Pollard at Wye

October 30, 1998 - The Forward: Editorial

Everyone seems to be of one mind about the proposition that Prime Minister Netanyahu made a terrible blunder by discussing Jonathan Pollard in the context of Wye. Everyone, it seems, but us. The fact is that it was the Clinton administration itself that put Pollard on the table. It was, as the celebrated Israel correspondent of the New York Post, Uri Dan, reported, Mr. Clinton who agreed at Wye to release him.

The administration reportedly disputes that there was an agreement, but we would bet on the credibility of Mr. Dan. If there is a utility to the episode, it is in testing Mr.Clinton's abilities, or willingness, to keep his commitments. So far it seems that on whiff of buckshot from the speaker and the majority leader and the president is headed for the hills - at least for now.

It's extremely important in the Pollard case to hang onto rationality, precisely because of the seriousness of Pollard's crime. Although a sentence of life in prison is not unreasonable for a man who has broken our espionage laws, we have long argued for a commutation of Pollard's sentence to time served. Our own case for commutation to time served - and we have made it several times now - is based on the fact that the sentencing procedure was poisoned by Secretary of Defense Weinberger's memo to the sentencing judge that described Pollard's crime as treason.

Given that the Constitution prohibits our courts, Congress and executive branch from defining treason as anything but levying war against America or adhering to its enemies - which, despite Mr. Weinberger's view, Israel is not - our position has always been that Mr. Weinberger poisoned a proceeding. The government also failed to keep its promise to key points that would logically have resulted in Pollard getting a sentence shorter than life.

We have long argued that the only cause for keeping Pollard in prison would be that his release would represent a continuing threat to national security. But that is a hard case for the government to make, precisely because the original prosecutor agreed to terms that could well have included a relatively short time in jail. Indeed, few opinions have issued from an appellate bench as scathing as the one in which Judge Williams of the U.S. Circuit of Appeals for the Columbia District excoriated the government's breaking of its promise to Pollard. Not even the two judges who made up the majority against Judge Williams and denied Pollard a new sentencing hearing were prepared to offer much in the way of support for the government's behavior. They ruled only on legal technicalities.

So if Mr. Clinton is searching for a way to release Pollard to rectify the broken promise of the prosecution, it is entirely understandable.

And we, for one, don't particularly care what context he does it in. Pollard may not be directly relevant to the peace process that was refloated on the Wye River. But Wye is where Messrs. Clinton and Netanyahu were able to get together in the same room. What Mr. Clinton needs to have is the courage of his conviction that at this advanced stage justice can be done by the president keeping the promise he made to the Israeli premier that he would use his constitutional powers to release Pollard from prison.