Pardon Pollard, Mr. President
Jerusalem Post - Editorial - January 10, 2001
As he spends his last days in office working to secure some semblance
of a productive dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians, US
President Bill Clinton should pause and remember Jonathan Pollard.
Pardoning the convicted Israeli spy would not garner the same glory as
international peacemaking, to be sure, nor could it win the outgoing
president any political gain. It would be little more than a pure humanitarian act -
and what more could there be?
There is no question that Pollard's crime of passing classified
information to Israel while working as a US Navy analyst was serious -
it was. Nor is it in question that he deserved to be punished - he has
been. Indeed, he himself expressed "deep remorse" in a letter to
Clinton last month. The issue is: After 15 years in maximum security
prisons, including seven in solitary confinement, further incarceration
of Pollard would be a miscarriage of justice.
Alan Dershowitz, Irwin Cotler, Kenneth Lasson (all law professors), and
Angelo Codevilla (professor and former Senate Intelligence Committee
staffer) pointed out in a Washington Post op-ed last year that Pollard
was neither charged nor convicted of the crime of treason. "Nor was
there anything in his indictment to suggest that he intended to harm
America - or that he compromised the nation's intelligence-gathering
capabilities or caused injury to any of its agents," the op-ed continued.
As unseemly as it may be, allies spy on each other all the time. When
they are caught, the rules of the game dictate that the matter be
settled quietly, usually by expulsion. In no case has the punishment
for spying for an ally carried anywhere near as harsh a sentence as the
one Pollard is serving.
Pollard was charged with one count of passing classified information to
an ally, and sentenced to life in prison without parole. The current
maximum sentence for this offense is 10 years, and the median sentence
is about three years. Pollard, by contrast, is being treated more
harshly than Aldridge Ames, who was held responsible for the deaths of 10 American agents, convicted of treason - and sentenced to life in
prison. Ames did not serve for years in solitary confinement, nor was he confined in as harsh a
prison environment as Pollard's.
Pollard's life sentence, besides being considerably disproportionate to
other sentences for similar crimes, was in gross violation of his plea
agreement with the government. Under that agreement, according to which
Pollard pled guilty and cooperated with the prosecution, the government
pledged not to call for a life sentence. Though two judges on a
three-judge panel upheld Pollard's sentence by ruling against his
appeal on technical grounds, the third judge found that the
government's breach of its plea agreement was "a complete and gross
miscarriage of justice."
It is clear that Pollard violated his oaths to secrecy and unjustifiably
took the law into his own hands. However, he did so not to harm the
United States, but to provide Israel with intelligence that he
believed the US should have been sharing with its close ally. In doing
so, Pollard harmed that alliance, as did those Israelis who acted
recklessly in cooperating with him.
In Israel, Pollard's fate is a matter of national concern. He is not
lionized for his crime, but he is embraced as a patriot across the
political spectrum, as a rare joint letter signed by Binyamin Netanyahu
and Ehud Barak last year illustrates. The letter stated: "Concerning
Mr. Pollard, the people of Israel and virtually all its political
parties stand as one."
That is why Pollard has featured prominently in almost every
US-brokered peace summit, with his pardon mooted by the Israelis as
part of a comprehensive accord, but rejected by the Americans. In these
situations, Clinton was swayed by the US intelligence community, with
its unrelenting antipathy toward Pollard. Indeed, he is understood to
have declined Netanyahu's appeal during the 1999 Wye River talks after CIA chief
George Tenet threatened to quit if Pollard was released.
There is no more such pressure. On January 20 the US administration
will change, and with it the entire upper echelon. Those working to
free Pollard will have to renew and redouble their efforts, facing a
White House likely less sympathetic to the cause than Clinton's. The
outgoing president, who has professed and proven his affection for
Israel, now has a chance to demonstrate this by giving an American
native and Israeli national his liberty. This simple act would redress
a grave injustice, and serve as a valedictory gesture that would be
A Pardon For Pollard