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July 2, 2017, will mark the 30th anniversary of the death of Karl Linnas at the hands of the Soviet Union. Pursuant to the Hitler-Stalin Pact (1939), the Soviet Union killed thousands, made arrests, confiscated property, carried out mass deportations, and militarily occupied and annexed Estonia (1940).

 

Along with these mass deportations to Siberia, thousands of people frantically fled the country fearing for their lives, thusly, reducing Estonia’s population by approximately one fourth. In a cruel twist of history, thirty years later (April 1987), the United States deported an Estonian man, Karl Linnas, to face execution in the same country from which he fled 43 years earlier.

 

After surviving the first Soviet occupation of Estonia (1940 – 1941), Karl Linnas, being in the Omakaitse (National Guard) as a freedom fighter for his beloved Estonia, was then conscripted by the Germans when they invaded and took control. Severely wounded when the Soviet Army returned in September 1944, Linnas managed to escape and later immigrate to the United States. Once settled in his newly adopted country, he became deeply involved in the Estonian Community creating an Estonian Girl Scout troop, establishing a Long Island Youth Orchestra, and actively engaging in freedom efforts for the Baltic countries. While raising a family and supporting a wife and household, he studied diligently for his US citizenship which he received in 1960.

 

After learning that Linnas had become an American citizen, and that his daughter’s name and address were in all the local papers for receiving the Daughters of the American Revolution Good Citizenship Medal, the Soviets wanted to discredit all Estonians who had fled during WWII and stop their “anti-Soviet” activities in the free world. An example of this occurred early 1962, in Soviet-occupied Tallinn, when the Soviets, using phony and coached witnesses (two of them convicts), tried Linnas in a sham trial in absentia for “war crimes” and sentenced him to death. But, as was later discovered, a Soviet legal journal ran the complete details of the trial, including the death sentence, three weeks before the actual trial – proving that the trial was a sham held only for the purpose of discrediting Baltic refugees and promoting Soviet propaganda.

 

Although the US has never recognized the forcible annexation of the Baltic States, the newly created Office of Special Investigations (OSI), established in 1979 within the US Department of Justice, was given extraordinary power to investigate alleged war criminals in the US by freely collaborating with Moscow and utilizing falsified Soviet documents with which they hoped to strip Karl Linnas of his citizenship and deport him.

 

The deportation took place despite protests from members of the House and Senate as well as leaders of the Baltic community. An official letter was immediately sent to President Ronald Reagan signed by the following: Juhan Simonson (President of EANC), Avo Piirisild (Baltic American Freedom League), Aristids Lambergs (Latvian American Council), Teodoras Blinst-rubas (Lithuania Council), Stanley Gecys (Lithuanian American Community), Dr. Jonas Valaitis (JBANC), and Dr. Olgerts Pavlovskis (Latvian Foreign Trade and European Affairs Minister of State).

 

“Mr. President, although we agree that war criminals should be brought to justice, Americans of Baltic descent view with alarm the lack of due process and heavy reliance on Soviet evidence and witnesses apparent in prosecutions conducted by the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations. Further, Americans of Baltic descent find totally unacceptable the possible deportation of any Baltic national to the Soviet Union. We view this as a most grievous violation of the longstanding U.S. policy of  onrecognition described previously. In truth, the deportation of any individual, for any reason, to the U.S.S.R. would contravene all principles of American morality and justice and betray the lofty principles under which our country was founded….”

 

As a consequence of OSI actions, Linnas was deported to Tallinn and later to a prison in Leningrad raising serious concerns of a threat to United States national security. The cozy partnership of one special section of the US Justice Department with the Soviet KGB was worrisome for many and seriously alarming to those experienced with Soviet goals and methods. For people concerned about human rights violations and political prisoners in the USSR, it was bizarre to see the US Justice Department cooperate so closely with the same people in Moscow who were responsible for locking up  prodemocracy dissidents. As more and more Americans realized what was occurring, criticism of OSI’s methods escalated. It is clear that no government agency, no matter how noble its goal, should be allowed to work unquestioned, without Congressional oversight.

 

The 6th Amendment to the Constitution of the US demands holding criminal trials in front of juries or panels of judges, equal access to evidence and witnesses, the right to cross-examination, forensic testing, etc. None of these were made available for Linnas. The legal and historical record of both Nazi and Soviet crimes must be thorough and accurate in order to respect the integrity of the victims of these alleged crimes and to preserve the US system of justice.

 

Congressional oversight hearings into the well-funded OSI could have led to positive changes in its procedures, making it more effective and worthy of its mandate, but there were none. Unfortunately, with the untimely silent and unwitnessed death of Karl Linnas in a remote Soviet prison, the momentum for change had died. Let us study the Linnas case as we move forward into the next generation. Let us take a closer look at the powers given to government agencies. Let us prevent future mistakes, such as this, from ever happening again.

 

By Anu Linnas,

Daughter

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