Time to Free Jonathan Pollard

NY Daily News - Editorial - September 18, 1993

He has been in prison nearly eight years. He has served much of his time in solitary confinement in the federal maximum-security pen at Marion, Ill. He shares his harsh home with the likes of John Gotti, former Libyan gun runner Edwin Wilson and Navy officer-turned-Soviet spy John Walker. Jonathan Pollard does not belong there. He doesn't belong behind bars anywhere.

A former civilian analyst for the U.S. Navy, Pollard pleaded guilty to giving classified information to Israel. He broke the law and deserved to be firmly punished. But the length of his sentence and the harsh conditions he has endured far outweigh his crime. Only notorious spies working for enemy nations - like John Walker and his brother, Arthur, who sold secrets to the Soviets for 17 years - usually receive life sentences. Pollard is the only person ever to receive a life sentence for helping an ally. The case ended his marriage and broke the health of his former wife, who also served time. Justice now calls on President Clinton to commute his penalty.

Pollard didn't spy for money, and certainly not for an enemy. He confessed and cooperated with the government in return for a reasonable sentence. But the government reneged on the deal. Just before sentencing, then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger sent a note to the judge accusing Pollard of "treasonous" behavior and asking for the maximum sentence. Federal prosecutors, who had promised to request leniency, suddenly switched tunes and echoed Weinberger's refrain. The judge obliged - with a life sentence.

"Treason," of course, is a loaded word, and it had not before been used in the case for a very good reason: None of the intelligence Pollard disclosed compromised American security or personnel. The information he gave Israel dealt with the military might of Iraq and Syria. The disclosure did not hurt the U.S. but did help Israel prepare for possible gas attacks from Saddam's SCUDs during the Gulf War.

The Justice Department is now considering Pollard's petition for commutation, which has wide support in Congress and the American Jewish community. His supporters also include the Rev. Pat Robertson, Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, Benjamin Hooks, former executive director of the NAACP, and the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, former president of Notre Dame.

Oddly, the Mideast peace breakthrough gives the case a special resonance. Abandoned by the Israeli government and jailed by the U.S., Pollard is a man without a country. But so is Yasser Arafat. And if Arafat can shake hands with Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn and be toasted in Washington, certainly Jonathan Pollard deserves freedom.