The Loftus Record 

By all accounts, John Loftus has done a bang-up job in his most recent incarnation promoting St. Petersburg's Holocaust Museum. The museum has a sacred and laudable trust to remind the community about the horrors of Nazi Germany. Loftus, with much-proclaimed credentials as a prosecutor of Nazi monsters, has added spirit to the museum's efforts. But Loftus also has led the museum into a divisive political thicket.

Across the bay, at the University of South Florida, engineering Professor Sami Al-Arian has been accused of having ties to terrorists. In 1995, the federal government was stampeded by alarmist and highly misleading reports in The Tampa Tribune to launch an investigation of Al-Arian and a USF-affiliated think tank. No charges were ever filed, but Al-Arian's brother-in-law, Mazen Al-Najjar, was jailed for three years and seven months on "secret evidence." Al-Najjar was released in December 2000, but re-jailed in November due to post-9/11 hysteria.

Last month, Loftus filed a lawsuit against Al-Arian, charging the professor with using Florida charities to launder money for Middle East terrorists.

For those who want to trust Loftus, there are few caveats to be considered. His bosses on a U.S. Department of Justice team that hunted down and prosecuted Nazi war criminals say Loftus didn't do enough homework to bring any cases to trial. And critics of Loftus' books -- including America's foremost supporter of Israel -- condemn his conspiracy stories and lack of evidence.

The most definitive ruling in the Al-Najjar case, by federal immigration Judge R. Kevin McHugh, concluded there was no evidence of wrongdoing. That ruling not only vindicated Al-Najjar but, by implication, also the real target of the government, Al-Arian.

Things heated up Sept. 26 when Al-Arian was ambushed by Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, whose producers had been fed an inflammatory single side of the story by a Tribune reporter. Then, Al-Arian was re-bushwhacked in a political attack on academic freedom by the brothers Bush's toady, USF President Judy Genshaft, who has been trying to fire the professor.

What's obvious to almost everyone with their feet on Planet Earth is that the government has done its damnedest to destroy Al-Arian -- mostly by insinuation and innuendo since, as Judge McHugh concluded, there were no facts. Yet, in the strange world of Loftus, he claims the United States has actually been carrying water for Saudi Arabia and Al-Arian in a bizarre plot to fund terrorism. "There is ample reason to question whether any criminal prosecution either of Defendant (Al-Arian) or his Saudi financiers will ever take place," asserts Loftus in his lawsuit against the USF professor. Loftus found a perfect ally in Steven Emerson. In the Tampa Bay area, it was Emerson who guided the Tribune on its biased crusade against Al-Arian and his community. In January, Loftus and the museum hosted Emerson, who made claims that were later echoed in the Loftus lawsuit.

Just as few media now question Emerson's past, so too has Loftus been able to escape much scrutiny. Allan A. Ryan Jr. was Loftus' boss at the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations. From 1979 to 1981, Loftus worked there, and that's been the basis of his Nazi-hunter laurels. "He's used that badge (the claim of prosecuting Nazis) since he left, and he doesn't deserve it," Ryan, now an attorney for Harvard University, told Weekly Planet.

Loftus said that testimony he gave to a Congressional panel in the 1980s, plus scores of articles, describe him as prosecutor of Nazis. "I was a trial attorney and that's on the record," said Loftus, who represented the government in several appellate cases.

Ryan said all Justice Department lawyers held the title of trial attorney. "He never prosecuted a case," Ryan said of Loftus. "He did a lot of research, but it didn't come close to (resulting in a) prosecution. His work was insufficient to support prosecution."

Martin Mendelsohn, OSI's deputy director when Loftus worked at the agency, backed Ryan's recollection.

Yet Loftus told the Planet that Ryan gave him a merit raise while at the Justice Department and, when he departed the OSI, wrote a job recommendation for him.

After leaving the OSI, Loftus wrote a book, The Belarus Secret, which claimed an extraordinary number of Nazis were given shelter in America. That concerned the government. "We sent historians to check Loftus' citations for the book," Ryan recalled. "There was nothing to them."

In a scholarly review of the book, University of London professor James Dingley wrote: "Loftus is obviously a monoglot without any precise knowledge of the recent history of a people on which he pronounces judgment. ... His book abounds with illogicalities and unsupported statements."

That pretty much sums up the general criticism of his writings. America, a Catholic magazine, dismissed his second work, The Unholy Trinity, as "feverish conspiracy-theorizing" and "totally discredited."

But that's mild compared with disparagements of Loftus' last tome, The Secret War Against the Jews. Those outraged by Secret War range from survivors of the USS Liberty, a naval intelligence ship attacked by Israel in 1967, to one of America's leading supporters of Israel, Anti-Defamation League Director Abraham Foxman.

There are two major theories about the Liberty -- the Israelis have claimed, often changing the story, that it was an accident, while most others conclude the attack was intentional and designed to prevent the United States from learning about an imminent invasion of Syria. And Loftus? He claims the Liberty was actually spying on the Israelis and that the intelligence was being relayed to Arab nations. Thus, the Israeli attack was a purely defensive act against American betrayal. Loftus and his co-author, Mark Aarons, provide a long list of details about the attack. But James Ennes, an officer on the Liberty, pointed out to me that Loftus claimed the Israelis launched a pinpoint attack on the intelligence areas of the ship. "But the Israelis fired five torpedoes, and only one even hit the side of the (455-foot) ship," Ennes said. "Some pinpoint attack."

Ranks, names, assignments, sailing direction of the ship, mission, technology available at the time -- Loftus got all that, and much more, dead wrong. Loftus told me, as he has the Liberty's heroes, that he might correct a few minor mistakes -- but he never has.

Most damning was Foxman's assessment. Rendered in 1995, Foxman said Loftus is "actively seeking to win over the Jewish community."

On Secret War, Foxman chided: "The book is so exaggerated, so scantily documented, so overwrought and convoluted in its presentation, that Loftus and Aarons render laughable their claim to offer "a glimpse of the world as it really is.'"

Foxman two years later commented that Loftus "takes facts and then exaggerates them. It's not accurate. It doesn't serve a purpose except to incite someone else. The facts speak for themselves. We do not need to exaggerate."

I've gone through Loftus' lawsuit against Al-Arian and, using online archives, found many factual errors. They begin right at the top of the lawsuit where Loftus claims Al-Arian is a Kuwaiti citizen. Not true.

The most sensational claims by Loftus come from sources such as secret wiretaps, which cannot be verified. He misses big points about the law and the U.S. Constitution, which, last time I checked, still protects free speech.

But the ADL's Foxman understood Loftus' methods. Foxman opined about Loftus: "People do such things to sell books."

John F. Sugg, former Weekly Planet editor, is now senior editor of Creative Loafing in Atlanta. He can be reached at john.sugg@cln.com. Disclaimer: Steven Emerson has sued Sugg, the Planet and a former Associated Press reporter for defamation. The Planet and Sugg maintain they published the truth and Emerson's lawsuit is harassment.

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