Tainted Pardons

The Jewish Week (N.Y.) - Editorial - January 26, 2001

Bill Clinton left office on Saturday in a flurry of pardons and commutations that left a final stain on his presidency. There were clearly some among the 176 recipients who deserved presidential mercy. But on the whole, the process smacked of rank political payoff, not justice.

It's hard to see the justification for commuting the sentences of three chasidic Jews convicted of stealing millions of government dollars to finance a bogus yeshiva in Brooklyn. Mercy is fine, but the president did not do a good job of explaining why he felt Marc Rich, a commodities trader who fled to Switzerland after his indictment for tax evasion and racketeering, deserved a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan, not informed that pardons were in the works for Rich and his former partner, Pincus Green, were understandably outraged. Politics, not justice, drove the pardon, according to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a former prosecutor.

Rich's former wife reportedly gave large amounts of money to the Democrats, and the fugitive businessman, who spends much of his time in Israel and is a major philanthropist there, reportedly had a powerful backer in his pardon quest: Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

So did convicted spy Jonathan Jay Pollard, who is in the 16th year of what may genuinely turn out to be a life sentence. But Pollard, apparently, did not have the backing of big campaign donors, so he will remain in jail for the foreseeable future.

In the past we have expressed impatience with those who seek to portray Pollard as a hero of the Jewish people. [Justice4JP: Jonathan and Esther Pollard and Justice4JP have never made such statements and do not endorse this line of thinking.] Often, Pollard does his own case great damage with bombastic statements and accusations that undercut his claims of remorse for his actions. [Justice4JP: This is nonsense. The last public statement Jonathan Pollard made was in 1998 when he publicly thanked the Government of Israel for recognizing him as a bona fide agent, and he used the opportunity to issue yet another statement of remorse. Jonathan Pollard has not spoken to the media since then. See the Remorse Page.]

But Pollard has clearly ceased to be a danger to national security. And it's hard to argue that he hasn't paid his debt to society after 16 years in jail. Simple compassion, not any sense that what he did was justified, would have justified a commutation.

But money and politics, not justice and mercy, appear to be the bottom line for some of last week's pardons and commutations. That is a personal tragedy for Pollard and a blight on the just-ended term of Bill Clinton.

  • See Also: The Clemency Page