Why Was Pollard's Pardon Refused?

Robert A. Cohn, Editor-in Chief / Publisher - St. Louis Jewish Light - August 7, 1996

President Bill Clinton has been justifiably described as perhaps the most supportive of any American president of a strong U.S.- Israel relationship and an extremely positive relationship with the American Jewish community. Therefore, his refusal for the second time to grant a pardon to Jonathan Jay Pollard, the convicted American spy who passed along top secret data to Israel, is both painful and mysterious.

I have been among the earliest supporters of a presidential pardon for Pollard, who certainly deserved to be punished for his crime, but who has already served 11 years in maximum security federal prisons, nearly twice as long as others who were convicted of selling U.S. secrets to adversaries such as the Soviet Union or Iraq. A U.S. Marine stationed in Moscow who sold secrets to the Soviet governments has long ago been released from prison. The Arab-American who sold the technology that made it possible for Saddam Hussein's Iraq to develop deadly Scud missiles served only five years, while Pollard, who gave information to Israel which he believed would protect the Jewish State from attacks from Syria, Iraq or Iran, continues to languish in prison.

Pollard's wife, Esther Pollard, remains hospitalized in Israel; - when she was staging a hunger strike to call attention to her husband's plight.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres asked Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton to pardon Pollard, but each has refused. All mainstream American Jewish organizations now favor a pardon for Pollard. The current Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, also favors a pardon for Pollard. What is going on?

Pollard was arrested in 1985 outside he Israeli Embassy in Washington. In 1986, he pleaded guilty to stealing secrets for the Israeli government, and in 1987 was sentenced to life imprisonment, despite a plea agreement that if he cooperated and pled guilty his sentence would have been lenient.

Esther Pollard, in an interview with the ITA's Agnes Bohm, said, "My husband has been scapegoated by certain agencies in the U.S., and my husband is used as a tool by certain anti-Semitic elements within these agencies to call into question Israel's reliability as our ally."

In contrast to Esther Pollard's position, opponents of clemency for Pollard have suggested that the convicted spy did far more to compromise U.S. security than simply provide documents to a friendly ally. White House spokesman Mike McCurry was particularly sharp-tongued in announcing the president's decision, when he said, "The enormity of Mr. Pollard's offenses, his lack of remorse, the damage done to our national security, the need for general deterrence and the continuing threat to national security that he posed made the original life sentence imposed by the court warranted."

Still other observers have suggested that the recently convicted CIA spy, Aldrich Ames, had blamed much of his wholesale spying on Pollard as a means of avoiding prosecution for his own crimes.

National security concerns might make it difficult for the White House t6o be more specific as to why it feels that Pollard must continue to remain in prison.

My own feeling continues to be that Pollard has been sufficiently punished for his crimes; that he has repeatedly expressed remorse for his actions and that his continue incarceration serves no understandable or useful purpose to national security. If the White House or other national agencies have information that could justify Pollard's continued sentence, they should make that information public within the bounds of true national security interests.

In he meantime, it is hoped that in the near future Pollard will either receive a presidential pardon or will have his sentence commuted to time served.