Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., says he is “deeply disturbed” that the FBI is dismantling a special unit that investigates war crimes and hunts down war criminals. Credit: Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call via AP Images

A prominent member of the House Judiciary Committee is demanding answers from FBI Director Christopher Wray, saying he was “deeply disturbed” that the bureau is dismantling a special unit that investigates war crimes and hunts down war criminals – including suspected torturers and perpetrators of genocide.

The unit “was originally dedicated to hunting down Nazis living in the United States after World War II and has since grown into an important legal and moral bulwark against perpetrators of genocide and other human rights abuses,” Rep. Ted Lieu, a California Democrat, said in his letter to Wray last week. The human rights unit’s closure was exposed by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.

“What is the rationale for closing the International Human Rights Unit?” Lieu asked. “What process was used to arrive at the decision to shutter (it), and who was ultimately responsible for making it?”  

In an email to Reveal, the FBI acknowledged receiving Lieu’s letter but declined to comment further. When the bureau confirmed the unit’s closure to us last month, it argued that its dissolution “in no way reflects a reduced commitment by the FBI” to enforce human rights law.

Lieu’s missive is the latest effort to get answers from the FBI since Reveal’s report. On Feb. 22, four former high-ranking diplomats wrote an op-ed in The Hill that argued the closure of the human rights unit marks a dangerous retreat from the Nuremberg Principles, a set of rules for war crimes adopted by the United Nations after World War II.

Disbanding the unit “will break up a winning team, and make it much harder to pursue complex cases,” wrote the group, which included two previous State Department ambassadors-at-large for war crimes issues, one of their deputies and the former chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

The diplomats said the unit’s closure could jeopardize a potential investigation into the death of the American journalist Marie Colvin, who was killed by an artillery assault in Syria in 2012.

It recently helped secure the conviction of Thomas Woewiyu, a Liberian warlord who’d moved to Philadelphia, and President Donald Trump had touted its work in identifying Jakiw Palij, the last known Nazi who was living in the U.S. until his deportation to Germany last year.

Aaron Glantz can be reached at aglantz@revealnews.org. Follow him on Twitter:@Aaron_Glantz.

Aaron Glantz was a senior reporter at Reveal. He is the author of "Homewreckers: How a Gang of Wall Street Kingpins, Hedge Fund Magnates, Crooked Banks, and Vulture Capitalists Suckered Millions Out of Their Homes and Demolished the American Dream." Glantz produces journalism with impact. His work has sparked more than a dozen congressional hearings, numerous laws and criminal probes by the Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI, Pentagon and Federal Trade Commission. A two-time Peabody Award winner, finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, multiple Emmy Award nominee and former John S. Knight journalism fellow at Stanford University, Glantz has had his work has appear in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, NBC Nightly News, Good Morning America and PBS NewsHour. His previous books include "The War Comes Home" and "How America Lost Iraq."