The Pollard Rejection

The Jerusalem Post - March 28, 1994

It is both tragic and ironic that the recent arrest of CIA spy Aldrich Ames, which should have made it easier for President Bill Clinton to pardon Jonathan Pollard, actually played an apparently decisive role in preventing his release. What seems to have affected Clinton's decision most is the kind of message a clemency for Pollard would send at this time. In the eyes of the public, there is little difference between spies. And showing leniency for one spy immediately after another is apprehended - with the possibility that still others are operating - would probably be an unpopular move.

Being under fire himself, Clinton must have felt that he was in no position to make such a move. Yet on merit the Ames case should have worked in Pollard's favor. It has made clear that the nasty innuendos about Pollard selling Israel material that was then conveyed to the Soviet Union by Communist moles here were baseless. And the charges that he may have caused the death of American agents in the USSR are even more unreasonable. With the Soviets having a CIA mole in charge of US agents in the USSR, any other information about American operations in the Soviet Union - something Pollard had little reason to be interested in anyway - was rendered superfluous. The recent charges that Pollard, in isolation almost throughout his stay in prison, managed to transmit even more secrets to Israel after his arrest are simply ludicrous.

Nor does it make sense to say, as CIA chief James Woolsey did in explaining why he opposed the clemency, that it makes little difference whether the spy worked for a friendly country or for the US's most dangerous enemy. It is traditional and customary, and perfectly logical, to treat spies for friendly countries leniently. In most cases they serve relatively light sentences. The US has treated such spies very differently from the way it has treated Pollard. And Israel has been remarkably lenient with American spies.

Yet the intelligence establishment in the US seems to believe Pollard deserves life in prison, the maximum punishment in peace time. It is the kind of punishment usually reserved for the Ameses of this world, the traitors who sell secret information to America's most implacable enemy. Unlike Pollard, Ames endangered the US and caused the death of at least 10 American agents. But in what can only be called a travesty of justice, Ames's sentence will be no heavier than Pollard's.

The existence of this double standard can only be explained by a prevailing antagonism toward Israel in some parts of the American government. Why it exists is not quite comprehensible. None of the pat explanations is satisfactory. One can only hope now that it will not be long before another opportunity to appeal to the president will arise, and that the circumstances will be more conducive to clemency. Pollard has suffered enough.