Pardon Pollard

The Jerusalem Post - December 19, 1993

If the anti-Pollard editorials in The New York Times and The Washington Post, the spurious "new revelations" about the secrets Pollard passed, and the leaks about Pentagon and CIA recommendations against his pardon are any indication, there are still powerful forces in Washington which want to see Jonathan Pollard stay in prison for many years. If nothing else, the shrillness of the campaign against him raises the possibility that what animates his adversaries is vindictiveness and retribution, rather than a desire to see justice served.

Jonathan Pollard's crime has probably done more damage to Israel's standing in the US than almost any single Israeli act since the establishment of the state. It stained Israel's image, embarrassed its government, and shook the American Jewish community to the core. That he committed a serious crime is acknowledged by all his friends and by Pollard himself. But his sentence was as draconian as it was unjustified.

It is difficult to accept the official American assessment of the damage Pollard did to US intelligence, and it is well-nigh impossible to take the flood of leaked innuendo seriously. Charges that Pollard compromised communication codes, exposed American intelligence networks, revealed the secrets of new weapons systems, and collaborated with the then-apartheid regime of South Africa are floated in the knowledge that denials of such charges - in the unlikely case they are made at all - are never credible. And the fact that Pollard was not tried in an open court gives the rumor manufacturers a carte blanche for malicious mischief.

That such rumors are being spread now recalls the role played by then-secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger in Pollard's sentencing. Ignoring some of the most damaging penetrations of the American defense establishment by American traitors working for the Soviets, he stated in a March 1987 affidavit: "It is difficult for me ... to conceive a greater harm to national security than that caused by Pollard." Such statements are animated more by rage than reason.

Without minimizing the enormity of the crime of spying, Pollard's defenders vehemently disagree with such hyperbole. In Pollard's defense, they say that had the US adhered to its intelligence-sharing agreement with Israel, virtually all the information Pollard transmitted would have passed through regular government channels. Most of the information, they maintain, was regional and tactical - about Iraqi and Pakistani nuclear capabilities and PLO bases, for example - hardly the kind which could compromise American security. As one of them put it, Pollard spied in the US, not against the US. He was not convicted of treason.

According to prominent lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who represented him last year, Pollard was sentenced after entering a plea bargain in which he agreed to plead guilty in return for an implicit promise that he would be treated with relative leniency. This agreement spared the government a messy trial in which it would have had to reveal secret evidence and sources, and defend its withholding information from Israel. Opening the case could have turned it into another Irangate, with mud sticking everywhere.

But the judge, disregarding the deal and influenced by Weinberger's incredible statement, passed an unprecedented life sentence. No spy for a friendly power has ever been sentenced to life imprisonment in the US. In peace time, such a penalty is meted out only to those caught spying for America's primary enemies, and even then only rarely.

For the first time since Pollard was sentenced, both the Jewish establishment in the US and the Israeli government have asked for a presidential pardon. They have not done so lightly. The Jewish organizations had to overcome their fear of the charge of dual loyalty; and Jerusalem, which has always claimed Pollard's was a rogue operation, had to put its prestige on the line. To his great credit, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was the first Israeli premier to plead for Pollard's release.

A refusal to grant Pollard a pardon at this stage will not only raise the suspicion that a Jew is being singled out for special cruelty because he is a Jew who served Israel; it will be a slap in the face of both the American Jewish community and Premier Rabin.

The US is a humane society with a strong sense of justice and great sympathy for contrition. President Bill Clinton represents this kind of compassion and humaneness perhaps better than any president in recent history. By all accepted standards of civilized, democratic society, Pollard, who has expressed remorse and regret for his actions, has paid for the crime he committed. It is time to pardon him.