Jonathan Pollard - Six Years Later

Robert Blewett - Midstream Magazine - October 1992

As an American, I am concerned about the Pollard affair. My concern is based on the US-Israel Exchange of Intelligence Agreement of 1983 that called for the full exchange of classified information with Israel and President Reagan's pledge to continue to maintain Israel's strategic superiority through shared intelligence.

I am concerned because Caspar Weinberger's Pentagon obstructed the flow of classified information essential to Israel's security. Jonathan Jay Pollard, a civilian analyst in Naval Intelligence, discovered that his Pentagon superiors were marking vital reports, including ones regarding chemical warfare: "not to be forwarded to Israel." When he questioned their actions, he was given glib answers like, "Don't worry; Jews are overly sensitive about gas" or "let them lose a few planes, they'll figure out the codes." Having visited Nazi death camps, Pollard didn't find the answers amusing. He realized that the only way he could alert Israel to imminent dangers was bypassing Pentagon instructions, which were not in line with the Congressional mandate, and breaking the law, thereby jeopardizing himself.

Before Saddam Hussein gassed Iranian troops and Kurdish villagers, Pollard warned of Iraqi and Syrian chemical and biological warfare capabilities. His actions gave Israel time to change its civil defense strategy from bomb shelters to sealed rooms, protective infant carriers, blower-driven gas masks for children, and training aids to prepare its Jewish and Arab citizens.

Peter Hutchinson, a British expert on mass crisis intervention, said in the Jerusalem Post that "there is nowhere else on earth as prepared as Israel" for a chemical attack against its population. And during the Gulf War's scud attacks, a Tel Aviv attorney said that every time his family went into their sealed room, every time they put their baby into her "cocoon," every time their son pulled on his gas hood they thanked God for Jonathan Pollard.

Pollard also warned Israel of Soviet arms shipments to its Arab enemies, of Pakistan's efforts to build an atomic bomb, of US assessments of PLO-planned initiatives, of Libyan air defenses. Leon Charney, a New York attorney, is quoted in Wolf Blitzer's Territory of Lies as saying that Pollard's contribution to Israel was one of the greatest made by anybody who had ever sacrificed his position for the Israeli cause. "His help was clearly invaluable to the security of the State of Israel." Why, then, was such information being withheld? And why, for his lifesaving actions, was Pollard in 1987 given a life sentence with the recommendation that he never be paroled?

Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor, wrote in the Washington Times of 28 April 1992, that Pollard's life sentence was grossly excessive. No one expected Pollard to receive an extensive sentence or his wife, Anne, even to be sentenced. But she was imprisoned for five years, and he is in his own sealed room three stories underground, under heavy restrictions in solitary confinement, in a maximum security prison, for life.

Pollard was told that of if he forfeited his right to a jury trial and pleaded guilty to "one count of conspiracy to deliver national defense information to a foreign government," our government would not ask for a life sentence for him or prosecute his wife as an accessory after the fact. He agreed in order to protect Anne, who was incarcerated in the DC jail and suffering from a rare stomach disorder. Therefore, on 10 September last year, because they maintained that the government failed to keep its promises, Pollard's lawyers petitioned to have his guilty plea withdrawn. Six months later, on 20 March 1992, an appeals court panel of three judges entered a split decision that was just as shocking as the jury verdict that acquitted the LA policemen who were videotaped pounding Rodney King.

I was disturbed when I read the reasons given by the two judges who rejected the appeal. I am not an expert in procedural law, but the report of the two majority judges sounded to me like nit-picking over irrelevant legal minutia. They were microscopically examining leaves and twigs and overlooking a vast forest of injustice.

I found my perception validated when I read the findings of the third judge because he pleaded for reasonable rather than "niggling" interpretations. Stephen Williams, the dissenting judge, spoke to the heart of the problem - to the breach of faith on the part of the prosecution in the execution of its plea bargain. In the plea agreement the government made three promises. First, it would bring to the court's attention the value of Pollard's cooperation and show that the information supplied was of "considerable value to the government's damage assessment analysis, its investigation of this criminal case, and the enforcement of the espionage laws." Second, the government would limit its presentation to "the facts and circumstances" of Pollard's crimes. And third it would not ask for a life sentence. Judge Williams said, "The government complied in spirit with none of its promises; with the third, it complied in neither letter nor spirit."

Judge Williams said that the government engaged in "a flagrant violation of the agreement's spirit" and that the sentencing judge, US District Judge Aubrey E. Robinson, Jr., made a "clear error" by failing to acknowledge the government's broken promises.

Judge Williams said that the government's promise to ask for something less than a life sentence was broken when it heeded a 46-page out-of-court memorandum from Caspar Weinberger, then secretary of defense - a memorandum that Pollard's lawyers were not permitted to challenge. The secretary's memo to Judge Robinson reflected what Oliver North's recent book calls a "long-standing" pro-Arab tilt and an ingrained anti-Semitism in the US government. Weinberger said that "it is difficult for conceive of a greater harm to national security than that caused by the defendant," and that "the punishment imposed should reflect the perfidy of the individual's actions, the magnitude of the treason committed, and the needs of national security." Judge Williams said that the memo's "repeated use of superlatives implied an appeal for the maximum": a life sentence. And he said that the secretary's reference to treason was excessive because treason involves aid to an enemy and carries a death sentence.

As a non-Jew, I am struck by the Defense Secretary's use of the word "perfidy." It suggests a conscious or subconscious acquiescence to discredited church liturgy that spoke of "the perfidious Jew" until it was excised fewer than 30 years ago. By employing an ugly stereotype drawn from medieval theological anti-Semitism, was Weinberger evidencing a need to try to prove to his peers that he was just as much a Christian as they were? If so, his anti-Pollard and anti-Israel outbursts provide a powerful argument against religious assimilation.

Kenneth Lasson a Baltimore attorney, pointed out how unusual it was that the dissenting judge's views were repeatedly cited in the majority report. "Our dissenting colleague" was mentioned over and over, indicating that the panel engaged in heated debate. Lasson said, "They [the two judges] ignored the fundamental, overriding issue of the miscarriage of justice in favor of highly legalistic and arbitrary procedural technicalities." Despite the setback to justice caused by their rejection, many of us hope that due attention will be paid to judge Williams's dissenting opinion that also calls Pollard's sentence a miscarriage of justice. It and the majority's references to judicial disagreements should cause the case to be reviewed by the Supreme Court.

Father Robert Drinan, the former Congressman from Massachusetts and professor of law at Georgetown University, participated in the amicus [friends-of-the-court] brief. He said, "To send a man to jail for life for helping Israel? It's crazy." The average sentence given to persons convicted of spying for hostile foreign nations is twelve years. For persons convicted of spying for friendly foreign nations, it is four years. Obviously, Jonathan's sentence is unbelievably disproportionate. He should already be free.

Along with Father Drinan, I was listed as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) for Pollard's appeal. I became interested in the case because I shared Pollard's passion for the security of Israel as an issue vital to US interests, and I wondered if he and his wife, as Jews, were victims of a prejudiced double standard. I learned that Pollard was subjected to numerous anti-Semitic indignities, ever since he was picked up by a condescending FBI man who said, "Look what we have here: a little Jew boy." Pollard has endured death threats by prisoners, mistreatment by guards, and what appears to be special restrictions by prison authorities. The prosecution had told him that he would be "smeared" beyond recognition if he did not implicate other Jews in what it imagined was a Protocols-type Zionist conspiracy. And he was. Many people still believe the lie that he was a mercenary, motivated by greed.

The Pollard affair reveals the unfortunate condition of Jewish-Christian relations in official Washington. It shows that the intolerant and intolerable societal atmosphere that has been nurtured through the centuries by the church's negative and erroneous images of Jews and Judaism still exist. In 19th Century France, a society raised on those teachings railroaded an innocent Jewish officer, Alfred Dreyfus, into a conviction of treason and sent him to Devil's Island. (He had two trials before he was finally exonerated.) And in 20th Century Germany--in the heart of Christian Europe -in the land of the Reformation - the ultimate outrage was perpetrated. A governmental bureaucracy successfully recruited all segments of society (with rare individual exceptions) into a systematic program to murder all Jews.

The Pollard affair reemphasizes the need for non-Jews - especially Christians - to stand up for the rights of Jews, because it is we who created the climate of intimidation that has caused Jews to hesitate about getting involved with Pollard. They probably expected us to accuse them of being more loyal to Israel than the US - as Weinberger did to Pollard. A number of Jewish leaders and organizations have been silent. And who were the judges who rejected Pollard's appeal? They were Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Charles Silberman, the two who were Jewish.

It is encouraging to know that distinguished leaders like Seymour Reich, past chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and especially Christians, have started calling for justice for Jonathan Pollard and a cessation of anti-Semitism inside and outside our government.

It is terribly disturbing to realize that in present-day America, information vital to the Jewish State's existence was and, as far as we know, is still routinely withheld. It is equally disturbing to know that a conscience-stricken person -Pollard - who understood the bitter lessons of the Holocaust and cared enough to put himself in jeopardy in order to warn Israel, is still being punished far more harshly than if he had spied for a hostile foreign enemy.

Robert Blewett is President Of Interfaith Resources, Inc. Anoka, Minn.