Clinton Urged to Commute Life Sentence of Spy Pollard

Actor Jon Voight and others join call for clemency. They say former intelligence specialist acted out of concern for Israel.

December 21, 1993 - Amy Wallace - L.A. Times

Lamenting what he called a "tremendous injustice," actor Jon Voight on Monday urged President Clinton to commute the life sentence of former civilian Navy intelligence officer Jonathan Pollard, who was convicted in 1987 of spying for Israel.

Joined by Pollard's parents, along with actress Sally Struthers and Los Angeles City Councilman Nate Holden, Voight kicked off a morning news conference at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in West Los Angeles by reading a letter he sent to the White House last week calling for compassion.

The effort was part of an intense lobbying effort to persuade Clinton to grant clemency to the 38-year-old Pollard. In recent weeks, the Wiesenthal Center, the Anti-Defamation League and other groups have expressed support for Pollard. Israel's Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the writer Elie Wiesel have each issued personal pleas.

"Jonathan Pollard has perhaps suffered more than any one individual for perhaps a crime that is now being portrayed as the most vicious crime of the century," said Voight, 54. "There seem to be so many government officials who can't find it in their hearts and souls to admit that the crime itself was not consummated for greed . . . or to try to bring any harm to America. . . . It was to defend the Jewish homeland."

Pollard, an American Jew, was a civilian intelligence officer in the Navy when he noticed that the United States had not notified Israel of Iraq's buildup of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. He approached the Israeli government with this information and was arrested in Washington, D.C., in 1985. Currently held at the Federal Correctional Institute at Butner, N.C., he is scheduled for parole review in late 1995.

Pollard's supporters point out that John Walker, who was convicted of supplying military secrets to the Soviet Union for 17 years during the Cold War, received a 25-year sentence. They say Pollard has been more harshly punished than any other convicted spy. They maintain that Pollard was motivated by concern for Israel, an ally of the United States.

"There's no question that Jonathan Pollard was not seeking to hurt America, but (was) acting out of deep fears and concerns for the well-being of the Jewish state and for survivors of the Holocaust," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center. "Many of those concerns turned out to be well-founded."