Posted Friday, October 15, 1999

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The Sunday Times

October 10 1999 UNITED STATES


American guilt 'freed Germans'

Matthew Campbell,Washington

AMERICAN hand wringing over a mass execution of Italians by troops commanded by General George Patton in the second world war may explain the leniency shown to German soldiers convicted of butchering Americans, a British historian has claimed. Christopher Robbins, author of a biography of Michel Thomas, a former American intelligence officer and Nazi hunter, believes he has found the answer to a baffling episode of post-war history in which war criminals who slaughtered American prisoners during the Battle of the Bulge were eventually allowed to walk free.

He claims the army's embarrassment over the American massacre of 72 Italian and German prisoners at Biscari (now known as Acate), Sicily, in 1943 plagued its prosecution of Germans accused of butchering 81 American prisoners at Malmédy, Belgium.

Robbins, whose book, The Test of Courage, is published later this month, claims the Biscari massacre played on the minds of America's generals to such an extent that they allowed death sentences against the Malmédy killers to be commuted and eventually let them go.

After the war, 74 members of the SS were put on trial by a military tribunal for their role in the slaughter of Americans that followed a surprise attack by the Germans along a 50-mile front in the Ardennes in 1944.

When the prisoners were found guilty, 43 were sentenced to death, but the sentences were commuted by an American armed services subcommittee led by Senator Joseph McCarthy.

"It seemed strangely defensive, almost as if it had something to hide," said Robbins.

The guilty secret, he claimed, was the massacre carried out by American troops of the 180th regiment four days after landing in Sicily. When 34 Italians and two Germans surrendered, a captain ordered his sergeant to execute them and a further 37 prisoners.

The captain and sergeant were court-martialled. In their defence they said they had been ordered not to take prisoners. The captain quoted a pep talk given by Patton to commanders: "When we meet the enemy, we will kill him. We will show him no mercy." The captain was cleared of the charges. The sergeant was sentenced to life in jail but released after a year.

"The guilty secret of Biscari haunted the army throughout the Malmédy trial and the investigations that followed," writes Robbins

Our opinion
 AS EVERY historian of the period knows, the reason that the sentences at the Malmedy trial were commuted was that there was an American judicial inquiry into allegations of torture, conducted by US District Judge Simpson; this concluded that American (former German) interrogators had brutally tortured and manhandled the young SS prisoners and their officers at the Dachau camp where they were held, extracting "confessions" and witness statements from them which were used in the infamous Malmedy Trial. For this reason, and for no other, most of the convictions were subsequently overturned. There was a fine investigation of the case published in the early postwar years by the Harvard Law Review; there is a copy of this and other items on the Malmedy incident in the papers of Leo Kennedy, at Boston University's Mugar Memorial Library.

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