The Pollard Issue - Editorial Comment and Dershowitz Response

Jerusalem Post - August 31, 1991

[Click here for response by Alan Dershowitz Esq.]

President George Bush's refusal yesterday to consider commuting Jonathan Pollard's life sentence as a gesture within the framework of the hostage negotiations is understandable. As Bush aptly put it, Pollard was tried and convicted in a democratic country, enjoying all the safeguards of due process. He could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be called a hostage. True, Israel, and European countries - particularly France, Germany, Italy and Belgium- have all released convicted terrorists in exchange for hostages. But the demands for their release had come from murderers and blackmailers acting as proxies of terrorist-sponsoring states. For citizens of a democracy to demand Pollard's freedom in this context is ill-advised.

But this does not mean that the disturbing Pollard issue should not be addressed. The question is not whether Pollard is guilty of a very serious crime - he was a member of he U.S. armed forces who sent Israel classified information - but whether his sentence was just and his treatment fair.

Pollard, it should be remembered, spied in the United States, not against it. He spied for an ally, believing he was protecting Israel from a threat which has since proved frighteningly real. He acted because he believed the U.S. was not living up to its commitment to provide Israel with precisely this kind of information. None of this excuses his crimes. But no court should ignore extenuating circumstances when passing sentence, particularly when state secrets are transmitted to an ally, not an enemy, and American security is not compromised.

The normal treatment for non-Americans who spy for America's allies in peace-time is expulsion. American citizens found guilty of such crimes are sentenced to a few years in jail, with as little publicity as possible. One cannot imagine an American spying, say, for Britain in World War II - even before the U.S. became involved in the war- receiving life in prison. Even some American spies for the Soviet Union, who were guilty of treason and of causing untold harm to the U.S., have received milder sentences. That Pollard was, without reason, first confined to a prison facility for the criminally insane and then, after confessing, sentenced to life imprisonment and place in a isolation cell in one of America's toughest high-security prisons, seems to have been unwarranted and vindictive. It is difficult to escape the impression that he has been the victim of double standards.

Unfortunately, Pollard has had few pleaders in the organized American Jewish community. The fear of the "dual loyalty" charge is still so pervasive that most of the community's leaders have kept away from the Pollard case as from the plague. But they should remember that Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger's intervention in the case was the most decisive factor in the judge's decision to impose the harsh sentence. And that only Weinberger's dislike for Israel, described by one of his aides as "almost visceral," could have made him assert that Pollard had done more harm to the U.S. than any other spy - this at a time of some of the most damaging breaches in history of American security by Soviet spies.

The U.S. is a humane society with a strong sense of justice and sympathy for repentance. It surely can find a way to reconsider Pollard's punishment. By all accepted standards, Pollard, who has expressed contrition and remorse, has paid his debt for the crime he committed. It is o be hoped, too, that the organized Jewish community in America will overcome its unseemly timidity and plead for him. The issue is not of dual loyalty but of a double standard, of a Jew being punished more cruelly because he is a Jew who spied for Israel.

Reply By Alan M. Dershowitz

The Jerusalem Post International - September 7, 1991


Your editorial of August 18 calling for a reduction of Jonathan Pollard's sentence is commendable. But your observation that President Bush is correct in refusing to commute Pollard's sentence as part of the current negotiations is, with due respect, wrong.

Exchanges of the type currently under consideration are never perfectly symmetrical. Consider, for example the exchange which resulted in Natan Sharansky's release. Israel is prepared to release detainees who are certainly not hostages in exchange for hostages. Israel's primary objective is, of course, to its own soldiers, and nothing should be done which in any way undercuts that priority. But as part of the one-sided arrangement in which Israel is expected to release numerous lawfully held detainees in exchange for a small number of Israelis, Israel would also obtain the release of one of its spies.

Unless Israel receives a person who is lawfully being held - namely Pollard - in exchange for its release of lawfully held detainees, the exchange will be "apples for oranges." Only the inclusion of Pollard - whose sentence was disproportionate to his crime and to sentences imposed on others who have spied for allies - will make it an exchange of "apples for apples."

Alan M. Dershowitz