The following was translated from an article by Margret Chatwin that used to be available on the now extinct IDGR website.
The Malmedy Trial and the Myth of Confessions extracted under Torture
Comradely help and clerical assistance
Holocaust deniers keep maintaining that the confessions of the accused before Allied military tribunals have no validity because they came into being under torture. This is one of the many lies of the extreme right that strive to acquit the perpetrators and to rehabilitate National Socialism.
Soon after the collapse of the National Socialist regime a rather efficient cooperation was formed for this purpose between incorrigible National Socialists, Nazi criminals, representatives of the conservative camp and ecclesiastical circles.
The focus of the allegations was the Dachau trials, 489 procedures held against more than a thousand defendants. The one that especially caught the attention of the public was the so-called Malmedy trial, the subject of which was the shooting of 71 American soldiers by Kampfgruppe Peiper (1st. SS Panzer Division "Adolf Hitler") in December 1944 during the Ardennes Offensive. The wounded soldiers had surrendered near the city of Malmedy, yet been murdered by Peiper's men. In total, according to American investigations, soldiers of the Kampfgruppe Peiper murdered about 350 American prisoners of war and about 100 Belgian civilians in the time from December 1944 to January 1945.
After the SS men who had been under the orders of SS-Standartenführer Joachim Peiper had been tracked down, they were first interned in Zuffenhausen and Schwäbisch-Hall in Bavaria and sent from there to Dachau in April 1946. One of the accused was Peiper's superior Sepp Dietrich, supreme commander of the 6th. SS Panzer Army and a leading participant in the murder of Ernst Röhm.
The verdict of the American military tribunal on 16 July 1946: Of 73 members of the 1st. SS-Panzer Division "Adolf Hitler", 43 were sentenced to death, 22 to lifetime imprisonment and the others to temporary imprisonment.
Even before the beginning of the trial the defense attorney Rudolf Aschenauer raised the claim that the prisoners had been forced to make incriminating statements. He maintained that there had been "bogus trials", that the prisoners had been beaten and pushed on the way from one cell to another, that they had received nothing other than water for weeks or in other cases only dry bread and nothing to drink. There was still no talk of torture at this time. The allegations were investigated by a commission of the US Army in November 1947.
The investigation report, prepared jointly by the Inspector General and the CIC (Counter Intelligence Corps), showed statements so contradictory that the accusations were rejected as not sustainable. The investigation mainly focused on the question whether the actions of the defense and their background constituted an organized activity directed against the criminal prosecution of National Socialist crimes by the Allies. This the investigation commission considered not to be so. The consequence was that the campaigns to discredit the military tribunals could continue unhindered. At a later stage the claim of tortures was added, which extended to all Dachau trials. There was talk about "broken teeth" and "squeezed testicles". At this time, however, it became apparent that all the accused had made identical statements. The texts of the affidavits were identical in every word.
The many activities of Princess Isenburg, which were not limited to humanitarian aid to the prisoners but also aimed at the juridical and moral acquittal of the accused, were showing their effect. From the beginning she pursued the aim of defaming the war crimes trials as "victors' justice" and thus to protect the accused and convicted from the execution of the death penalty. The influence that the princess could apply for this purpose was considerable. The campaign included not only conservative circles but also Protestant and Catholic bishops, namely the bishop of Württemberg Theophil Wurm and Bishop Johannes Neuhäusler from Munich. Both had a key role in the campaign in their capacity as representatives of the church, a moral instance. Neuhäusler’s voice especially had weight with the public because he had been not only in Gestapo detention but also in Dachau concentration camp. The motivations of the church representatives were not so much sympathy for the Nazi henchmen as reconciliation with the past and a new beginning for German postwar society. The other connections made by Princess Isenburg and Attorney at Law Aschenauer, however, went as far as the SS underground organization "Bruderschaft", which had formed unopposed in British prisoner of war camps. The coordination of the actions becomes apparent from timely parallels of the events. Princess Isenburg used a number of institutions for her campaign, for example the "Arbeitsgemeinschaft zur Rettung der Landsberger Häftlinge" ("Committee for the Salvation of the Landsberg Prisoners") , which also acted under the name "Arbeitsausschuß für Wahrheit und Gerechtigkeit" ("Commission for Truth and Justice") and was largely financed by the churches.
Together with Bishop Wurm she founded in 1951 the society "Stille Hilfe für Kriegsgefangene und Internierte" (""Quiet Help for Prisoners of War and Internees"), which the public recently took notice of again in 1998 in connection with the Anton Malloth case (Malloth is suspected of having been responsible for the death of many inmates of Theresienstadt Gestapo prison). In extensive press campaigns containing personal letters and petitions the Nazi criminals were presented as innocent victims. Aschenauer's connections to the "Bruderschaft" became known when the British uncovered the neo-Nazi conspiracy around Goebbels' former personal referent Werner Naumann in January 1953.
The Investigation Commissions
In the summer of 1948 the so-called "Simpson-Commission" was established, named after its president, Gordon Simpson, Judge at the Texas Supreme Court. The Simpson Commission was very open to accusations and petitions from clerical circles. Again the defense (Aschenauer) skillfully spread rumors. In the final report to war minister Royall of 15.9.1948 it was stated that the Dachau trials had on the whole been fair and legitimate, even if certain interrogation practices had met with criticism. The interrogators had on occasion left the accused under the impression that fellow prisoners had made wholesale confessions and compromised others. However, no indications of any physical damages caused though mistreatment by the members of the War Crimes Group could be found. The commission recommended, however, to transform 29 of the 139 death sentences issued into prison sentences.
As the allegations continued even after this report, an investigation commission of the US Senate for the armed forces was formed in 1949. The president of this commission was Raymond E. Baldwin, Connecticut. The statements of the Malmedy war criminals before this commission again revealed considerable contradictions. In the commission's final report to the US Senate the accusations of torture and the use of illegal methods in the interrogation of the accused were rejected. The accusations against William R. Perl, Chief Interrogator of the War Crimes Group and a key figure in the investigations against the SS men, could not be upheld either.
Perl and the other "Thirty-Niners", as Senator Joseph McCarthy used to call the Jews who had immigrated to America in 1939, were fully rehabilitated by this investigation commission. This was vehemently opposed by McCarthy, who at first had seen in his activity as member of the commission a chance for working his political image but then turned most members of the commission against himself by his attitude towards Perl. This native of Vienna had been made the central figure of the attacks by the circles around McCarthy, who had gone as far as requesting the interrogation of Perl by the commission with the help of a lie detector. McCarthy's request was rejected by the majority of the commission. Nevertheless the report contained the recommendation not to use Jews as interrogators in the future to eliminate pretexts for criticism against the procedures.
In the final report the following was stated:
"Already at the beginning of the investigations the investigation commission noted an extraordinary activity of certain organizations [...] Credible witness testimonials increase the suspicion that interest groups inside Germany want to use the understandable efforts of the church and the defense to discredit the American occupation troops in general. A concentrated attempt in this direction was made through attacks on the war crimes trials in general and the Malmedy trial in particular. The investigation commission is convinced that this is an organized attempt to revive the National Socialist spirit in Germany, which uses all means at its disposal."
All allegations of torture eventually turned out to be untrue. The medical assessments in this respect are clear. There were neither "broken teeth" nor "squeezed testicles". The accounts of tortures were far-fetched products of fantasy, aimed at protecting the accused from due punishment, rehabilitating them and discrediting their prosecutors and judges.
The death sentences issued at the Malmedy Trial were eventually all converted into prison sentences. Most of the accused were free by 1953, the last were released in 1958. The decisions of the clemency commission were severely criticized by American public opinion, which led to the firing of the president. Senator Joseph McCarthy went down in history as a fanatical communist hunter. William R. Perl died in December 1998 at the age of 92 in Beltsville, Maryland.