July 29, 1996 - The Jerusalem Post - Editorial
President Bill Clinton's decision on Friday to reject Jonathan Pollard's appeal for Clemency was a poorly-timed and ill-advised act which raises serious questions not only About the American system of justice, but also about the American president and his relationship with the Jewish community.
On the surface, the Pollard case would appear to be open and shut. While serving as a US naval intelligence analyst, Pollard passed along classified information to Israel. He was captured after being turned away by the Israeli Embassy in Washington, convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Given the vast amount of material that Pollard reportedly gave his handlers, as well as its sensitive nature, one could be forgiven for assuming that justice was served in this instance. Yet, even a cursory examination of the circumstances surrounding the case reveals that Pollard has fallen victim to what can only be described as an act of arbitrary injustice.
In receiving a life sentence, Pollard was punished far more harshly than others caught spying for friendly nations by American officials. In the past 12 years, 11 such men and women have been convicted in the US for spying. Most received sentences ranging from two to four years. Only Steven Salas, convicted and sentenced to 14 years in 1993 for spying for Greece, received more than 10 years in prison. Since both Israel and Greece are close allies of the US, it is inexplicable that Pollard was singled out for such a harsh sentence, while others received relative leniency.
Indeed, at no time in American history has anyone convicted of spying for a friendly nation received a life sentence. Pollard's life sentence is the equivalent of that which was given to Aldrich Ames, the central figure in one of the worst cases of treason in American history.
Ames, who was a senior CIA officer, passed along information to the Soviet Union for years, right under the noses of his superiors. He exposed American agents in the USSR, leading to the capture and execution of at least 10 people, and significantly weakened the ability of the US to gather information against its Cold War rival. By contrast, Pollard spied for a US ally and is not known to have caused any direct harm to US agents. It defies both explanation and justice that a similar sentence would be meted out to these two men.
Adding to the sense of unfairness is the fact that Pollard agreed to plead guilty and waive a trial in exchange for a promise from the US Justice Department that it would ask for no more than "a substantial sentence," it being understood that Pollard would not receive life in prison. In effect, the government ignored the terms of the deal and sent Pollard away for life.
Moreover, as American columnist Sidney Zion has pointed out, Pollard's sentence was based largely on disinformation spread by Ames, who tried to cover his own tracks by laying the blame on Pollard for the capture of US agents in the USSR. Even now that the truth has come out, the US intelligence community refuses to admit its error, and Pollard languishes in prison as a result.
That Clinton chose to ignore the circumstances of Pollard's case is troubling, though not surprising. President George Bush also rejected Pollard's plea. But the manner in which Clinton chose to publicize his rejection of the appeal is worrisome. While his spokesman was making the announcement to reporters, Clinton was meeting separately with American Jewish leaders, whom he failed to inform about the decision. Seymour Reich, head of the American Zionist Movement, even asked Clinton directly about Pollard, but failed to receive an answer.
This is the second time that Clinton has rejected an appeal from Pollard, and in both instances, the rejection coincided with Clinton's meetings with representatives of
the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. It is hard not to view such a pattern of events as nothing less than a slap in the face.
Though Clinton has been one of Israel's warmest and closest friends in the White House, he would do well to rethink the manner in which the Pollard issue has been handled. The facts that Clinton maintains a 17-point lead over presidential challenger Bob Dole, and that most American Jews are likely to support him in any event, do not mitigate the dire need to bring this sad story to an end.
In explaining his rejection of Pollard's appeal, Clinton said that to shorten his sentence would be unwarranted and that it would undermine the goal of deterring others from committing similar acts. Such logic is flimsy at best, as the circumstances clearly indicate.
The singling out of Pollard to serve as an example, while others receive a slap on the wrist, is ethically indefensible and judicially reprehensible. It behooves Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to continue to pressure the United States on this subject. For over 10 years, Pollard has sat in jail, having spent more than half that time in solitary confinement. Pollard did the crime, and he has done the time. And now, he should be set free.