The Significant Other

May 31, 1996 - In Jerusalem - Supplement to The Jerusalem Post

Jonathan Pollard is currently serving his 11th year of a life sentence for one count of passing classified US information to Israel. Gail Lichtman spoke to his wife, Esther, here last week in the hope of finally securing her husband's release.

Jonathan Pollard, who was granted Israeli citizenship in December 1995, is serving the longest sentence ever meted out in the US to anyone convicted of spying for a friendly country. His sentence is the result of a broken plea agreement.

Pollard's release has been called for by two Israeli presidents and three prime ministers, as well as members of the Knesset. Almost all major American Jewish organizations have joined the appeal to free Pollard. Esther, a special education teacher from Toronto, married Jonathan three years ago.

Why have you come to Israel now?

My husband's life is hanging in the balance. No one has ever received a life sentence with the recommendation that he never be paroled as Jonathan has for espionage on behalf of an ally. People sometimes misspeak and say that Jonathan spied against the US, but that is absolutely not true. Jonathan acted only on behalf of Israel and not against the US.

Now, we understand that the commutation papers are on President Clinton's desk. We have reason to believe that a strong, unified voice from Jerusalem stating unequivocally that Jonathan's release is a matter of national priority will be crucial in swinging the balance for immediate release.

Jonathan pleaded guilty to his crimes. He was sentenced Why should he be released?

In 1983, the US and Israel signed a letter of understanding in which they pledged to share vital security information. The US broke that pledge.

Essentially, America stabbed Israel in the back by not sharing information about upcoming terrorist attacks, and about the build up of unconventional weapons of war in neighboring Arab states, particularly Iraq.

When my husband discovered the kind of information that was being held back, he did everything he could to release that information through legal means and went all the way up to the Under Secretary of Defense's office with his requests. He was told to mind his own business.

Jonathan came under great pressure when he worked for Israel to also reveal information on the US. He never turned over to Israel any information except that due to Israel, according to the letter of understanding.

The life sentence Jonathan received is the same as that of Aldrich Ames who was convicted of spying for the Soviets and betraying US agents. Yes, Ames was a top CIA official and by definition what he did was treason. He also benefited financially, something Jonathan did not. Ames was indicted for treason, harming the US and its agents, and was responsible for the death of at least 11 US agents, possibly as many as 34. He was also responsible for betraying at least 55 American programs.

Jonathan was never charged with treason, never indicted for treason. He was never charged or indicted for harming the US.

Recently, there was the case of Lt. Com. Michael Schwartz, a non-Jewish naval officer who spied for the Saudis. He was indicted and confessed. Yet, the American powers-that-be, in deference to the Saudis, resolved the case by a slap on the wrist and a kiss good-bye. Schwartz was suspended from the navy with a "less than honorable" discharge, loss of rank and loss of pension rights. Schwartz, who was essentially charged with the same type of offense as Jonathan, will not serve a day in prison.

My husband is sitting in his 11th year of incarceration, of which seven and a half years were in total isolation. He is sick. His immune system has been destroyed. He needs to come home and get treatment.

The first year of his imprisonment was in a mental institution, in a 6 x 9 foot coffin cell, where he was routinely deprived of his clothes in order to break him, and was humiliated and abused. He was held for six years in K unit, which is the harshest unit in the harshest prison in the federal system. In Marion prison, he was isolated 23 hours a day, with one hour of R&R in a concrete cage, and no human contact. All his letters pass through naval intelligence, and to date, none have been let through.

Why do you think Jonathan received such a harsh sentence?

It was unknown at the time of Jonathan's sentencing that Aldrich Ames used Jonathan as a convenient scapegoat. But the shocking thing is that Aldrich Ames was under surveillance for two years before he was arrested. Basically, for the last four years, top US officials have known that Ames used Jonathan as a scapegoat. Yet they still haven't acted to release him.

Do you have any explanation as to why US officials have refused to act if they know Jonathan was obviously set up?

Obviously, somebody has to take the fall for the gross incompetence that allowed Aldrich Ames to pull the wool over the CIA's eyes for eight or more years. Jonathan's incarceration is very useful to those elements within the intelligence and defense communities who have an anti-Israel bias and want to question Israel's reliability as an ally.

That's why it's incumbent upon the President of the US, whose office gives him power to remain above the fray, to look into these matters and make a decision that is non-partisan. Unfortunately, the President has been taking his advice from the same bodies that have vested interests in keeping Jonathan in prison. Saudis were quick to speak up on behalf of Schwartz.

Why was Israel so reluctant to speak out for Jonathan? It took ten years to grant him citizenship.

I suppose the simplest answer is $2.87 billion in foreign aid. It's hard to say that the Saudis were quick to speak up, but their oil, money and connections certainly did. It was quite clear where American interests lay. Schwartz proves that money can buy justice. Prime Minister Shimon Peres recently returned from Washington, where he made a plea for Jonathan's release.

Yes, Mr. Peres goes to Washington and asks his "dear friend" and Israel's closest ally, Bill Clinton, to release Jonathan. How is it that Mr. Clinton is willing to give Mr. Peres everything except Jonathan? Especially when Mr. Peres is enjoying the closest and best relationship between the two countries in history. If that isn't enough for the State of Israel to secure equal justice for Jonathan Pollard, then what is?

Have you tried or do you plan to try and meet with President Clinton?

There has been no response in that direction. I made appeals to President Clinton. We received a letter back from his legal counsel saying that he had been designated to answer and he recommended that we address our concerns to the parole board. This was a spurious answer because everyone knew that there is absolutely no hope of my husband ever getting parole. The parole commission is not a judicial body. It is a review board. It opens up the file, sees what's in it and must base its decision on the documents in the file. Jonathan's parole file contains nothing but negative recommendations.

During your visit, you met with Prime Minister Peres and Likud Leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who gave you a copy of a letter he sent to President Clinton. How has this contributed to the struggle to free Jonathan?

Mr. Netanyahu wrote: "Undoubtedly, Mr. President, you share the humanitarian desire to alleviate the suffering of Mr. Pollard, who has paid dearly for his past mistakes, a desire that is shared by many in the United States and by all the people of Israel, regardless of their political affiliation."

Mr. Netanyahu did a wonderful thing by setting the stage to show national unity on the issue of Jonathan's release. Some people have said that the Pollard case would be better resolved through quiet diplomacy.

Why have you chosen to make it a public struggle?

For many years, there was the belief that if Jonathan just kept quiet, then quiet diplomacy would do the job for him. When the commutation was turned down, we realized that being quiet was leading nowhere. We realized that Jonathan needed a voice on the outside. Our marriage is his direct channel to the outside world. I began to speak for Jonathan. We have never had a profile media campaign in the US, only in Israel, because we have always known that it is up to the government of Israel to secure Jonathan's release. We have seen the results of our campaign - the granting of his citizenship.

What do you think will happen now?

We like to believe that Mr. Clinton, given the support and opportunity, will do the right thing. If Clinton is such a good friend of Israel and currently is lending support to Israel, we can't see that he cannot be made to understand that the continuing incarceration of Jonathan Pollard flies in the face of the new, strong, Israel/US relationship.

We will prevail. Everything built on lies must ultimately fail and Jonathan's continued inceratation is built on lies. When Jonathan gets out, the truth gets out.