Leonard Garment: If Israel stopped its implausible denial of Pollard he'd be free

Excerpt from "Our Man in America" exclusive interview with Jonathan Pollard

Yaniv Halily - Yediot Achronot Weekend Magazine - November 9, 2007
Translated to English by J4JP and released November 11, 2007

Shortly after Pollard was exposed, former American Secretary of State George Shultz agreed to put an end to the affair. The only thing he asked was to receive sworn affidavits from the officials involved in the operation in order to be able to assess the extent of any damage. The task fell to Leonard Garment, a Jewish attorney, and former legal advisor to President Nixon, who had been retained to represent Aviam Sella, Pollard's handler who had escaped from the US.

Garment arrived in Israel, met with those who were involved and collected affidavits from them. One evening Garment and Sella arranged to meet for a private conversation. Sella, who was the architect of running Pollard, provided Garment with a detailed description of how Pollard was run over the 18 months that he provided information to Israel. Sella's account did not match the affidavits of the rest of those who were involved in the affair. Garment advised Peres and Rabin to change the affidavits they had given, with regard to the level of their involvement, because the Americans did not "buy" it. Garment says they both refused.

False Affidavits

A short while after, an Israeli delegation came to Washington to meet with Garment. The delegation which included people from the Foreign Ministry handed over to Garment the affidavits of all of those who had been involved in the affair (a new proffer for the Justice and State Departments). Garment recounts in his book that he had a look at the affidavits and told the members of the delegation that these were false affidavits and the Americans would find it very easy to prove that the statements were false. When the members of the delegation expressed astonishment at how Garment knew that the statements were false, Garment pulled out the notepad where he had documented his private meeting with Aviam Sella. What happened next Garment describes in his book, "Crazy Rhythm" which was published in 2001. From what Garment writes, the members of the delegation demanded that he hand over his notepad and when he refused, they panicked and even decided to fire him as Aviam Sella's attorney.

The reaction was not long in coming. George Shultz read the Israeli affidavits and was enraged. The Americans decided to pursue charges against Sella even though he had already escaped from the United States. A short time later, a report appeared in the Los Angeles Times which announced that Aviam Sella had been promoted to the rank of Commander of Tel Nof Air Base, and reported the promotion of Rafi Eitan, the second lead player in the affair, as CEO of Israel Chemicals Ltd. These promotions were interpreted by the Americans as proof that the Government of Israel knew about the running of Jonathan Pollard and was even rewarding his handlers.

Pollard signed a plea agreement with the US Government which was supposed to lead to a sentence of somewhere between 4 and 7 years, as was usual for those sentenced for spying for an ally. Even though the prosecution signed the plea agreement, the Judge, Aubrey Robinson, decided to ignore the plea deal and sentenced Pollard to

life in prison

without parole. Given the absence of any other senior Israeli official on the ground, Pollard became America's whipping boy.

In a telephone conversation with Yediot, Leonard Garment recounted how he tried to work to calm the affair and bring it to a comfortable resolution for both countries but Israel's overwhelming intransigence torpedoed the mission. "I met with Peres, Rabin and Arens, as well as with the rest of the people involved in the affair. Each one of them denied involvement in the operation, but the Americans wanted them to take a step forward and just admit running an agent. In other words that they should admit that there was government involvement in running Pollard and that this was not about a freelance agent who acted on his own.

"I prepared an affidavit which said that the Government of Israel knew about the operation. The affidavit was authorized by the American justice department, and the Americans promised that once the Israelis signed, they would cancel the charges against Aviam Sella and reduce Pollard's sentence. I sent the affidavit to Prime Minister Shimon Peres, but never heard back from him."

Yediot: Why, in your estimation, did the Government of Israel refuse to admit involvement in the operation?

"They feared the political fallout from this kind of admission in Israel. It was likely to impact severely on the political life of every one of the top officials of the Israeli government and on their political futures."

Yediot: If the Government of Israel were to admit today that it knew about running Pollard, what damage is likely to be caused to the relations between the two countries?

"I don't think it would do any damage whatsoever. On the contrary, I am convinced that such an admission would lead to the release of Pollard. In my opinion the justice system's handling of his case was not fair."

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