Contrition and Punishment: What About Jonathan Pollard?

October 2, 1998 - Lawrence Kulak - The Jewish Press (New York)

Is the Perversion of Justice that Keeps Jonathan Pollard Chained to A Grossly Disproportionate Life Sentence now being used by President Clinton to Clear His Own Name?

On the day that the report of Independent Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr was delivered to Congress, President Clinton appeared before a group of rabbis and ministers where he confessed to having sinned, admitted to a "broken spirit" and requested forgiveness after reportedly reading a passage from the Yom Kippur prayer book.

However, if President Clinton wishes to follow the Jewish Law on repentance and forgiveness, perhaps he should try to learn about it. If he did, the first thing he would learn is that in order to be completely forgiven by G-d, a good deal more is required than a sincere apology, a temporarily broken spirit, and a verbal declaration of an intention to do better in the future.

True forgiveness in Judaism depends upon a person renouncing the undesirable conduct in question, either by resisting some future temptation to act in a similar fashion or by some affirmative action which proves that he has unequivocally disavowed the former conduct. If any individuals have been hurt by the offensive conduct, forgiveness by G-d then becomes contingent upon the person or persons so injured, along with said renunciation of such conduct.

The true sincerity of a person who wants to be forgiven is not something to be taken lightly or taken for granted, and the person seeking forgiveness is required to prove his sincerity instead of merely stating it. Jews are only required to forgive after and apology has been made three times as that is considered to be a test of sincerity. The suffering of an individual is also considered very often to have effected atonement because it is understood that suffering achieves the sincerity necessary for a truly contrite heart.

All of this very timely discussion inevitably brings us back to the issue of Jonathan Pollard, who has by this time become a Jewish Political Prisoner of the United States. Pollard has done more than simply confess his wrong-doing and apologize. He has paid a hefty price in surrendering his freedom for nearly 13 years.

I deliberately stated that Jonathan Pollard surrendered his freedom because that is exactly what he did as part of expressing his contrition for his actions. By pleading guilty to the crime of espionage, Jonathan Pollard surrendered his fate to the mercy of the Court and accepted the punishment that would be coming his way. As everybody knows, the punishment he received for his penitent conduct was a lifetime condemnation (a life sentence with no possibility of parole) - which was way out of proportion to the offense he committed and the consequences that flowed from it.

The simple fact is, Jonathan Pollard could have chosen to force the government to litigate several difficult issues in order to determine whether or not he was guilty. One of those issues might have been the embarrassing question of whether or not a person could be convicted of espionage for supplying an allied nation with information that was improperly withheld in violation of mutual defense agreements. (Semantical disputes about whether or not Israel can technically be considered an "ally" of the United States are for practical purposes resolved by Israel's acquiescence to US requested restraint during the Gulf War.) Jonathan Pollard saved the Government the embarrassing exposure of having to litigate this and other issues in both lower and appellate courts and forfeited his appellate remedies in the process.

For all the sacrifice that Jonathan Pollard has made, including precious years of his life in maximum security federal prisons, with his health severely depleted, Jonathan Pollard was shown no mercy by the Court or by succeeding presidential administrations that have been in a position to review his case.

The political argument promoted by some for Pollard's continued confinement that somehow his freedom could result in further harm to the national security, is such laughable falsity that it is not even seriously set forth by the Pentagon. Even assuming that Pollard's outdated knowledge could somehow compromise some aspect of military security, his guilty plea and his willingness to avoid any type of legal forum to which the media would have access, without a doubt shows that his desire is not to further compromise the security of the United States.

President Clinton has now had almost 6 years to consider the issue of Pollard, and still his heart has been unmoved. Perhaps he, like others, considers the fact that Pollard confessed and surrendered his guilt, only technicalities, in that his guilt would have inevitably been established anyway. If he does, it would have to be the utmost irony since Clinton himself is now seeking to have his own confession play a part in his exoneration from political liability for his actions - which some consider to have risen to the level of High Crimes and Misdemeanors. In addition, President Clinton himself seems to now be relying upon certain technicalities involved in legal definitions in order to escape legal charges.

Perhaps an affirmative action that might demonstrate President Clinton's true contrition for his sins against G-d and against the American People would be for him to do something which finally recognizes the unfair price that somebody else has paid and continues to pay despite an unequivocal demonstration of sincere regret.

That action would be the granting of a full and immediate pardon for Jonathan Pollard for the crime of espionage in the United States, which has been long overdue.