A Pardon For Pollard

The Jewish Week (NY) - Editorial - January 4, 2000

There would be no political benefit at this point for President Clinton to pardon Jonathan Pollard in the waning days of his administration. The Jewish vote is no longer an issue for the retiring president, and it is clear that the military, justice and intelligence establishments in Washington continue to insist the former Navy intelligence analyst, sentenced in 1987 to life in prison for spying for Israel, serve out his punishment. But Clinton has the authority to commute Pollard's sentence or pardon him, and once again we appeal to him to do so on humanitarian grounds.

That is not to say, as some have, that Pollard was a hero. Indeed, his crime was serious, however well intentioned he may have been in seeking to provide Israel with classified information. But Pollard has acknowledged his guilt and expressed remorse, and he has languished in prison for 15 years, far longer even than those convicted of spying for enemies of the U.S. It is this disproportionate punishment, coupled with the fact that the government broke its agreement with him, that prompts us to speak out on his behalf at what appears to be the last chance in the foreseeable future for him to be freed.

A number of Jewish organizations and elected officials have argued for clemency, pointing out that after entering into a plea bargain agreement with Pollard, the government reneged on its promise not to seek a life sentence in return for his cooperation. The dissenting judge in a 1992 D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that went against Pollard, 2-1, said "the government complied in spirit with none of its promises," and on one key issue "it complied in neither letter nor spirit." Even the other two judges concluded that the government acted harshly. Further, it has become clear that Pollard's original attorney made a number of blunders in representing him, including failing directly to appeal the life sentence.

President Clinton has had occasion to reflect on and discuss personal guilt, remorse and forgiveness these last several years. Perhaps he will find it in his heart to act with compassion for a man whose sin was not of the flesh but who thought he was breaking his government's law to help strengthen the security of an ally. Jonathan Pollard was wrong, he has acknowledged that, and he has been punished. A presidential pardon would not expunge his guilt or undo his 15 years in federal prison. It would, however, close the chapter and show a bit of mercy. It's time.