Pressure Is Again Emerging to Free Jonathan Pollard
David Johnston - NY Times - December 13, 2000

As President Clinton nears the end of his time in office, he is facing a new round of pressure to free Jonathan Jay Pollard, the convicted spy whose life sentence has become a battleground between Jewish leaders and intelligence officials.

Administration officials said Prime Minister Ehud Barak of Israel raised the issue with President Clinton on Monday, and the president essentially restated the official position on the matter, telling Mr. Barak he would review the issue along with other clemency requests.

But the officials said Israel and Jewish leaders in the United States would probably continue to press Mr. Clinton to commute Mr. Pollard's sentence before his presidency ran out. Senior law enforcement and intelligence officials were just as likely to maintain their strong opposition to freeing Mr. Pollard, a civilian naval intelligence analyst who in 1987 was sentenced to life in prison as a spy for Israel.

A Clinton administration official traveling today with the president in Ireland said that the case was not under review. "From time to time, Prime Minister Barak has raised this issue, but there's nothing new," the official said. "That is not under active consideration."

American Jewish leaders have long lobbied on Mr. Pollard's behalf, and in New York earlier this year, Hillary Rodham Clinton was pressed during her successful race for the Senate to support clemency. She endorsed an improvement in Mr. Pollard's confinement conditions, but did not support releasing him.

In Israel, the case has been championed by both Labor and Likud Party governments. But if Mr. Pollard is released, Mr. Barak, who faces an election as early as February, would probably claim the victory as his accomplishment, saying it was the product of a relationship that he nurtured with the White House.

The president considers pardon and clemency issues throughout the year, but often announces decisions at the holiday season. They are rarely announced ealier, particularly in an election year.

In recent days, Mr. Pollard's lawyers have filed a motion in Federal District Court here seeking to have Mr. Pollard's sentence vacated. "We have advised the court that we have requested President Clinton to grant him clemency to time served," said Eliot Lauer, a lawyer for Mr. Pollard.

Today, government officials said the White House had given no indication that Mr. Clinton planned to reopen the Pollard case.

Even so, one official who opposes clemency said that such a review was expected despite White House denials. He added that a concession to Mr. Pollard's supporters in the waning days of Mr. Clinton's presidency, when such actions are almost risk-free politically, would still arouse deep resentment among law enforcement and intelligence officials.

The Pollard case has been hotly debated for years. Two years ago, the case nearly shattered peace negotiations at the Wye Plantation in Maryland when Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister at the time, demanded that Mr. Pollard be freed. George L. Tenet, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, threatened to resign if Mr. Clinton acceded to the Isreali demand. In the end, Mr. Clinton refused to free Mr. Pollard.

At times Mr. Clinton has seemed poised to grant some form of clemency, as a gesture to promote the Middle East peace effort. He has considered clemency for Mr. Pollard on at least three occasions, in 1993, 1996 and 1998, and once ordered a separate reassessment of the case, which concluded that Mr. Pollard had seriously damaged national security.

Some officials said Mr. Clinton, who wields exclusive clemency authority, could weigh a variety of options, among them shortening Mr. Pollard's sentence or allowing him to be transferred to an Israeli prison, where Mr. Pollard, who obtained Israeli citizenship in 1995, would almost certainly soon be released.

Law enforcement and intelligence agencies have vigorously opposed such a step, saying Mr. Pollard's crimes were far too serious to provide any basis for clemency. Each time, faced with unequivocal opposition, Mr. Clinton has backed away from the case.

Mr. Pollard, who worked at the Navy's Anti-Terrorism Alert Center in Suitland, Md., has said he was punished too severely; he says he obtained information that the United States should have been supplying to its ally. But American officials have said he betrayed vital secrets to the Israelis, who did not cooperate fully with investigators or return all the documents Mr. Pollard provided them.

In an interview, Joseph E. diGenova, the prosecutor in the Pollard case, reflected the unyielding view of many government officials. "This is a decision of such gravity that it will taint this president's legacy forever," he said. "It is absolutely indefensible from either a legal or humanitarian standpoint to grant clemency to this American citizen who had done the gravest kind of damage to the United States."

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