Dr. Arthur Rudolph, right, hailed as the father of the Saturn V rocket...
In October 1982, a 75-year-old German scientist named Arthur Rudolph was living quietly in retirement in San Jose when he was interrogated under oath by three officials of the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations, the group tasked with hunting Nazis in the United States.
The three OSI officials had identified Rudolph, honored as the father of the Saturn V rocket that took U.S. astronauts to the moon, as the same Arthur Rudolph who had supervised production at Mittelwerk, the tunnel complex in which the Nazis produced V-2 rockets with slave labor.
In that interrogation, Rudolph made several damaging admissions. Yes, he knew workers were dying of starvation and overwork. Yes, he had asked for more slave laborers. Yes, he had requested prisoners from the SS at Dora, the nearby concentration camp.
A year later, the Justice Department confronted Rudolph with the evidence it had against him. Fearing a war-crimes trial, he renounced his U.S. citizenship and returned to Germany. When he made a widely publicized attempt to return through Canada in 1990, he was rebuffed. He died in Hamburg in 1995 at age 89.
The Rudolph story shined klieg lights on Operation Paperclip, the U.S. program to bring Nazi scientists to the U.S. after World War II. To get important scientists into the United States after the war, military authorities sanitized their dossiers.
Now, there's a postscript to the Rudolph case, one that adds to our knowledge. And it involves a latter-day sanitizing that suggests you should treat all government claims of transparency with skepticism.
The New York Times on Sunday printed several excerpts from a 600-page report the Justice Department requested in 1999 about the government's Nazi-hunting efforts.
In some cases, the report said, the United States gave refuge not just to the persecuted, but to the persecutors. ...
A right to know
The part about Rudolph enlightens us not just because of what it said, but because of what the feds tried to withhold. Justice officials released a heavily redacted version, claiming exceptions for privacy and "internal deliberations."
The Times obtained an uncut version that showed that Justice attorneys had deleted a paragraph noting that Rudolph had forced slave laborers to watch hangings. The attorneys also cut a passage that said that not charging Rudolph would hurt OSI's reputation.
No surprise: When you allow exceptions like "privacy" or "internal deliberations," you carve out huge holes in what the public should know.
The Justice report illustrates the silliness of this policy. ... But versions arise locally. Santa Clara County authorities recently imposed a gag order on discussions about a new ambulance provider.
Few bureaucrats have ever been cashiered for releasing too little information to the public. If we truly believe in transparency, we ought to demand the director's cut.