Agudath Israel Requests Clemency for Jonathan J. Pollard

Agudath Israel Media Release - December 20, 2000

December 20, 2000

Honorable William J. Clinton
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

Agudath Israel of America has long been on record urging favorable consideration of Jonathan J. Pollard's various requests over the past years for commutation of sentence or clemency. Now, as you prepare to leave office, and with this issue once again being brought to your attention, we take the opportunity to renew our humanitarian plea.

We acknowledge, as we always have, that Pollard's crime was extremely serious. But we maintain, also as we always have, that the exceptional severity of his sentence is difficult to comprehend and extremely troubling. His espionage took place during a time of peace. The country for which he was charged with spying, Israel, was and is a staunch ally of the United States. He received his sentence after a plea bargain, not a trial. Under the circumstances, his sentence of life in prison appears to be entirely out of line with those received by other convicted spies. We reiterate our view that these factors merit your merciful consideration as you decide the fate of this man, who by now has languished in federal prison for fifteen long years.

Also worthy of your merciful consideration are two other salient points about the Pollard case: the fact that the government, in a variety of ways, did not play fair in the process leading up to the imposition of his life sentence; and the additional fact that, as Pollard's new motion for re-sentencing makes clear, he was victimized by his own attorney's shoddy lawyering. It is fair to assume that Pollard is still sitting in jail today only because both the government and his lawyer deviated from the norms that characterize our system and sense of American justice. There is something very wrong with that picture, and we respectfully ask you to set it right.

Let me elaborate on these two points:

1. The Government's Troubling Conduct: After entering into a plea bargain agreement with Pollard, the government proceeded in a manner that was in substantial tension with the commitments it had made under the agreement. In the words of the dissenting judge in the 1992 D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals 2-1 ruling rejecting Pollard's §2255 motion to withdraw his guilty plea:

On its side, the government made three promises of significance here. First, it would bring to the court's attention "the nature, extent and value of [Pollard's] cooperation and testimony" and would represent that the information supplied was of "considerable value to the Government's damage assessment analysis, its investigation of this criminal case, and the enforcement of the espionage laws." Second, it would not ask for a life sentence (this promise was implicit but is not contested by the government), though it would be free to recommend a "substantial period of incarceration" . Third, the government limited its reserved right of allocution to "the facts and circumstances" of Pollard's crimes. The government complied in spirit with none of its promises; with the third, it complied in neither letter nor spirit. [United States v. Pollard, 959 F2d 1011, 1034 (D.C. Cir. 1992) (Williams, J., dissenting) (citations omitted; emphasis added).]

The two judges who formed the court's majority disagreed with their colleague's bottom line, but they too acknowledged "the grudging nature of the government's compliance," 959 F.2d at 1026; that "the government's presentation was certainly not generous - it could well be thought "stingy," id.; and that "the government was engaged in rather hard-nosed dealings with the defendant," id. at 1030. The majority took note of the "rather polemical tone" of Secretary Caspar Weinberger's pre-sentencing memorandum to the district judge, id. at 1017, conceding that the Secretary's words might accurately be characterized as "rank hyperbole." Id. at 1025. The majority did not disagree that the government's unflattering description of Pollard's character and motivation constituted a breach of its pledge to limit its allocution to the "facts and circumstances" of the case; it merely held that any such breach, "troublesome" though it may be (id. at 1026), did not rise to the level of a "fundamental defect" in the sentence that resulted in a "complete miscarriage of justice" sufficient to warrant §2255 collateral relief. Id. at 1028.

The government's inappropriate handling of the case after it entered into the plea agreement extends beyond the manner in which it carried out its terms of the bargain with Pollard. As I pointed out in an article I wrote for the June 1997 Middle East Quarterly (copy enclosed), it was only after the government had secured Pollard's guilty plea that it began speaking in terms of the harm Pollard caused to the United States. Pollard's indictment had charged him under the federal law that makes it a crime to deliver defense information "to the advantage of a foreign nation" - conspicuously avoiding charging him under the parallel law that makes it a crime to deliver such information "to the injury of the United States." Pollard thus had good reason to assume, when he agreed to plead guilty to a criminal charge of spying for an ally where there had been no charge of harm to the United States, that he would receive something less than a life sentence.

After his plea, though, the government began to sing a different tune, essentially converting the charge from the less morally culpable crime of benefiting a foreign nation to the more serious crime of injuring the United States. Thus, as elaborated in my article, the government submitted a Victim Impact Statement that spoke in various ways of the harm Pollard had caused to American interests; Secretary Weinberger submitted a declaration raising the specter that Pollard had endangered American lines; and then, in a second submission on the eve of sentencing, the Secretary went so far as to accuse Pollard of "treason" - a legal term that Article III, Section 3 of our Constitution defines as levying war against the United States or aiding America's enemies.

What happened, in other words, is that the government leveled a charge of lesser moral magnitude against Pollard, secured his guilty plea, and then post-facto changed the focus of the sentencing process by upping the ante on Pollard's crime. This may have been clever prosecutorial strategy - but it was not fair play.

2. Pollard's Lawyer's Blunders: The recent §2255 motion for re-sentencing filed by Pollard's new attorneys highlights yet another reason why there is something fundamentally unfair about Pollard's life sentence. The motion makes a convincing case that Pollard's original lawyer made a number of serious tactical blunders in his representation of Pollard - most egregiously his failure directly to appeal Pollard's life sentence.

The devastating consequences of that failure are spelled out quite clearly in the D.C. Court of Appeals afore-mentioned 2-1 ruling against Pollard's §2255 motion to withdraw his guilty plea, in which the majority point out that "in a §2255 collateral challenge, an appellant, in order to gain relief under any claim, is obliged to show a good deal more than would be sufficient on a direct appeal from his sentence. §2255 is not a substitute for a direct appeal. .The mood, atmosphere or 'rhetoric' of the government' s allocution - upon which the dissent relies - might justify relief on direct appeal of the sentence, but it is unlikely to satisfy the rigorous test of §2255." (United States v. Pollard, supra, 959 F.2d at 1020, 1029-30.) In other words, had Pollard's lawyer decided directly to appeal the life sentence on the grounds that the government had breached the plea bargain agreement, the likelihood is that he would have prevailed on that appeal. But the lawyer chose not to appeal - and the rest is tragic history.

Whether or not Pollard's lawyer's strategic blunder in failing to appeal the life sentence, as well as the various other critical errors catalogued in Pollard's new §2255 motion, will now entitle Pollard to collateral relief on the grounds that he was denied adequate representation of counsel is obviously an issue for the courts to decide. Beyond technical issues of law, though, it is fair to ask whether Pollard should be made to suffer such severe consequences - spending the rest of his life in prison - as a result of his lawyer's blunders. That, we submit, is an issue worthy of your humanitarian consideration.

That Pollard committed an extremely serious crime and deserved to pay for it is clear. But it is also clear that for a man to spend his entire life in prison based on questionable tactics by the government in its prosecution of a case and clear blunders by his own lawyer simply does not comport with fundamental fairness. The genius of our constitutional system is that the Chief Executive has the power, even when the courts do not, to act in a humanitarian manner that upholds our nation's most noble traditions of fair play and compassionate justice. The time has come, Mr. President, for you to grant executive clemency to Jonathan J. Pollard and commute his sentence.

Many thanks for your consideration of this plea - and many thanks for your eight years of leadership of our great nation. All best wishes for the new year and beyond.


David Zwiebel
Executive Vice President for Government and Public Affairs
Agudath Israel of America

See Also:

  • Court Case Page 2000
  • Why Jonathan Pollard Got Life