Why Is Compassion Worse Than Murder?

August 29, 1997 - Si Frumkin - Heritage Southwest Jewish Press

So what do you get if you murder someone? Not much. According to the renowned criminologist James Q. Wilson, the average homicide inmate is released after 6 years nationally, while in California he is freed after about three-and-a-half years.

Treason is taken more seriously than murder. Americans who sell secrets to enemies and potential enemies, who betray and cause the deaths of dozens of our agents abroad, and cost the U.S. hundreds of millions in damage control are given 25 or 30 years, or in some cases even life sentences. Of course, all of them are eligible for parole in 10 years, but that is more time than just plain murder, right?

Of course, this draconian punishment applies only to the extreme cases: Marine Sergeant Lonetree who led Soviet agents into the U.S. Embassy in Moscow got 30 years but was let go after serving 9; John A. Walker and his son Michael who masterminded the U.S. spy ring that made our super-secret submarines vulnerable to attack were given life and 25 years respectively; Aldrich Ames who, as a Soviet mole within the CIA, and in charge of counterespionage, betrayed our intelligence operations for years and caused dozens of executions is serving a life sentence, and a few others.

But by and large, most spies get away with a slap on the wrist. For the last 20 years or so, most sentences were in the neighborhood of 2 or 3 years. Most recently, Michael Schwartz, a non-Jewish U.S. naval officer who spied for Saudi Arabia for 2 years, was simply dismissed from the service and deprived of his pension - no jail time at all. The median sentence for spying for an ally is even less than that for murder - just 2 to 4 years, with the maximum of 10 years for Thomas Dolce who spied for South Africa and was let go after serving 5 years.

So what do you get if you follow your conscience - not greed - and disclose secret government information that doesn't harm the U.S. and which the U.S. was supposed to share with a good ally but didn't? And what if these secrets may have been instrumental in saving thousands of Jewish lives? And if these disclosures might have later saved the lives of U.S. soldiers in the Persian Gulf war by depriving Iraq of nuclear and chemical capabilities? What do you get if your name is Jonathan Pollard, a Jew who saw the Holocaust gas chambers as a child and didn't want to sit shiva over hundreds of thousands of Israeli dead? What do you get when you agree to be sentenced without a public trial in exchange for a promise of leniency? What do you get for compassion, for saving lives, for helping an ally?

  • You get the longest sentence ever given to anyone for spying for an ally.
  • You get a year-and-a-half in a hellhole for the criminally insane without an explanation or an excuse.
  • You get 8 years in solitary, locked underground in a maximum security prison.
  • You get to start your 13th year in prison without an end in sight.

Why? Why has Pollard been singled out? Why has he been forgotten by those who should have remembered him, the Israeli allies of the U.S. who have benefited from Pollard's disclosures and who have always proudly claimed that no Israeli soldier is left behind on the battlefield?

Something is terribly wrong. Before his election Benjamin Netanyahu promised to make Pollard's freedom one of his priorities. Instead he freed Palestinian murderers without demanding a quid pro quo from America - freedom for just one Israeli soldier, Jonathan Pollard.

Something is terribly wrong. Caspar Weinberger, who was one of Pollard's main accusers, let it slip after being given a blanket pardon by President Bush, that Pollard may have served long enough and should be freed. I suppose that he felt safe from prosecution for anything Pollard might reveal about the Administration's dealings with Iran, Iraq and others.

Something is terribly wrong. President Clinton, who had been told that Pollard was responsible for the deaths of our agents in the USSR and for the destruction of our intelligence network there, refused to pardon him. Yet, when it became clear that it was the CIA traitor Ames, not Pollard, who was responsible, and that much of the anti-Pollard "evidence" was planted by Ames, Clinton didn't repent; didn't issue the pardon.

It has now been 12 years. Jonathan's son - if he had one - might be getting ready for his bar mitzvah. The Jewish community has been silent, embarrassed, subservient. Sha-shtil is the word among the makhers in the Jewish establishment here and in Jerusalem.

Let us end this silence. Let us demand freedom for Pollard. Let us cry out for justice for Pollard just like we cried out for justice for Sharansky - unafraid, bold, convinced that we are right. Let our voices be heard in the White House, the Capitol, the Knesset, the Prime Minister's office. Let us give Jonathan his life back.

Let us rescue the one soldier who has been left behind on the battlefield!

Si Frumkin is the director of the Southern California Council for Soviet Jews and the editor and publisher of "Graffiti for Adults".