Level the playing field for Jonathan Pollard

January 14, 1994 - David Kirshenbaum - Intermountain Jewish News

It has become quite evident in recent weeks that former and present members of the Justice and Defense Departments have been orchestrating a campaign of leaks to the press on the eve of President Clinton's consideration of Jonathan Pollard's request for commutation.

These planted stories have consisted of uncorroborated accusations about hypothetical damage which could have been caused as a result of Pollard's actions.

Unfortunately, rather than probing for the truth and challenging very serious and highly speculative accusations, many newspapers around the country have been quite willing to let themselves be a part of this campaign of vilification in the press by faceless and nameless sources.

The latest outrage is the leak of Les Aspin's letter to President Clinton making the preposterous claim that Pollard tried to slip classified information into his correspondence from prison.

Putting aside the obvious question of why Pollard would even attempt to do this, knowing full well that all his mail is delivered to and read by naval intelligence, how is it that the Pentagon can provide Aspin's letter to a reporter so that the whole country can read about the allegation, but neither Pollard nor his lawyer is shown a copy of Aspin's letter or any of Pollard's disputed pieces of correspondence so that the charges can be answered?

The playing field in the Pollard case is not even close to being level.

Those who would like to keep Pollard in prison far in excess of the time served by any other person who committed a comparable crime, and those who justify the very life sentence the government promised it would not even ask for, have the access, through their smearing leaks, to the front pages of the nation's most prestigious newspapers.

Those Americans of all religions, ethnic backgrounds and political affiliations who are outraged by the excessiveness of Pollard's life sentence and the government's continuing malfeasance in this case sometimes feel overwhelmed in the face of these unrelenting attacks.

It is therefore critical that those journalists who are not prepared to be used as appendages of government bureaucrats with personal vendettas, remind their readers that in this country, charges should be brought by the government in open court, not in the media.

And the central fact which the leakers to the press would like us all to forget is that Pollard was never charged with acting to injure the US, as he could have been under the provisions of the espionage statute.

More specifically, the US government did not even allege that, from an objective standpoint, someone in Pollard's position, with all the information he had at his disposal, would have had any reason to believe that any of the information transmitted by Pollard to Israel would or could cause injury to the US.

Notwithstanding efforts at glossing over the significance that Pollard spied for a US ally, the fact is that in the numerous cases of espionage on behalf of countries allied with the US, none of the individuals involved received a sentence even remotely close to life.

Indeed, Pollard has already served more time than anybody convicted of a similar offense.

Under our judicial system, individuals who commit similar crimes are supposed to receive reasonably similar punishments. This fundamental tenet is totally ignored by those arguing against commutation of Pollard's life sentence.

In the years before and after Pollard was sentenced, Americans caught spying for countries such as Egypt, Ghana, Greece, the Philippines and South Africa received sentences between two and five years.

Why are individuals and institutions not the least bit exorcised by those sentences now coming out of the woodwork to argue that, in the case of Jonathan Pollard, eight years is not enough?

The double standard raises profoundly troubling questions.

David Kirshenbaum is a New York attorney.