Former Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton, who Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard credits with saving his life, rejoined the effort to persuade US President Barack Obama to commute his life sentence on Tuesday.
Following Pollard's sentencing in 1987, he was sent to a Springfield, Missouri, prison hospital for the criminally insane. Pollard's wife Esther said that at that facility he was kept in what she described as "inhumane conditions," isolated and naked, without blankets, sheets, or his glasses in sub-zero temperatures for more than a year.
"Periodically, a blanket would be thrown over him to cover his nakedness and he would be led out to meet FBI interrogators who showed him lists of prominent American Jews," Esther Pollard said. "They told him that if he wanted to get out of this place, he would have to finger names on the list as his co-conspirators. Of course, Jonathan refused." She said Pollard's nightmare went on until his parents contacted Hamilton, who was their congressman. Hamilton intervened and began asking very embarrassing questions about why Pollard was being held in a prison hospital for the criminally insane. The government readily admitted that he was not a patient and that he was not there for treatment.
From the Springfield, Missouri hospital, Pollard was sent to a facility in Marion, Illinois, where he was held in solitary confinement three stories underground for six and a half years. Amnesty International later succeeded in forcing the closure of the unit in the jail where he was incarcerated, but Pollard has said the conditions there were far better than at Springfield.
"It was because of Hamilton's intervention that Jonathan was transferred out of what he still refers to as a scene from Dante's Inferno," Esther Pollard said. "Were it not for Lee Hamilton's principled intervention years ago to pull Jonathan out of a situation of unwarranted severe affliction -- cruel and inhumane punishment -- it is not certain that Jonathan would still be alive today. We will always be grateful to him."
Hamilton, who served in Congress for 34 years, currently serves as an honorary co-chairman for the World Justice Project, which works to lead a global, multidisciplinary effort to strengthen the rule of law. He is also a member of Obama's Homeland Security Advisory Council and his Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, which give him direct access to Obama.
Unlike many American and Israeli dignitaries who have written Obama in recent months calling upon him to release Pollard solely on legal grounds, Hamilton's letter was personal. He pleaded with Obama to free Pollard so that his elderly father, Morris, would still be alive to witness his release.
"I have been acquainted for many years with members of his family, especially his parents, and I know how much pain and anguish they have suffered because of their son's incarceration," he wrote. "The mother is now deceased, but the father lives. He deserves to see their son freed." Hamilton wrote that commuting Pollard's sentence was a matter of basic compassion and justice after he served more than 25 years.
"I do not underestimate the gravity of Mr. Pollard's crime, but I do believe that he has served a disproportionately severe sentence and that he should be promptly released," Hamilton wrote.
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