AFSI Open Letter to President George W. Bush

Jewish Star Times/Miami Herald - July 4, 2001 - Bill Mehlman

Dear Mr. President:

I have never been associated with any organized effort to gain Presidential clemency for Jonathan J. Pollard. Yet, with the passage of 16 years since his imprisonment for transmitting classified U.S. Navy Intelligence information to an agent of the Israeli government, certain observations have become increasingly clear to me as they should to any dispassionate student of the Pollard case.

However illegal, however misguided, Pollard's act was not undertaken on behalf of a belligerent to whom the possession of such information might arguably have been considered detrimental to American interests in the Middle East. Israel, an American friend and ally for more than five decades, hardly fits that description.

Correctly or mistakenly, he believed this information held dire implications for the security, if not the very existence, of this American friend and ally. Whether or not the U.S., for whatever reason, reneged on a commitment to furnish Israel with this intelligence as part of the Camp David 1 peace agreement with Egypt, is a subject for the historians to ponder. Even if they conclude that the U.S. acted deceitfully in the matter, that did not, of course, give Pollard license to take the law into his own hands. By the same token, he is not, and never was, a Robert Hanssen or an John Walker. He did break the law. He did not betray his country to its enemies.

Jonathan Pollard has served 16 years for his crime, including some very hard time at the Federal Penitentiary in Marion, Ill. That's more punishment than has ever been meted out to anyone in the history of the U.S. for transmitting classified information to a non-belligerent. The question at this point is where does just punishment end and something far less appetizing - something not normally associated with American values - begin?

Pollard is ill, very ill by all accounts. How much long he can sustain a life behind bars with no hope of release is an open question. Compassion aside, Pollard's death in prison would leave an ineradicable stain on the character of American justice, an incomparable gift to a legion of American detractors ever on the alert for any opportunity to hold us in contempt of the humanitarian principles we avow. Is whatever suffering the bitter-enders think Jonathan Pollard still owes us worth that price?

Mr. President, you have been accused by your critics - most notably in the media - of amounting to no more than the sum total of your "expert" lieutenants and advisors. Your predecessor, on the other hand, was routinely extolled as a paragon of fearless independent decision-making. If there was ever a platform designed to dispel that myth, it is surely the Pollard case.

According to the testimony of Natan Sharansky, a universally respected graduate of nine years in the Soviet "Gulag," Mr. Clinton did a 180-degree turn on the promise made in Sharansky's presence at the Wye Plantation summit to hand Pollard over to the Israeli delegation for delivery to his wife in Israel.

It would be difficult for me to envision the reenactment of such a scene by President George W. Bush. Having made the promise, I have no doubt you would have honored it, the reservations of the CIA and other "experts" notwithstanding. Harry Truman, whom I know you hold in high regard, wrote the book on how "expert advice" must sometimes be dealt with when he decided in 1947 to throw America's support behind the creation of Israel over the impassioned objections of his own State and Defense Departments. To Marshall's and Forrestal's dire warnings of irreparable damage to America's vital interests in the Arab world, Truman's response was classically Trumanesque. He was going to do what his Independence, Missouri conscience told him was right. The Arab world would just have to live with it.

Mr. President, after 16 years, the Pollard case cries out for a reprise of this exercise in Presidential courage - the courage to overrule the "experts," the play-it-safers, the always ready dispensers of conventional wisdom, and to do what's right. It is right that closure be brought to the Pollard case. It is right that this man be granted his plea to spend his waning days in Israel with his wife. It is wrong, unworthy of this proud republic, to witness the permutation of American justice into a lingering, compassionless vendetta against a man who once allowed his concern for the survival of a beleaguered little Jewish state get the better of his reason.

In your hands and yours alone, lies the power to right this wrong. May the urgency of this petition be matched by the urgency of your response.

Bill Mehlman
Executive Committee Member
Americans for a Safe Israel

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