Let Pollard Go

October 8, 1999, Kenneth Lasson
Special to the Baltimore Jewish Times

The current wisdom among Jewish "leadership" - both here and abroad - is to seek presidential clemency for Jonathan Pollard by way of quiet diplomacy.

Such an approach always has the ring of reason, and is particularly resonant in the Pollard case because of what has been widely (but wrongly) perceived as his excessively public complaints - and is made all the more misguided by repetition of the canard about his lack of remorse, and the timorous notion that he continues to cause unseemly embarrassment for Jewish Americans and the government of Israel.

Indeed Pollard has hardly been a passive prisoner of conscience; to the contrary, he has persistently pressed the injustice of his plight and the unfairness of his punishment. But whatever "quiet diplomacy" may have been tried in the past is now likely little more than a myth created for public-relations purposes.

Thus his assertiveness is entirely appropriate, and those who urge patience are wrong. Here are the particulars why:

  • First and foremost, the facts of his case are (or should be) completely compelling to anyone with a sense of justice and fair play.
  • The Justice Department blatantly breached its plea agreement, which was simply that it would seek something less than the maximum punishment allowed by law if Pollard cooperated. He fully did so - as court documents incontrovertibly illustrate - but the government did all it could to insure life imprisonment. (The chief prosecutor, for example, said he hoped Pollard would "never see the light of day." The Justice Department has consistently recommended against parole.)

    No other person ever convicted of the same crime - passing classified information to an ally - has served as long as Pollard. To the contrary, the average sentence is four years.

    Various government operatives have stated in the media that Pollard's treason was enormous. Yet he was neither charged with nor convicted of treason. Moreover, he has never had a chance to challenge or cross-examine the evidence hyped against him. No proof has ever been presented that Pollard damaged American intelligence interests.

  • "Quiet diplomacy" has been tried and it has failed.

    Jonathan Pollard quietly voiced contrition early on, and has repeated statements of unqualified remorse ever since. He has written to the President that he wishes he had acted within the bounds of the law in his concerns for Israel's security. "There is no excuse for what I did," he has said. "It was a terrible lapse of judgment on my part. Nothing good came out of my actions, and they certainly should not be seen as a model for others to emulate."

    Every Israeli prime minister over the past fifteen years has asked the American President for clemency, and all have been denied. All, that is, except possibly for Ehud Barak, who has publicly declared that this is "an internal American matter" and refuses to deal with the Pollards. But if the current Israeli leader wanted them to keep quiet, why wouldn't he personally encourage them to do so, either with a note or phone call or through their Israeli attorney. Instead, his utter silence merely frustrates them into further public outcries. What else should they do, in the face of information they've received that the current government of Israel has made no effort whatsoever on behalf of its acknowledged agent?

    Many VIP's - both Jewish and Gentile - have privately urged President Clinton to grant Pollard clemency, and have received little more than form letters in response. The President's last public statement on the Pollard case came almost a year ago, when he said he would "seriously review" the case. How long should such a review take?

  • This case has always been political - as are many high-profile spying cases

    - and is made all the more so by the Middle East peace process being so actively brokered by the United States. Mr. Clinton's apparent double-cross of Benjamin Netanyahu, who has publicly disclosed that he came to the Wye talks only with the understanding that he would return to Israel with Pollard, belies the President's oft-stated declarations that he never promised anything to the Israeli prime minister.

    The administration's obsequious obeisance to its intelligence community is likewise shamefully fraudulent. The President's recent grant of clemency to fourteen Puerto Ricans who were convicted of murderous terrorism flew in the face of recommendations by the FBI. Yet Mr. Clinton succumbs to the pressure of the intelligence community not to pardon Pollard - particularly CIA Director George Tenet's outrageous threat to resign if he does - even though no evidence has ever been produced that Pollard's actions cost a single life. When Harry Truman was about to recognize Israel, his secretary of state (George Marshall) also threatened to resign. Truman kept to his word. (Marshall stayed.)

    What would Mr. Clinton have to lose by exercising clemency during whatever is left of his lame-duck presidency?

    On the other hand, he would gain a measure of moral stature if he did what surely his conscience should dictate.

For the sake of simple American of justice, Mr. President, let Jonathan Pollard go.

Kenneth Lasson is a law professor at the University of Baltimore.