Pollard's Plagues

April 1, 1994 - Kenneth Lasson - The Baltimore Jewish Times

That President Clinton denied clemency to Jonathan Pollard on the eve of Passover, the Jewish celebration of freedom and redemption, was but the latest irony in a tragic line whose last passage has yet to be played out.

The Book of Exodus (part of which is read during this week's holiday) tells of Moses' entreaties to Pharaoh to let his people go. Pharaoh was visited with plagues of blight and pestilence until he acceded. But in this case, its the prisoner who has been passed over and punished with curse and affliction.

Here are the 10 ironic plagues of Jonathan Pollard:

1. His loyalty to Israel.

Mr. Pollard was caught passing classified information to Israel. America's closest ally in the Middle East had been denied the data despite a high-level agreement to share intelligence. Israel refused Mr. Pollard asylum, and declined to intercede on his behalf until quite recently.

2. His first lawyer.

Mr. Pollard's original counsel allowed him to enter a plea-bargaining arrangement that was skewed against him. He then failed to file a timely appeal. (See No. 7 below.)

3. His prosecutors.

Joseph DiGenova, the chief U.S. attorney on the case, engineered the plea bargain: in return for Mr. Pollard's cooperation, Mr. DiGenova agreed not to seek a life sentence. Mr. Pollard cooperated fully - and Mr. DiGenova, who did all he could to circumvent his promises, succeeded in getting the court to ignore the plea agreement. Crowed Mr. DiGenova afterward: "

Pollard will never see the light of day


4. Caspar Weinberger.

The former defense secretary lobbied heavily against Mr. Pollard's "treason", although such a charge was never brought. Still another sad irony: Mr. Weinberger, who was himself pardoned by President Bush in the Iran-contra fiasco,

now feels that Mr. Pollard has served enough time.

5. Judge A. Aubrey Robinson.

Ignoring the plea agreement, Judge Robinson sentenced Mr. Pollard to the maximum penalty allowed by law.

No other person convicted of the same crime has ever been given a life term.

The judge, who is black, was probably influenced by (erroneous) information given to him that Mr. Pollard's classified data had fallen into the hands of the white South African government.

6. Prison officials.

Mr. Pollard was committed (for 10 months) to a hospital for the insane, even though no evidence was ever brought to suggest that he was mentally incompetent. He was then transferred to the country's harshest federal prison, where he was held in solitary confinement for almost eight years and routinely harassed by guards.

7. The appellate court.

The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (two of whose three members were Jewish) heard Mr. Pollard's case on Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days in the Jewish calendar. Although they found the prosecutor's behaviour to be ethically troublesome, if not downright dishonest, the two Jewish judges ruled against Mr. Pollard on narrow procedural grounds. The dissenter, Judge Steven Williams, called the government's actions "

a fundamental and complete miscarriage of justice


8. Les Aspin.

Late last year, Mr. Aspin, who was then defense secretary, issued a public condemnation of Mr. Pollard that was factually and patently untrue. He claimed that the prisoner continues to divulge decades-old classified information, even though his mail and phone calls are monitored from the federal penitentiary where he continues to languish.

9. The Justice Department.

From the beginning of this case, the department has been rife with political intrigue and dissension. It is likely that politics - not law - move Attorney General Janet Reno to recommend against clemency for Mr. Pollard.

10. Bill Clinton.

During his presidential campaign, Mr. Clinton promised to review Mr. Pollard's case if he were elected. It took him over a year to do so. Even then, he said he'd have to ask the Justice Department for a recommendation (but asserted he would not necessarily be bound by it).

The Attorney General sat on the request for another six months. During that time, a number of world leaders (both Jewish and non-Jewish), resolutions from state and local legislatures and even members of his own administration asked Mr. Clinton to grant clemency. In the end,

he ignored them all.

This is one Passover play that will not soon end. The Justice Department may have finally spoken, but in the long running tragedy of Jonathan Pollard,

justice still has not been done


Kenneth Lasson is a law professor at the University of Baltimore.