Lame-Duck Push for Pollard

James D. Besser - The Jewish Week (NY)- November 24, 2000

Jewish leaders who want President Bill Clinton to commute the sentence of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard are ratcheting up their efforts in the closing days of the administration.

There's no mystery about the reasons for the new urgency: Clinton, now a lame duck, has nothing to lose by freeing Pollard. But after Jan. 20, the commutation calculus will look very different no matter who wins the disputed presidential election.

In recent days several top religious leaders have written to Clinton urging clemency and asking him to accelerate his promised review of the case.

In virtually identical letters, Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, president of the Hebrew Union College, and Dr. Mandell Ganchrow, president of the Orthodox Union urged Clinton to take into consideration new legal action by Pollard's lawyers in Washington.

In October, Pollard's lawyers filed a motion in federal district court in Washington asking for a new sentencing hearing based on the claim that his original lawyers mishandled the first one.

As a result, "Mr. Pollard was sentenced to life in prison on the basis of false allegations, and under circumstances that violated his plea agreement," according to all three letters.

Rabbi Saperstein emphasized his view that still-secret court documents should be released.

"It's time for the government to explain what it's never explained: What, exactly, is the nature of the damage that was done that could conceivably justify this sentence?" he told The Jewish Week.

New questions about the legal process during Pollard's sentencing, he said, make it even more important that years of government secrecy be ended.

Rabbi Saperstein said that Clinton's lame-duck status "gives him a good opportunity to reconsider the situation free of external influences, and make a decision of what's appropriate and what's fair."

Backers of clemency are acutely aware that the next president will take up the Pollard issue from a different starting point.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), the Democratic vice presidential nominee, has come out strongly against releasing Pollard; his Republican counterpart, former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, has been even more vehement in opposing clemency for Pollard.

Those factors make it all the more important that Clinton "do the right, the moral thing," said Kenneth Lasson, a lawyer and longtime commutation advocate. Lasson is currently writing an amicus brief with Pollard's defense team.

"Right now Clinton has nothing to lose." he said.

See Also:
  • Legal Documents & Related Articles on the Court Case 2000 Page
  • Letters to Clinton by Jewish leaders on the Jewish Unity Page and Calls for Pollard's Release Page
  • The Lieberman Page