It's Time We All Saw The "Secret Charges" Against Jonathan Pollard

Richard Z. Chesnoff - US NEWS And World Report Correspondent
[May be Reprinted with appropriate accreditation]

WHO KNOWS MORE ABOUT THE DANGERS of half-truths and phony smears than William Jefferson Clinton? So let's hope that now that his impeachment trial is over, the President will keep those dangers in mind as he starts dealing with some of the real issues he faces. Among them: the fate of Jonathan Pollard.

Pollard's the former American naval intelligence aide caught spying for Israel in 1985 and then handed a life sentence after the United States government reneged on a plea bargain deal. During the recent Wye Plantation Mideast Conference, Clinton solemnly promised Israeli leaders he'd carefully reconsider clemency for Pollard.

That notwithstanding, Prisoner Pollard's still being denied basic legal rights by both the Justice Department and Pentagon. The same inside-the-beltway crowd that's steadily refused to allow Pollard to be interviewed in his federal prison under normal freedom of press conditions, also denies Pollard's lawyers a detailed account of the "secret" charges against their client.

This stonewalling hasn't prevented faceless US intelligence sources from continuing to spread alleged details of those charges in an attempt to further discredit Pollard: everything from claims he stole codes he claims he had no access to, to the outrageous speculation that Israel passed his espionage material to the Soviet Union -- then its biggest enemy.

An amazing number of people have swallowed this disinformation. Seymour Hersh, who's made Israel bashing a second career, took up the anti-Pollard cry in a recent article in the New Yorker. That's the same Hersh who once wrote an "investigative" book about Israeli nuclear capacity without even bothering to visit there for his investigating.

Hersh isn't alone. A recent op-ed piece by Peter Beinart in the NY Times churlishly implied that American Jews pleading for mercy for Pollard are guilty of dual loyalty.

Beinart doesn't have to worry about Senator Joe Lieberman. The Connecticut senator loudly rejects the idea of any mercy for Pollard. Lieberman, who likes being touted as "a devoutly orthodox Jew", was among the first to put his John Hancock on a letter demanding Clinton turn Pollard's clemency request down. Yet the annoyingly self-righteous senator sees nothing wrong in the fact that Pollard can't see the same details of the charges against him that Lieberman claims he's seen. Even Secretary of State Madeleine Albright argues that there are "no compelling foreign policy reasons" for clemency.

I don't agree. Freeing Pollard could help win the confidence of many Israeli opponents to the peace process for who Pollard's freedom is a major cause. But diplomacy aside, there is another very compelling reason to grant Jonathan Pollard the clemency that he deserves. It's what Mrs Albright's grandfather might have referred to as "rakhmunes" - mercy - a sacred biblical duty that ranks right up there with truth and justice.

A trio of senior figures from the American Jewish community -- World Jewish Congress President Edgar Bronfman, Harvard Law School's Alan Dershowitz and Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel -- have asked to see the President to plead Pollard's case.

*[Justice for JP: The President has not responded to the request made months ago.]

They won't claim he's a hero; Pollard committed serious crimes. But they will point out that his sentence is harsher than some meted out to turncoats who sold security secrets to our worst enemies. Mostly they will say that after 14 years behind bars, he should be allowed to leave for Israel of which he is now a citizen.

In the meantime, Pollard deserves basic justice. His lawyers -- and the public -- must be permitted to see what this man is really charged with.

JWR contributor and veteran journalist Richard Z. Chesnoff is a senior correspondent at US News And World Report and a columnist at the NY Daily News. His book on the wartime plunder of the Jews, Pack of Thieves, will be published by Doubleday this spring.