The FBI is dismantling a special unit that investigates international war crimes and hunts down war criminals – including suspected torturers and perpetrators of genocide, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting has learned.
The unit, which was created a decade ago and has its roots in federal efforts to hunt Nazis living in the United States after World War II, has had a hand in many high-profile prosecutions.
Most recently, its investigators helped take down the Liberian warlord Thomas Woewiju, whom agents found living a quiet life in Philadelphia. At trial, witnesses said Woewiju’s men herded civilians through checkpoints decorated with severed heads and strings of human intestines. He was convicted of perjury in July.
Now, human rights advocates worry that criminals like Woewiju could evade justice.
“These are difficult cases to prove because they need rock-solid investigations,” said Beth Van Schaack, a law professor at Stanford University who was deputy ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues in the Obama administration. Scrapping the FBI unit “is inevitably going to jeopardize prosecutions,” she said.
In a statement, the FBI confirmed the shuttering of the war crimes unit but argued its dissolution “in no way reflects a reduced commitment by the FBI” to enforce human rights law. The agents previously dedicated to human rights work will continue that work as members of the FBI’s civil rights program, the agency said.
But the move could run afoul of Congress, which mandated... Read More >