Blair, Nelson, and Pollard

Avi Shafran - The New York Sun - May 16, 2003

It's been a banner month for falsehood. First, the New York Times, the "paper of record," was forced to admit that one of its rising stars had been in fact a Roman candle, a serial plagiarist and fabricator of facts.

Then there was the retrial of Lemrick Nelson Jr. In 1992, he was acquitted of charges that he murdered Yankel Rosenbaum during the 1991 Crown Heights riots. The acquittal was apparently based on Mr. Nelson's lawyers' claim that their client had not been the man who as part of a mob exhorted by shouts of "Kill the Jew," repeatedly stabbed the Jewish college student. Mr. Nelson was subsequently tried on federal civil rights charges - for stabbing Mr. Rosenbaum because he was a Jew - and found guilty, but technical irregularity necessitated a retrial.

This time Mr. Nelson and his lawyers opted to inform the court that yes, their client had indeed been the stabber, but his actions had been fueled not by Jew-hatred but by beer. The claim of his innocence during his earlier murder trial, in other words, had been a lie.

Compounding the duplicity swirling around the case was the jurors' remarkable verdict: Mr. Nelson was indeed guilty of depriving his victim of his civil rights by stabbing him - but not by killing him. Thus, instead of a possible life sentence, the murderer, with credit for time served, may be a free man in a matter of months.

The jury forewoman later explained that she and her fellow jurors had taken into account old news stories that implied negligence on the part of the hospital that treated the dying Mr. Rosenbaum. However, there had been no testimony about the hospital's alleged negligence; the judge had explicitly ruled it was irrelevant, since Mr. Rosenbaum would not have died had he not been stabbed. All the same, the jurors apparently decided to violate their sworn oath to decide the case on the evidence presented.

But the most egregious duplicity revealed in recent weeks had to do not with a murdered Jew but a live one.

The current issue of Moment magazine features an article, "The Truth About Jonathan Pollard," by author and political commentator John Loftus. Mr. Loftus, who served as a prosecutor for the Justice Department and has held some of the highest security clearances in the world, claims, to have gotten to the bottom of why, in 1987, Jonathan Pollard, despite his cooperation with the government and a plea bargain agreement that was expected to lead to a more lenient sentence, was sentenced to life in prison, where he languishes to this day.

It is no secret that the severity of Pollard's sentence was due to a secret memo from Secretary of Defense Weinberger, who stated publicly that Pollard's acts amounted to "treason" and had caused great "harm to national security."

The nature of that alleged harm is what Mr. Loftus examines, and his conclusion is a disturbing one.

He rules out the theory that Pollard shared with Israel the identities of American agents in the Soviet Union, information that subsequently fell into the hands of a Soviet mole in Israeli intelligence. Mr. Loftus himself accepted that theory as true at the time of Pollard's sentencing but now demonstrates it to be untrue.

The American agents were compromised, but the culprits, says Mr., Loftus, were Aldrich Ames, who confessed in 1994 to compromising most of the American agents for cash; and Robert Hanssen, the senior FBI official arrested in 2001. Pollard, says Mr. Loftus, didn't even have the security clearance necessary to gain access to the names.

Mr. Loftus maintains that what so incensed Mr. Weinberger was that Pollard provided the Israelis with an American roster of Saudi and other Arab intelligence agents, some of whom were connected to terrorist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and what we now know as Al Qaeda. Thus, says Mr. Loftus, who is currently writing a book on the subject, "Pollard stole the one bookthat unquestionably proves that the Americans knew as early as 1984 about the connection between the Saudis and terrorist groups." Mr. Weinberger, he further asserts, undermined a number of efforts to expose Saudi connections with terrorist elements.

Recent events, of course, have laid bare for all the world to see the evil inherent in terrorism, and the bitter, bloody upshot of allowing it to fester. And, post 9/11, America is officially at war with international terrorism. If Mr. Loftus' claims are confirmed, it would be fitting were President Bush, who wisely declared that war, to consider commuting the sentence of the man who has served 18 years in prison for having sought to undermine our moral enemy back when it was considerably less powerful than it is today.

Truth, says Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel, in tractate Avot, traditionally studied by many Jews over the spring and summer months, is one of the "pillars on which he world stands."

No wonder our world is so unsteady. Maybe it would help a bit if we recognized the truth about Jonathan Pollard. He violated our nation's law and deserved a punishment, to be sure. But he has been amply punished, and does not deserve to remain where he is.

Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.

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