Let This Spy Come In Out of the Cold

May 9, 1996 - Richard Z. Chesnoff - The New York Daily News

Every few weeks I receive mail from Jonathan Pollard's cell in the federal penitentiary at Butner, N.C. Most of his letters are filled with reprints of pleas explaining why many people believe that Pollard, a former U.S. naval intelligence analyst, who was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 for spying for Israel, should be freed.

But occasionally Pollard includes a brief personal note, neatly hand-written on tiny scraps of paper - all naval censors apparently will allow through. A recent one asked: "Mr. Chesnoff, when are you going to write something about my case?"

The answer is now, because after carefully weighing the facts, I too want to join the growing chorus of people who believe the time has come to grant Pollard clemency. And the issue is timely: during his recent visit to the White House, Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres raised it with President Clinton, and on the flight home Peres told reporters he thought he had made progress.

Don't misunderstand. I believe what Pollard did was wrong. No matter what his motivations, prisoner 09185-016 broke our laws. And it was stupidly roguish for the Israeli government to engage an American citizen in espionage against his own country and then turn its back on him.

There's also no doubt Pollard produced masses of material for the Israelis; according to some sources, the documents he photocopied - many of them details of Iraq's growing capacity to threaten Israel with nuclear, chemical and bacteriological warfare - filled an entire room.

But Pollard has admitted his guilt, shown reasonable remorse and been punished. Most of his 11 years in prison have been spent in almost total isolation in maximum-security prisons. His health has been compromised, and he has been subject to abuse by bigoted guards and prisoners - and even at one point deprived of his clothing.

No other American citizen ever received so harsh a sentence for spying for an allied nation. Indeed, in the recent case of Lt. Cmdr. Michael Schwartz, an American naval officer who turned U.S. secrets over to Saudi authorities, the Navy simply fired him and took away his pension rights. No trial, no sentence, no jail.

Intelligence sources say there's no comparison between the quality and quantities of material Schwartz (who's not Jewish despite his name) gave the Saudis and what Pollard delivered to Israel. But there is parallel of principle.

There are other extenuating circumstances. Though U.S. officials imply that Pollard endangered the lives of American agents and security, no evidence has ever been offered to prove that, nor was he indicted on that charge.

Indeed, some of the key players in this drama, including former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, who falsely accused Pollard of treason, have since been discredited themselves by their roles in the Iran-Contra scandal. And clearly the Justice Department reneged on its promise not to seek life imprisonment in exchange for Pollard's cooperation at the time of the trial.

Pollard is not the American equivalent of Alfred Dreyfus, the innocent French Army captain who was prosecuted because he was a Jew. But I believe his sentence - life with a recommendation of no parole - was as harsh as it was largely because anti-Israeli elements in the defense and intelligence establishment wanted to make a point.

Their outrage canceled out a plea for clemency Pollard sent to Clinton just two years ago. And I believe it is no mere coincidence that shortly after Pollard's latest request for clemency reached the White House last December, a Defense Department official issued a scurrilous "confidential" warning to defense contractors (since debunked) that Jewish employees might spy for Israel.

The time has come not only to disown such anti-Semitic innuendos, but to show mercy and let this now not-so-young man out of prison. Pollard has paid a heavy price for his admitted crimes. Freeing him will not endanger American security. The time has come for compassion.