do complete justice.

[Accordion music] Narrator: Even countries that endured Nazi war crimes have been reluctant to pursue the criminals.

In France, only a handful of war criminals and collaborators have been brought to trial over the decades, largely as a result of individual rather than institutional effort.

Narrator: The late Marcel Stourdze was 94 when this interview took place.

Aggravating the infirmities of old age were injuries he suffered in 1943 when he was captured by the Gestapo while organizing the resistance in Lyon.

His interrogator was an SS officer named Klaus Barbie, whose torture tactics earned him the nickname the Butcher of Lyon.

Narrator: Stourdze was chained, tortured, nearly drowned.

Narrator: The Lyon Gestapo was based at the Hotel Terminus, which adjoins the railroad station, a convenient location for deporting enemies of the Reich.

Some 10,000 Jews, Communists, and resistance fighters made the journey on these rails to Auschwitz.

All had been captured by Barbie.

[Train running] [Bell clanging] [Gunfire] In the closing days of the war while the Nazis were routed in France, the resistance made a special effort to capture Barbie.

French authorities had designated him a most-wanted war criminal.

But in the chaos of liberation, Barbie vanished.

[Trumpet music] The government of France has been constant at honoring resistance fighters who fought Barbie during the occupation, but it''s been left to private citizens to pursue the Nazi criminals.

Serge Klarsfeld has been doing just that for 50 years.

Klarsfeld: When you meet the Gestapo at 8 years old and when you lose your father, you never forget any minute of what happened.

And I understood that I had a special duty to-- to defend the memory of, uh, of the Jews who were lost.

Narrator: Serge Klarsfeld survived the Nazi occupation in France to become a historian and lawyer.

Both professions inform his work as a Nazi hunter.

He and his wife Beate have brought to justice numerous Nazis responsible for atrocities committed in France.

In 1972, they targeted Klaus Barbie.

Serge Klarsfeld: We found a German businessman coming from Bolivia.

Klaus Altmann looked like, uh, Klaus Barbie and spoke also like Klaus Barbie, and Beate discovered that, uh, he didn''t change, uh, first names of his family and, uh, dates of birth, so, it was clear that, uh, Klaus Altmann and Klaus Barbie were the same man.

Narrator: The Klarsfelds took their evidence to Lyon, the scene of Barbie''s crimes.

There, they petitioned the justice ministry to indict Barbie and secure his extradition from Bolivia.

Jean-Olivier Viout was deputy prosecutor on the Barbie case.

Narrator: In search of other crimes that might serve for an extradition order, the Klarsfelds travel to this farmhouse in the village of Izieu, outside Lyon.

[Woman speaking French, children repeating phrases] Narrator: During the war, the house was designated a residential school for refugee children.

Its unofficial purpose was concealing Jewish children from the Germans.

It was here that Klarsfeld discovered Klaus Barbie had committed a crime against humanity exempt from statutes of limitation.

It took place on an April morning in 1944.

As the children were settling down to their morning meal, 3 vehicles from the Lyon Gestapo arrived.

The raid was led by Klaus Barbie.

His subordinates swarmed the compound, seized the children, and carried them into the idling trucks.

[Vehicle door shuts] A telex that Barbie sent to his superiors immediately following the raid, which Klarsfeld also discovered in Izieu, confirms the details... The children were deported to Auschwitz and murdered upon arrival.

Serge Klarsfeld: When we started to hunt Barbie, we explained he was a head of the Gestapo, so, it was his own decision.

Nobody asked him directly to a--arrest them.

Narrator: The evidence discovered in Izieu led the French government to issue a new charge against Barbie-- crimes against humanity.

[People chanting in Spanish] Narrator: But it would take 11 years and the fall of the Bolivian military junta to get Barbie extradited to France.

[Chanting continues] He returned to Lyon in handcuffs in January 1983.

Narrator: Jacques Verges was Klaus Barbie''s defense attorney.

He entered a plea of not guilty and crafted a strategy to deflect attention from the defendant on to France herself.

Narrator: While Barbie was in French custody, the U.S. Justice Department complicated the case by revealing that the American military had secretly recruited Barbie as an intelligence agent after the war.

Allan Ryan conducted the investigation into the U.S. government''s relationship with Barbie.

Ryan: The United States was very concerned in the immediate aftermath of the war as to what the Communists were doing in Europe.

And so, we recruited Germans to spy in Germany upon other Germans who had Communist leanings or Communist aims or Communist affiliations.

Klaus Barbie was one of those.

Narrator: Ryan determined that U.S. intelligence officials repeatedly deceived French investigators, claiming that a thorough search failed to locate Barbie''s whereabouts.

And when, in 1946, the French convicted Barbie in absentia for war crimes, the State Department called the U.S. Army''s relationship with a war criminal 'highly embarrassing.'

In 1950, the U.S. Army secured a false identity for Barbie and sent him to South America.

Man: As the investigation of Klaus Barbie has shown, officers of the United States government were directly responsible for protecting a person wanted by the government of France on criminal charges and in arranging his escape from the law.

As a direct result of that action, Klaus Barbie did not stand trial in France in 1950.

He spent 33 years as a free man and a fugitive from justice.

Ryan: There was a sense that anything goes in the name of espionage.

And when I concluded the Barbie report, my concluding paragraphs were 'I hope that this will remind us 'that not everything is acceptable if it is done under the cloak of intelligence.'

Narrator: The trial of Klaus Barbie began in May 1987 at a court in Lyon.

Marcel Stourdze was among the survivors who confronted their former torturer from the witness stand.

Narrator: The evidence and testimony proved decisive.

On July 4, 1987, Klaus Barbie was convicted of crimes against humanity.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment and died 4 years later in the Lyon prison where his victims were tortured.

It had taken 4 decades to achieve justice.

Serge Klarsfeld: When I pleaded the case, uh, against Klaus Barbie, in fact, I pleaded for the children of Izieu, and it was a symbol, just I had to--to close, then, by his or her name.

After each child, I say... [speaking French] 'She didn''t come back' or 'He didn''t come back.'

From Auschwitz, I would say, no one child came back.

[Train running] Stover: I think what''s critical to understand with private citizens who track down suspected war criminals, they''re, of course, doing it to expose and bring those individuals to justice, but they''re also trying to remind all of us not to forget.

Because it''s so easy for society to forget the enormity of the crimes, and they''re trying to remind us that what took place in the past could be repeated in the future.

Narrator: That lesson was delivered in 2015 by a court in the German city of Luneburg.

There, 94-year-old Oskar Groning was tried as an accessory to 300,000 murders committed while he served as an SS officer at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Evidence against suspected Nazi criminals is held in this government institution, the Central Office for Nazi Crimes.

Created in the 1950s, the office has amassed evidence implicating tens of thousands of German citizens in wartime atrocities.

Only a few hundred have been prosecuted.

Narrator: The evidence collected here will be sealed and placed in a government vault when the World War II generation has passed on.

Only a fraction of the evidence has been made public, and that only during the rare trial of a suspected war criminal.

Survivors of the concentration camp where Groning served were grateful for the chance to testify.

Narrator: Groning was convicted and sentenced to 4 years'' imprisonment.

But while a German state court explored Nazi-era crimes, German federal institutions obstructed efforts to make public the records of senior Nazi figures.

Narrator: For decades, the populist newspaper 'Bild' has campaigned for unrestricted access to Nazi-era materials held in German state archives.

In 2013, reporter Hans-Wilhelm Saure expanded that campaign by petitioning the federal intelligence service, the BND, for records related to the major Nazi war criminals.

The intelligence service rejected his petition.

Narrator: In response to a blizzard of legal petitions filed by the newspaper''s attorneys, the German high court in 2013 ordered the intelligence service to release a portion of its Nazi holdings.

Narrator: Saure and his colleagues spent months reviewing the pages, which redaction had rendered senseless.

But one of the documents was unmarked, and the contents precipitated a rewriting of history.

It was an index card detailing the identity, alias, and whereabouts of fugitive SS commander Adolf Eichmann.

During the war, Eichmann had headed the Reich''s Department of Jewish Affairs, directing the genocidal machinery that claimed 6 million lives.

In the chaos of Germany''s defeat, Eichmann escaped the Allies'' dragnet with a false passport and fled to Argentina.

He was one of the world''s most wanted fugitives, but he lived safely under an alias in Buenos Aires, undetected, or so he thought.

This intelligence service document, dated 1952, proved otherwise.

It placed Eichmann precisely at a Buenos Aires neighborhood, listed his alias and crimes.

[Fanfare] Newsreel announcer: In Jerusalem, the trial of Adolf Eichmann begins, reviving memories of the Nazi horrors of the Second World War.

Entering the bulletproof prisoners'' box is the man charged with the annihilation of millions of Jews in Nazi death camps.

Narrator: Not until 1960, fully 8 years after the BND identified him, did Israeli agents track down Eichmann and abduct him, acting solely on their own intelligence gathering.

He was brought to Jerusalem for trial, convicted of crimes against humanity, and executed.

Following 'Bild''s' expose, the intelligence service admitted it had concealed Eichmann''s whereabouts from investigators and prosecutors.

Man: The German bureaucracy is very reluctant to giving out information in order to protect these people or their heirs or their own reputation until today.

Narrator: Attorney Christoph Partsch directs 'Bild''s' campaign to release Nazi records.

He recently discovered other documents revealing that the intelligence service had not only concealed other fugitive Nazis, it had also employed them.

Partsch: There were thousands of Nazi criminals on the payroll of the BND.

These are really people with blood on their hands.

Narrator: Partsch found evidence that several of the most notorious figures in the Nazi command were secretly employed by the intelligence and foreign services, despite international warrants for their arrest.

Partsch has joined an alliance of civil liberty groups that''s demanding the intelligence service make public all records relating to its employment of Nazi war criminals.

The agency''s chief historian, Dr. Bodo Hechelhammer, was recently tasked with assessing those Nazi employment records.

Narrator: Claiming European Union privacy laws, the intelligence service would not release any names.

Instead, it released a spreadsheet that assigned numbers to former Nazi war criminals that it employed.

Hundreds had been paid and pensioned for decades.

The role of ex-Nazis in the intelligence service may never be known.

The agency has conceded to destroying in 2007 personnel records of over 250 suspected war criminals in the Nazi command.

[Hechelhammer speaking German] Narrator: Christoph Partsch has continued to press the German courts for unrestricted access to all government records on Nazi war criminals.

In 2014, Germany''s highest court rejected his motion without explanation.

Partsch is appealing to the European Union Court of Human Rights.

Partsch: The hypocritical approach the German government and many other governments in this world take to human rights and the correct depiction of history, of course, lessens their moral right to criticize dictatorships worldwide.

Ryan: Let''s face it, most Nazi war criminals escaped justice.

What we were left with was a very valuable asset, which is the idea that these are crimes that should be prosecuted in courts and that people who committed them should be punished.

How you take that law and those tools for bringing cases and convicting the guilty is a constant challenge.

Announcer: Next time, what happens to post-war justice when it conflicts with national security?

Stover: Impunity has been the norm rather than accountability.

Ryan: There was an attitude that virtually anything goes in the name of intelligence.

Man: When we are responsible, we need to get it right.

Ryan: We cannot have a system of justice for our enemies that is different from the system of justice that we have for ourselves.

Announcer: 'Dead Reckoning: The Blind Eye.'

'Dead Reckoning' is available on DVD.

The companion book for this episode, 'Yamashita''s Ghost,' is also available.

To order, visit shoppbs.org or call 1-800-PLAY-PBS.