WASHINGTON - The U.S. Congress on Monday voted to extend by two years the life of a government panel charged with declassifying CIA documents that detail the spy agency's ties to former Nazis and war criminals.
The House of Representatives voted 391 to 0 on a bill that clears the way for the release of thousands of documents on former Nazis, including some who assisted in the CIA's Cold War espionage against the former Soviet Union.
The vote, which followed Senate approval on Feb. 16, sends the measure to President Bush for signing.
The Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group was established by the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act of 1998 and had been set to disband by the end of this month.
The bill approved by Congress would extend the group's life through March 31, 2007.
"It looks like we are going to finally get full understanding and closure on our government's cozy relationship with Nazis," said Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, a leading proponent of the legislation.
The Nazi war crimes act requires federal agencies to provide the working group with all documents pertaining to Nazi war criminals for possible declassification and release.
The CIA, which has already turned over an estimated 1.25 million pages of documents, refused to release hundreds of thousands more -- many dealing with its postwar ties to Nazis who have not been accused of war crimes.
But the U.S. spy agency relented this month and agreed in principle to release more documents after Republican Sen. Mike DeWine of Ohio, another prominent backer of the legislation, demanded that CIA Director Porter Goss explain the CIA's position at a public hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The working group includes officials from the National Archives, the CIA, FBI, Pentagon and other agencies.