Let Pollard Go - Editorial

July 14, 1995 - The Jerusalem Post

Until recently, it was possible to treat the Jonathan Pollard case as no more than an example of arbitrary injustice which proves that life can be unfair. But now the case has become a major blot on the reputation of the US and an indictment of American humanism and sense of justice. It raises the awful possibility that even in the world's greatest democracy, deliberate cruelty and a senseless oppression can become government policy.

The unfairness of the Pollard case is so palpable that it defies understanding. It is clear now that Pollard could not have done the US any harm, and that the suspicion that his actions did damage to American interests was based on false information planted by master-spy Aldrich Ames.

As New York Daily News columnist Sidney Zion has put it, "The moment Pollard was arrested in 1985, Ames started spreading the news that Pollard's info to Israel was delivered by a mole in the Mossad to the Soviet Union. This made sense to the intelligence community...and it appears to have convinced Caspar Weinberger, then secretary of defense, that Pollard was the worst spy in American history...Weinberger delivered a 46-page secret memorandum to Pollard's sentencing judge that practically demanded a life sentence.

Now the US intelligence community is refusing to admit error. Having exhibited unpardonable incompetence in the Ames case - one of the worst cases of treason in American history, which cost the lives of at least 10 US agents - it is refusing to exonerate Pollard. Such conduct is not unusual in bureaucracies, particulary those which can shroud themselves in secrecy. Nor is it uncommon for intelligence agencies to sacrifice lives to preserve their reputation.

But the mystery with which these agencies try to surround the Pollard case cannot conceal the facts. Pollard committed a serious crime, but not treason. He provided classified intelligence data to Israel. He says he did it because the US was withholding critical defense information from Israel after Iraq's nuclear facility was bombed, and that he believed his actions were necessary to prevent another Holocaust. The events of the Gulf War tend to confirm his claims.

But his motives are not as relevant as the simple fact that he spied not for America's enemies, but for one of its closest allies. At no time in American history has anyone convicted of such a crime received a life sentence. What makes Pollard's life sentence particulary outrageous is that the US Justice Department promised him that in exchange for a guilty plea and the waiving of a trial, it would only ask for no more than a "substantial sentence." Up to that time, no spy who worked for an ally received a sentence of more than 10 years.

In the past 12 years, 11 men and women have been convicted in the US for spying for various countries - South Africa, Ghana, the UK, Philippines, Egypt and Greece. Most received sentences of two or four years. Only one was sentenced to more than 10 years. (Steve Lalas, convicted of spying for Greece, who was given 14 years in 1993). It is difficult to view the punishment meted out to Pollard as anything but a flagrant application of a double standard.

Having spent 10 years in prison, half of them in solitary confinement, Pollard is up for a parole hearing next month. His wife Esther, now visiting Israel, says the terms of the sentence make it virtually impossible for the parole board to release him. Both Jonathan and she believe that if he is granted Israeli citizenship, the chances of his release on a Presidential pardon will immeasurably improve. Citizenship will stress Israel's readiness to assume responsibility for his actions and enable Washington to free him as a political gesture. Knesset Speaker Shevah Weiss has expressed support for the idea. Indeed, Israel should grant him citizenship, and Prime Minister Yizhak Rabin should ask for his release in the most forceful manner.

But above all, it is President Bill Clinton who should understand that every day Pollard stays in jail erodes America's reputation as a country with a heart, and its credibility as a bastion of fairness and a just society. It is time to let Pollard go.