Editorial: Pollard's Day In Court

The Jewish Week [NY] - September 4, 2003

Jonathan Pollard had his day in court on Tuesday, in a fashion. Despite the drama of his unusual appearance - it was his first time in a courtroom in 16 years, and even his defense lawyers didn't know why his presence was demanded - it was the kind of procedural hearing that only a lawyer could love.

But you don't have to be a Harvard Law graduate to understand one question the convicted spy's attorneys asked: why, after all this time, shouldn't they gain access to the still-secret documents that were reportedly responsible for his unusually harsh sentence of life in prison? That, along with an appeal for resentencing based on claims his original counsel was incompetent, were the major talking points at the hearing at Federal District Court in Washington.

We don't pretend to know what's in the infamous Weinberger memorandum, written by former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and reportedly laying out the damage Pollard did to U.S. security interests. Maybe Weinberger did make a compelling case that Pollard should receive a life sentence. But government claims that letting Pollard's lawyers - who have top security clearances - see the memo would somehow compromise U.S. security interests no longer seem credible. In 1987, when Pollard was sentenced, Ronald Reagan was president, the Soviet Union was still this nation's biggest threat and Osama bin Laden was still unknown to most Americans.

In other words, the world has changed dramatically; it's hard to see how letting the lawyers see the documents in question could harm national security. The continuing government refusal just reinforces the bitterness of some Pollard supporters and the assorted conspiracy theories that have grown up around the case...

For too long Pollard has been a kind of icon of virtue to his supporters, of evil to those who want to keep him in prison. After 18 years, it's time to step back and look at the facts, not the spin and counter spin that have come to dominate the Pollard affair.

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