Octagenarian Rudolf Hess, Adolf hitler's one-time "deputy Fuhrer" who was convicted at the allied Nuremberg war crimes trial in 1946 has been in prison almost half his life.
And given the intransigence of the Soviet Union -- and the Feb. 24 rejection of Hess's latest appeal by the highest administrative court in West Germany -- he seems bound to stay behind bars the rest of his life.
For the past 14 years Mr. Hess has in effect been in solitary confinement, the only Nuremberg trial convict still in jail, the only inmate at all in West Berlin's hulking 600-cell Spandau Prison. His son may see him only once a month , and then only from the other side of a glass partition. Hess may not read newspaper articles or watch TV programs of a political nature.
All this, Hess's son contended in court, is cruel and unusual punishment and even torture by isolation. It violates human decency, international codes, and West Germany's own judicial practice, which generally frees convicts sentenced to life imprisonment after 15 years, if there is no further danger to society.
The West German government agrees. So do the governments of the United States, Britain, and France, which along with the Soviet Union take successive months running the $800,000 a year Spandau Prison.
But the Kremlin does not agree, presumably because the joint management of Spandau is the Soviet Union's one remaining administrative toehold in West Berlin. Under the postwar occupation agreement -- no treaty has ever been signed -- the four victorious powers still formally govern Berlin.
West Germany, France, Britain, and the US have never conducted a public campaign to persuade the Soviet Union to release Hess, nor even to lighten the jail conditions of a man they all deem to have long since paid his debt to society. And it is this "wall of silence" that He ss's son and lawyer were challenging in their latest appeal.