After 14 Years, Why is Pollard Still in Jail?

Mark Green, NYC Public Advocate - Jewish Press - September 29, 2000

Beginning in 1992, convicted spy Jonathan Pollard periodically phoned and wrote me, describing in vivid detail his plight and legal struggle to be set free. And just over a year ago, I traveled to Butner Federal Correctional Institution in North Carolina to meet with him in person. I believe that the time is right for Pollard to be granted clemency and released from prison now.

In November, l985, Pollard, a U.S. Naval analyst, was arrested with his then wife Anne and charged with spying for Israel. He pled guilty when prosecutors promised not to seek a life sentence. Despite that promise, Judge Aubrey Robinson sentenced him to a life term.

Looking back on this tortured case, three facts are clear: First, Pollard committed the very serious crime of spying on behalf of an American ally, Israel, for which he was justly convicted and incarcerated. Second, his 14 years in prison far exceeds the punishment imposed on anyone else for a comparable crime. And third, his life sentence was the result of the U.S. Government turning its back on the plea agreement Pollard signed, in which - because of his acknowledged cooperation with the prosecutors and because of the punishments meted out in parallel cases - he reasonably expected a severe but fair sentence.

Why did the government break its word? At the 11th hour, the prosecution produced a secret surprise memorandum from then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger which branded Pollard's offense as "treason". Yet he was not convicted or even accused of "treason", which the United States Constitution defines as "levying war against the United States or giving aid and comfort" to our enemies (Article 111, Section 3). If the situation weren't so serious it would be laughable that the court took at face value the word of a federal official later indicted - and pardoned by the President - for lying to Congress about national security in the Iran-Contra affair. It defies logic that Pollard would have agreed to waive his sixth amendment right to trial had he known that the punishment would be life in prison without parole.

Moreover, in a scene reminiscent of a Kafka novel, the contents of this decisive memorandum have never been publically released or subjected to cross-examination, not to mention that the Government violated its promise to fully credit Pollard for his extensive cooperation with the prosecution once he had been apprehended. Quite simply, it is a miscarriage of justice for Jonathan Pollard to be sitting in prison for life because of charges that were never openly aired or scrutinized and to be convicted of one crime (espionage) yet sentenced for another (treason).

Nine years ago, Pollard wrote a letter to his parents in which he expressed his great remorse for his actions and acknowledged that he deserved to be punished for his actions. He has repeated those sentiments of remorse many times over, including to me.

Now, after 14 years in prison, including seven in solitary confinement, Jonathan Pollard has paid his debt to society. There is no evidence that he would be a danger to society upon his release, contrary to repeated uncorroborated assertions by some in the defense intelligence community. Charges in the press are not facts in court. President Clinton should grant clemency and Jonathan Pollard should be released from prison.