Pollard's Done His Time, Weinberger Now Agrees

Ex-Pentagon Chief Would Not Object to Clemency

David Twersky - The Forward (NY) - January 29, 1993

[Posted August 2001]


- As American Jewish organizations debate asking President Clinton to review the case of Jonathan Pollard, President Reagan's former defense secretary, Caspar Weinberger, has quietly removed his objections to executive commutation for the American Jew who is serving a life sentence for spying for Israel.

Mr. Weinberger's word that he would not object to commutation was passed during a last-ditch effort to win clemency from President Bush. The clemency plea was made by Leonard Garment, the former Nixon White House counsel, during the waning days of the Bush administration, during which he sent a letter to the president, and along with Mr. Pollard's attorney, Theodore Olson, met with the White House counsel, C. Boyden Gray.

American Security Risk

A former defense secretary's statement that he would not oppose a presidential commutation is important because it weakens the objection of those concerned that Pollard's release from prison might in and of itself pose a risk to American security, given the secrets to which he was privy. A letter to the sentencing judge in the case, Aubrey Robinson, from Mr. Weinberger, then-Defense Secretary to President Reagan, is widely thought to have brought down a life sentence in the Pollard case, even though the United States had agreed not to seek one. Mr. Weinberger was himself recently pardoned by Mr. Bush for his alleged perjury in the Iran - Contra affair.

At one point during the last-ditch effort to persuade Mr. Bush, Ambassador Shoval stated his willingness to meet with Mr. Weinberger. But the former Defense Secretary declined. Others who in the last weeks of the Bush administration met with the out-going president or urged him to commute Pollard's sentence included GOP strategists Robert Teeter and Fred Malik, and Jewish Republican leaders Max Fisher and Gordon Zacks. Mr. Bush failed to act on the case, if he reviewed it at all, however. Pollard spent most of the past seven years in the maximum security federal prison in Marion, Ill., most of the time in solitary confinement. Now a slew of Jewish groups are about to urge Mr. Clinton to review, and possibly commute, the sentence.

Rabbis Diverge

At the same time, Jewish groups are debating whether to jump into the fray. At a meeting January 5 of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council Pollard committee, members unanimously rejected a proposal by chairman Phil Baum of American Jewish Congress that they ask Mr. Clinton to review the case with an eye to commuting the sentence to time-served. The Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the United Synagogue and the Women's League for Conservative Judaism have opted to stay out of the affair.

"There's an interesting split between the congregational bodies of the streams and their rabbinic bodies," said Jerome Chanes, NJCRAC co-director for domestic concerns and its Pollard committee staffer. The rabbinic bodies have all called for commutation. "The rabbinical groups respond to a different set of imperatives than the public policy agencies," Mr. Chanes said.

NJCRAC has been the frequent victim of charges it opposes the commutation of Pollard's sentence, a charge Mr. Chanes thinks unfair. "We have no position. Our mandate is to look as carefully as we could at allegations of anti-Semitism or civil rights violations," a search, he said, which produced "no evidence" to support such charges in the case of Pollard.

"The view of the committee is that in order to justify the active intervention on the part of the Jewish community we need a finding of anti-Semitism." Mr. Chanes said he and his committee were not persuaded by arguments that Pollard's sentence was disparate to those received by others in similar conditions, although they feel "it violated his plea bargain." But three federal courts felt it was handled properly," he explained. Following requests by community relations councils in Flint, Boston, Sand Francisco, Houston and other cities, NJCRAC will debate changing its Pollard stand at its annual plenary next month in Washington.

Call for Review

But Phil Baum thinks not taking a stand is also taking a stand. "I am concerned our position has been misrepresented as a connoting opposition to commutation. "The AJCongress associate executive director said that as chairman of the NJCRAC committee, "I've been told incessantly that I'm the leading opponent of commuting the sentence."

Some Jewish groups have already taken a stand for review. These include AJCommittee and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. A Jananuary 12 letter from the president of AJCommittee, Alfred Moses, asked Mr. Bush to review the Pollard record "to determine if the imposed sentence of life imprisonment is appropriate and, if not, to reduce it."

"In making this request, we do not seek to minimize the seriousness of the crime to which Mr. Pollard pled, nor do we suggest what the appropriate sentence should be. This is a determination that we believe can only be made by someone in authority having access to the entire record, a critical part of which remains highly classified."

On Monday, the board of directors of the Metropolitan Chicago Jewish Federation voted to send Mr. Clinton a letter asking him to "take a fresh look at this case and make a determination whether clemency would be appropriate at this time."

On Tuesday, the Hadassah national board took the strongest stand thus far, voting that "on humanitarian grounds, Hadassah calls on the president of the United States to commute Jonathan Pollard's sentence to time already served." The decision came after the group's board heard from Seymour Reich, former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of major American Jewish Organizations, who presented the case for commutation. Jerome Chanes, who staffs the NJCRAC Pollard Committee, also attended. Other groups, like AJCongress and Anti-Defamation League, are considering adopting either that position or one advocating review.

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