US intelligence officers were directly responsible for shielding Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie from French prosecutors after World War II and for helping him escape to Bolivia, the Justice Department reported.
The report is the first official admission by the United States that its officials protected Mr. Barbie from French prosecution. Barbie was Gestapo chief in Lyons, France, where he allegedly ordered the murder of 4,000 French Jews and deported 7,500 others to Nazi concentration camps from 1942 to 1944. As a result of the report's findings, Justice Department sources said, the State Department this week sent an ''expression of regret'' to the French Embassy.
The report concluded it was solely the decision of the US Army Counter Intelligence Corps, operating in Germany after the war, to hire Barbie as an informant, keep him on the payroll even after allegations of war atrocities arose, and help him escape to Bolivia in 1951 through a postwar escape route known as the ''rat line.''
In a memo accompanying the report, Allan Ryan, who conducted the investigation, said the US government ''in any official sense'' never condoned the protection of Barbie. But, he said, the US government ''cannot disclaim responsibility'' for the actions of its officers. Barbie was expelled from Bolivia earlier this year and is now in a French prison.