Free Pollard Now

May 1998 - Alexander Schindler - Reform Judaism Magazine

Justice must always question itself, for there is a danger that it will turn to vengeance. The case of Jonathan Pollard requires such a review, for the extent of his punishment exceeds his offense by far. He has been languishing in prison for nearly thirteen years now, seven of them in solitary confinement at a maximum security facility. His continued incarceration has long since crossed the line where justice ends and vindictiveness begins.

Pollard's life-without-parole sentence does violence to the principle of equal justice under the law. In recent years, every person convicted of spying for a friendly state - and even a majority of those who spied for America's enemies - was given a far less severe term.

Two years ago, another U.S. Naval intelligence officer, Robert C. Kim, was convicted of selling classified intelligence information to South Korea; he received a ten-year sentence with eligibility for parole.

Also in 1996, U.S. Navy Lt. Commander Michael Schwartz was indicted for passing classified documents to Saudi Arabia. His sentence - an "other than honorable" discharge from the Navy.

Precisely what was Pollard's crime? He gave Israel classified information concerning the weapons systems of various Arab states, including evidence of Iraqi efforts to produce chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons as well as missiles capable of hitting Israel's population centers.

All this was information that the U.S. government had obligated itself to share with Israel. When it failed to do so, Pollard took matters into his own hands. This does not excuse his illegal actions, but it should have mitigated his punishment.

The argument that Pollard remains a security risk is absurd. What secret information dated 1986 can be of any intelligence value today? And there is not a shred of evidence to support the charge, leaked by U.S. intelligence sources, that Pollard caused the death of U.S. agents operating in the Soviet Union. We know now that those deaths were triggered by the treachery of high-ranking CIA operative Aldrich Ames.

Most troubling to me is the fact that the prosecutors had promised Jonathan leniency if he would agree to forgo a jury trial by pleading guilty. Pollard agreed and kept his part of the bargain. But the sentencing judge did not. He rescinded the plea agreement and imposed a grossly excessive sentence.

The unilateral scrapping of plea agreements is rare indeed. In this instance it was occasioned by an unusual and arguably improper ex parte memorandum from then Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. In this "victim impact" statement, he branded Pollard a traitor and held him responsible, wrongly, for the deaths of U.S. agents working in the Soviet Union.

Secretary Weinberger's furious denouncement of Pollard was likely fueled by the knowledge that among the documents Pollard passed to Israel was evidence of the (pre-Gulf-War) transfer of U.S. made weapons to Iraq - a covert transfer which had to have had the Defense Secretary's approval.

Be that as it may, it is the Weinberger memorandum that continues to stand as a key obstacle to Pollard's release. The bitter irony of all this is that Secretary Weinberger himself subsequently received a pre-trial Presidential pardon on the criminal charge that he had concealed vital evidence in the Iran-Contra scandal.

Judaism enjoins us to pursue justice and to loosen the fetters of the bound. Jonathan Pollard's continued imprisonment is unwarranted, and he has endured enough. His punishment has equaled if not exceeded the offense. Only the president of the United States can commute the sentence and free Jonathan. I urge you to write to President Clinton and call for an end to this travesty of justice.

Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler, president emeritus of the UAHC, currently serves as the president of the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture.