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'A Critical Assessment of US Intelligence's Investigation of Nazi Art Looting '

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A Critical Assessment of US Intelligence's Investigation of Nazi Art Looting


Michael Salter


April 2015



This law-in-action study builds upon and extends a series of earlier case studies published in academic journals devoted to the disciplines of both international criminal law (ICL) and intelligence studies, whose main source material is recently declassified security documentation. Taken as a whole, and often for the first time, such in-depth case studies have uncovered the important role intelligence agencies have played (and presumably still play) within the highly selective and politically mediated enforcement of ICL often taking place in the shadows of court proceedings. The specific focus of the present study is the criminal investigation and law enforcement roles played by a small elite group of art experts recruited by US intelligence in late 1944: the Office of Strategic Services’ (OSS) Art Looting Investigation Unit (ALIU). Members of this Unit were involved in the investigation of Nazi cultural plunder, including through covert means and intensive interrogations of complicit dealers. Their efforts culminated in the looting (‘spoliation’) charges a number of the major Nuremberg defendants faced, including Herman Göring, Hans Frank and Alfred Rosenberg. This study details and provides a sympathetic — yet ultimately critical — assessment of their criminal investigative fieldwork. It highlights their achievements in terms of evidence gathering and analysis that was successfully fed into both the cultural plunder and spoliation charges at the Nuremberg trials, as well as the partial frustration of the ALIU’s mission objectives with respect to later post-war prosecutions. It provides additional insights into the fragility of ICL enforcement when confronted with a range of countervailing geopolitical imperatives.

Author Michael Salter is Professor of Law, Law School, University of Central Lancashire. The author is grateful for the research support provided by Kadi-Maye Fairer. []
To read the essay, click here.


Journal of International Criminal Justice 2015

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