Pollard's Passover "No"
It is an outrage than President Clinton was unmoved to commute Jonathan Pollard's life sentence, the precise punishment that the Justice Department promised in writing over eight years ago it would not seek. In rejecting Pollard's petition for commutation of sentence to the eight and a half years he has already served, the President trampled justice by ignoring the prosecutorial abuse by government lawyers that resulted in Pollard's draconian and unprecendented sentence. But beyond that, the President's position also reeks of a terrible double standard.
I challenge the President to name one American who spied for an ally or even a neutral country who received a prison sentence even remotely close to life. In fact, Pollard has long ago shattered the record for the longest prison sentence served by an American for passing secrets to a U.S. ally, indeed
twice as long as the median sentence for such a crime.
Two recent incidents, Les Aspin's letter to President Clinton charging that Pollard tried to transmit secret information in his letters from prison and the revelations about Aldrich Ames, were said to have worked against Pollard's chances for commutation. An objective review of these events, however, should instead have highlighted the government misconduct in the Pollard affair and exposed the harmful untruths in the numerous out of court accusations leveled against Pollard.
With respect to Aspin's letter to the President, putting aside the obvious question of why Pollard would try to pass classified data in his letters, 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 numerous newspapers 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?
Since the mud was simply thrown without any kind of support and the mudslingers then hid behind the supposed classified nature of these documents, Pollard was unconstitutionally deprived of his right to confront his accusers and respond to allegations which were intended to sabotage his chance for freedom. The President, especially now, should have been particularly sensitive to the inherent unfairness in these kinds of attacks.
Similarly, the President surely must know that disclosures about Aldrich Ames, far from complicating Pollard's case, exonerated Pollard from the most damaging rumours spread about Pollard. Having passed defense information to an ally about belligerent third party Arab states, Pollard, not suprisingly, was never charged with acting to injure the United States.
But those who wanted to extract their pound of flesh from Pollard were not going to let the facts get in their way. And so Pollard was made the fall guy for somehow being inadvertently responsible for the unexplainable series of mishaps in the Soviet Union. The disclosures about Ames totally undermined those who, without any evidence, and with highly questionable motives, pointed the finger at Pollard. We now have an appropriate address for these accusations. Those who made these damning and unsubstantiated charges against Pollard and those who repeated them certainly owe Pollard an apology.
Eight and a half years after Pollard was arrested, nobody, including the President, has yet to explain what damage Jonathan Pollard caused. The argument that it is classified information does not cut muster. We know, for example, numerous and precise details of damage caused by John Walker and Aldrich Ames. Has anyone, in eight years, have been able to cite one specific example of injury caused by Jonathan Pollard?
In the years before and after Pollard was sentenced, Americans caught spying for such countries as Egypt, Ghana, Greece, the Philippines and South Africa received prison terms in the range of 2-5 years. Pollard got life. This dual standard of justice that singles out Jonathan Pollard for punishment infinitely more harsh than that imposed in every other case of espionage on behalf of a U.S. ally or even a neutral country rankles Americans of all political persuasions, ranging from liberal Democrats such as Senator Carol Moseley-Braun, to conservative Republicans such as Pat Robertson. As Benjamin Hooks has written about the Pollard case, "As a lawyer and minister, as well as a former judge and C.E.O. of the NAACP, I have rarely encountered
a case in which government arbitrariness was so clear cut and inexcusable."
The President's contention that he rejected Pollard's petition, in part as a means of deterrence, is ludicrous. I do not know anyone who would be enticed to repeat Pollard's action by the prospect of eight and a half years in prison, most in solitary confinement in the worst prison in this country. More importantly, a just society that wants to deter certain behaviour dare not seek to achieve such deterrence by singling out one, and only one, individual out of many for particularly harsh punishment. That is what we call discrimination.
Mr. Clinton should have been far more concerned with the message that has now been sent out by his rejection of Mr. Pollard's appeal. On the eve of Passover, so imbued with symbolism and meaning about the universal learning for justice and freedom, Mr. Clinton placed his imprimatur on a gross deviation from the fundamental tenet of American justice that individuals who commit similar crimes are supposed to receive reasonably similar punishments. The President's decision is a slap in the face to all those who truly believed in Mr. Clinton's supposed compassion and his commitment to equal justice under the law.