Chicago Tribune Editorial

December 11, 1995

When Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres meets with President Clinton at the White House Monday, he is expected to pull the president aside and issue a quiet plea for the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard.

Clemency for Pollard also was the last request made of Clinton by the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin before he was assassinated.

There are good reasons to release Pollard now, 10 years after his imprisonment on charges that, as a U.S. naval intelligence analyst, he gave away top secrets to the Israelis. But none of those reasons has anything to do with requests by Israeli leaders.

Quite simply, making Pollard serve any more of his life sentence would be unjust.

Espionage is, without doubt, a terrible offense, but American courts traditionally hand down sentences of far less severity to those convicted of spying for "friendlies" than to those who spied for "hostiles."

In recent years, people convicted of spying for Britain, Egypt and the Philippines, for example, have received sentences of no more than six years - and were paroled halfway through their time.

Of those convicted of spying for the former Soviet Union, about a dozen received sentences of 15 to 30 years, while nine are serving life imprisonment.

Why should Pollard have been given the same life sentence as that handed down against Aldrich Ames, the KGB's supermole inside the CIA whose information over a 10-year period was directly responsible for the execution of nine clandestine U.S. agents operating inside the old USSR?

Pollard had, indeed, been offered a deal by prosecutors: cooperate with investigators and plead guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence.

Although Pollard accepted the deal, prosecutors presented a 46-page letter from then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger that must have so worried the judge that he threw out the plea-bargain and ordered Pollard to spend the rest of his life in prison.

Weinberger refuses to discuss his affidavit; the document has not been declassified, even though Clinton's October executive order on intelligence presumptively sets a 10-year shelf life on state secrets.

There is no denying that Pollard is guilty of the crimes for which he was convicted. But there is also no denying that he has served his time - hard time, time in solitary confinement, more time than anyone else convicted of spying for an ally.

It is time to parole Jonathan Pollard.