After the FALN, Why Not Pollard?

New York Post September 15, 1999 - ERIC FETTMANN

NOW that Bill Clinton has significantly lowered the bar on the standards for keeping unrepentant criminals behind bars - particularly if freeing them might conceivably help his wife's political career - it's not surprising that Jonathan Pollard's supporters are pressing the White House to grant him clemency, as well.

Sentenced to life imprisonment in 1985 for delivering military secrets to Israel, the former U.S. Navy analyst has become a cause celebre for large segments of the Jewish community; in Israel, not surprisingly, he is generally regarded as a hero on all sides of the political spectrum.

There are strong arguments that Pollard should never again enjoy freedom, and they have been made repeatedly by the Justice Department and the intelligence community. [*Note: these arguments have been made in the media, not in a court of law. No hard evidence has ever been produced in court to substantiate the damage claims made to the media, and Jonathan Pollard has never had the opportunity to confront and challenge his accusers in a court of law. See Facts Page.] But there is also a persuasive case to be made that there are enough gray areas - particularly in the way the government has dealt with Pollard - to merit a serious review.

There is no doubting that Pollard was an important spy - one of the most important Israel has ever had. Some of his supporters cite the fact that Pollard chose to spy after discovering that Israel was not getting information which it had been promised. But that's entirely irrelevant - it was not Pollard's place to play president and decide what secrets Israel was entitled to.

Despite Washington's efforts to portray him as a hired mercenary, it's clear that Pollard acted solely out of ideological commitment. While his Israeli handlers did compromise him by insisting he accept payments, no one has ever suggested that Pollard would have willingly spied for an Arab country in return for cash. *[Note: In 1998 Israel publicly admitted that Jonathan Pollard was a bona fide Israeli agent. This fact lays to rest any further question of his motivation. It is impossible - a contradiction in terms - for a bona fide agent to also be a mercenary. See Facts Page.]

But ideology is a double-edged sword: Spying out of a zealous commitment is not necessarily a point of honor. Just last week, Melita Norwood, the 87-year-old British great-grandmother unmasked as an important Soviet agent, declared that "I did what I did not to make money but to help prevent the defeat of a system which had, at great cost, given ordinary people food and fare they could afford, a good education and a health service." No one is singing her praises for her bizarre defense of acting in the service of communism.

Despite contrite words at his sentencing, Pollard appears similarly unrepentant. *[This is not true. Jonathan Pollard has, over the last 15 years, repeatedly expressed his remorse at having broken the law. Again, see Facts Page.] That should count seriously against him - but then, none of the FALN members set loose by Bill Clinton are sorry for their group's murderous reign of terror.

So why is Pollard's case worth another look? In the first place, he's served far longer than anyone else who pled guilty to spying for an ally. And while spying for Israel is exactly the same legally as spying for the Soviet Union, the criminal-justice system has long recognized a difference.

Moreover, there is strong evidence that the Justice Department violated its plea-bargain agreement with Pollard - federal Judge Stephen Williams of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals called the government's "breach" of the plea bargain "a fundamental miscarriage of justice."

Once arrested, Pollard agreed to cooperate in return for a promise that the government would not ask for a life sentence. And no one disputes that he did cooperate fully, even before the plea bargain was signed. But the Justice Department tried to circumvent the agreement by contending that Pollard had violated it during a pre-sentencing interview with journalist Wolf Blitzer, then a correspondent for the Jerusalem Post.

Blitzer himself concedes in his book, "Territory of Lies," that "the government, in seeking a stiff sentence for Pollard, used me." Indeed, "Prosecutors deliberately allowed me to interview Pollard to see exactly what he might say. ... They wanted Pollard to commit some technical violation of his plea-bargaining agreement." And, stupidly, he did precisely that. *["Stupidly"?! No. More like the classic set-up and double-cross. That is, the Government okayed the interview and cleared Blitzer to enter the prison to speak to Pollard, and then claimed that the mere fact that Pollard received Blitzer constituted a violation of his plea agreement!]

The other key factor in Pollard's sentence was the 46-page damage assessment prepared by then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger [*and submitted to the sentencing judge at the last moment before sentencing] - a document that remains sealed today (even Pollard's current lawyer has been denied permission to see it) and which demanded the harshest possible sentence. [*Pollard has never been given the opportunity to challenge the lies that this document contains in a court of law. See Caspar Weinberger Lies 1999.

That's a large part of the problem: The government still won't say what damage Pollard did to national security, except that it was very bad. Much of the case against Pollard has been made in calculated leaks to sympathetic journalists. *[No hard evidence has ever been presented in court, and Pollard was never charged with damaging the U.S.] But, as attorney Alan Dershowitz argues, "it is dirty pool for the government to make charges and then to hide behind the citation of national security when asked to substantiate them." *[Indeed to this day, no one has ever be able to name a single example of any damage caused by Pollard. No has ever been able to demonstrate where even one agent was harmed, or any intelligence collection program was suspended or compromised as a result of Jonathan Pollard's actions.]

Moreover, persistent reports suggest that much of what's been laid at Pollard's feet - especially the compromising of U.S. agents in the old East Bloc - was actually the work of Aldrich Ames, the CIA turncoat whose spying for Moscow cost the lives of a dozen U.S. agents.

It may well be true, as officials have long claimed, that even Pollard's supporters would endorse the sentence if they could read Weinberger's document. All the more reason, then, to release it.

In short, there are legitimate reasons for the president to take a serious look at this case. Unfortunately, this is Bill Clinton we're talking about. Which means that if Pollard goes free, it will be like the FALN: not on the merits of his case, but as a crass, self-serving move to send Hillary to the Senate.

*NB Italicized clarifications in square brackets have been inserted by Justice for JP.