Explaining the Pollard Case to the President's Legal Counsel

October 14, 1994

Judge Abner Mikvah
Special Counsel to the President
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Subject: Jonathan J. Pollard

Dear Judge Mikvah:

I was profoundly disappointed at your reported comments about Jonathan Pollard at the National Jewish Democratic Council banquet honoring Hyman Bookbinder. According to The Forward, you posed the question, "How do we start thinking about the criminal justice system, not in terms of whether Jonathan Pollard's sentence should be commuted, but in terms of the consequences of an over-crowded prison system, which performs almost none of its intended functions properly?"

Your seeming annoyance with, or lack of understanding of, the tremendous focus on the Pollard case is, in turn, hard for me to understand or to reconcile with your noble career in Congress and on the Federal Bench.

It is a fundamental principle of the American judicial system that individuals who commit similar crimes are supposed to receive reasonably similar punishments.

This is something we dare not make light of. But, beyond this, the Pollard affair is not simply a case of someone who has received a disproportionately harsh sentence. Rather, one of the many distinguishing factors in the Pollard case is that Pollard is in a party of

one. With the exception of Jonathan Pollard, nobody who spied for an ally or even a neutral country received a sentence even remotely close to life.

In addition to the fact that Pollard has been singled out from all others who have committed similar offenses, what has added to the widespread anger and great consternation about Pollard's life sentence are the following factors:

  1. The breach by the government of its written plea agreement with Pollard and prosecutorial malfeasance by government lawyers which, in the opinion of Judge Stephen Williams, resulted in a "fundamental miscarriage of justice."

  2. Strong suspicions about the veracity of the classified damage assessment of former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, who we know grossly misstated the facts in the redacted non-classified memorandum to the sentencing judge in the Pollard case, and who later perjured himself in testimony before Congress.

  3. The confirmation earlier this year by Bobby Ray Inman of Pollard's long-held contention that the United States withheld critically important information from Israel following Israel's bombing of Iraq's nuclear reactor.

  4. The walls of classification erected by the government to shield facts not only from the public, but also from Pollard and his counsel. In addition to the Weinberger memorandum, the government refuses to release the following documents or information:

    1. Les Aspin's letter to the President making the preposterous charge that Pollard tried to transmit classified information in 14 letters from prison;

    2. the 14 letters referred to by Aspin, even in redacted form;

    3. the recommendations to the President concerning Pollard's petition from Attorney General Reno and former Deputy Attorney General Heymann; and

    4. the role played by Aldridge Ames and other officials in the intelligence establishment in the disinformation campaign to place the blame on Pollard for the crimes committed by Ames.

These are some of the reasons why Pollard's petition enjoys the support of both U.S. Catholic Cardinals and Israel's Chief Rabbis, the European Parliament and members of the U.S. Congress, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel and former Soviet Refusniks, U.S. City councils and state legislatures, Hollywood personalities such as Gregory Peck, Jack Lemon and Paul Newman, liberal democrats such as Robert Drinan and Benjamin Hooks, and conservative Republicans such as Pat Robertson. And it is why the American Jewish community has coalesced around the Pollard case in a virtually unprecedented manner.

As Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, president of the Synagogue Council of America, has written to the president about the Pollard case, "In my thirty-six years in the rabbinate, I have never seen an issue which has united Jews as fully and comprehensively as this one. It has the endorsement of virtually every Jewish organization, national and local,

representing all religous points of view

in this country."

Thankfully, American Jews, be they invitees to National Jewish Democratic Council banquets or those affiliated with the Republican Party, have retained their belief in the importance of each individual. Therefore, when American Jews "start thinking about the criminal justice system", and how it is working, it is quite natural for them to wonder

how there could have been so great a breakdown in the system as to allow such an aberrant sentence as the one meted out in the Pollard case


And it is only natural for American Jews to demand that, notwithstanding previous failures and errors that combined to bring about Pollard's unprecedented and draconian life sentence, something now at last be done to limit the perpetuation of that injustice.

Rather than be upset, annoyed or frustrated with the attention focused on the Pollard case, we ought to take pride in the fact that so many Americans, within the Jewish community and beyond, see the Pollard case as barometer and understand, when they "start thinking about the criminal justice system", that

if the system does not work for the individual, it works for no one


Very truly yours,

David Kirshenbaum

  • See Also: The Admiral Bobby Ray Inman Page