A Case For Leniency

Chicago Tribune - Editorial - December 10, 1993

President Clinton is weighing whether to shorten the prison sentence of Jonathan Jay Pollard, the Jewish American serving a life term for giving government secrets to Israel.

Support for Pollard's clemency bid has come from Pollard's lawyers and his family, as well as from many American Jewish groups and other religious leaders.

Even Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has spoken out in Pollard's behalf. In September he asked Clinton to consider a commutation for humanitarian reasons.

While these people contend Pollard has been punished enough, the Justice Department is expected to recommend against leniency. But the decision rests with Clinton and the evidence, on balance, favors clemency.

Pollard was a civilian intelligence analyst for the Navy when he was arrested in 1985. He cooperated with government investigators trying to gauge how much harm his spying had done. And, rather than go through a jury trial, Pollard pleaded guilty to one count of giving classified information to a foreign country. He now has spent eight years in custody.

Pollard's guilty plea came as part of a deal in which prosecutors said they would acknowledge his cooperation and not seek a life term. Yet his supporters contend that the government failed to uphold its end of the deal when it portrayed him in such a way as to elicit the very sentence he thought he had avoided.

They cite the opinion of an appeals court judge, dissenting in a decision upholding the sentence, who called the government's breach of the plea agreement "a fundamental miscarriage of justice."

What may have been decisive with the sentencing judge was a letter sent him by Caspar Weinberger, then secretary of defense. Weinberger painted a bleak picture of the harm allegedly done by Pollard and characterized his offense as "treason," even though Pollard had never been accused of that crime.

(When Pollard sought unsuccessfully to have his sentence commuted in the last days of the Bush administration, Weinberger - recipient of a presidential pardon in the Iran-contra scandal - let it be known that he did not object to cutting Pollard's term.)

The fact is that Pollard's sentence is unusually harsh as these cases go. Suspects convicted of giving American government secrets to countries not hostile to the U.S. - Egypt, South Africa and the Philippines have been involved in such cases - have tended to receive sentences of only a few years, and never more than 10.

Ten years ought to be sufficient for Pollard, who will become eligible for parole in 1995.

Clinton could justifiably set that as his release date - and he ought to.