WABC Special - Interview With Esther Pollard
Justice4JP Release - July 27, 2001
Originally aired on WABC Radio 77 NYC - June 23, 2001
The John Batchelor and Paul Alexander Show
Click here to go straight to Part II.
John Batchelor and Paul Alexander, later joined by Rabbi Joe Potasnik, begin their 4 hour Pollard Special by introducing listeners to the facts of the case. They then interview Jonathan Pollard's wife, Esther.
John: Mrs. Pollard, Good evening. I want to introduce you to our audience: this is
Mrs. Jonathan - Esther - Pollard - and I'm John.
Paul: and I'm Paul.
John: I began with a reading of the facts of Jonathan Pollard's case from 1983 and 1984. And I want to ask if you want to expand or correct any of the information I read at the top of the show.
Esther: First of all, I was listening and you did a wonderful job. There are indeed a couple of comments I would like to make.
John: Just one moment. The rabbi is with us now. Rabbi Joe are you there?
Rabbi Potasnik: Yes I am, and I want to thank you because there have been so many wrongs committed against Jonathan Pollard. Only when we have a coalition of Jews and Christians standing together is there some hope for justice, finally, for this man who has been in prison too long... And I say thank you to both of you for expressing this desire in trying to bring this case to the attention of all the people who don't have all the facts.
John: Yes - we've got some serious work tonight. Excuse me, Mrs. Pollard - Esther - I wanted to make sure Joe was there for us. Boy, is this a coalition!
Esther: I'd like also to join with Rabbi Joe in thanking the two of you, John and Paul, for what we call your "mesiras nefesh" - the dedication and devotion that's required to get the truth out there. Your opening comments tonight were indeed right - there has been a conspiracy of silence on this case. There has been a conspiracy of silence to bury the truth.
John, you asked for my comments on your introduction to the case. Can I come in sideways and ask if you have ever heard of a fellow named Albert Sombolay?
John & Paul: No.
Esther: And it's a really curious thing that most people have never heard of Albert Sombolay - His case immediately came to mind when you mentioned earlier that U.S. forces are on full alert tonight because of the Iraqi threat.
Let me tell you about Albert Sombolay. He's the epitome of a traitor. He was a U.S. soldier who spied for Iraq during the Gulf War.
John: Oh, yes, yes. You're right! You just kicked a cobweb. Go ahead, please.
Esther: This guy gave Iraq samples of the American chemical warfare equipment that was worn by American soldiers during Desert Storm. He gave them the protective suits, the boots, the gloves - all the protective gear that was worn by American soldiers. Which meant that all Iraq had to do was manufacture a chemical agent that could penetrate this gear. Iraq wasn't competent enough to get it done during Desert Storm; but you can bet that they've got it done by now.
Albert Sombolay, by definition, committed treason. According to American law, the definition of treason is spying for an enemy in time of war. Now, remember that Jonathan Pollard did not commit treason: he spied for an ally, and it wasn't a time of war. Jonathan Pollard got life. What do you think Albert Sombolay got for handing over to Iraq all this information about U.S. troop
deployments and equipment during the Gulf War?
John: Go ahead. This is an incredible series of events that have led to all these men being let out of jail. It's incredible.
Esther: Sombolay got 34 years; then his sentence was reduced to 19 years with further appeals pending. Then the case drops off of the radar screen as the U.S. government began to hide the information, making it impossible to find out about further reductions that were made to Sombolay's sentence. In all likelihood, Sombolay is free today, but it's very hard to confirm that.
John: But I've read through the list of Cold War spies and men from the Cold War era who are walking around free today while Jonathan is still in prison. Esther, we've got to take a break, now, but we'll get back to you. This is John - and Paul - on the Jonathan Pollard case and on the line with us is Mrs. Esther Pollard from Canada and Rabbi Joe Potasnik from Brooklyn
Heights. This is WABC and we're going to do this for the next four hours.
(A commercial break follows then the program resumes.)
John: Joe's here, and you want to speak with Esther for a moment.
Rabbi Potasnik: Well, I've spoken with Esther a bit during the week, and she was very heartened by the fact that there are people who care, because I think Jonathan Pollard has been abandoned by many. There are many in the government who should be doing more; there are many in the Jewish community who should be doing more; and I think the only way this case can be truly resolved is when we Jews and Christians stand together in a coalition.
Jonathan did something wrong; but there have been many wrongs committed against Jonathan and for that we owe him the opportunity to present the facts.
Paul: Rabbi, I'd like to start for the audience and for those who don't know the story and have Mrs. Pollard explain what happened at the beginning. How did all this begin, Mrs. Pollard?
Esther: Okay, but I'd really like to begin by plugging into what Rabbi Joe was saying and to preface my remarks, if you don't mind, to make it easier for people to understand.
Rabbi Joe is right that this is an issue that concerns all Americans. This case is not just about saving my husband's life. That's my first concern, of course; but it is about equal justice for all Americans - the issue of equal application of the law. I think it's really important for people to understand that. Whether you approve or disapprove of what Jonathan did he had a right to fair and equal treatment before the law. Our bottom line is that Jonathan broke the law and he deserved to be punished, but the punishment has to fit the crime. And in this case it does not.
Jonathan broke the law when he warned Israel about the threat to her existence from neighboring Arab states. He did this in the early 1980's when he was a young civilian analyst for the Navy. He had no right to pass that information to Israel. He knew it. So he first did everything he
could to try and get this information released legally to Israel.
As you said earlier in your introduction, according to a 1983 Memo of Understanding between the United States and Israel, there was supposed to be a free exchange of information between the two countries, particularly regarding threats to either nation's vital security. This Memo of Understanding between the two nations was being disregarded willfully, illegally, by certain elements within the Administration who had decided to undermine Israel's defensive capabilities.
John: That was the first Reagan Administration - you're speaking of the early 1980's.
Esther: I don't know the exact year; I believe it was the early 1980's when Israel bombed the Osirak nuclear facility in Iraq. It was after that that Admiral Bobby Ray Inman decided that he would get revenge by cutting off the legal flow of intelligence to Israel. This was a unilateral decision. I don't know if you are going to be able to be in touch tonight with Professor
Angelo Codevilla, a National Security expert; but he was a witness, actually, to Inman's decision
Rabbi Potasnik: You know, John and Paul, the bombing of that nuclear reactor was in '81 I think... (Editor's note: 1981 is correct.)
Esther: By the way, people often credit Jonathan with handing over the information for that bombing. He had nothing to do with it; he wasn't even around.
Rabbi Potasnik: Many military experts have stated that America should be indebted to Israel for destroying Iraq's nuclear potential which would have come back to haunt America if it hadn't been removed at that time.
Esther: Absolutely. But it angered people like Bobby Ray Inman and Caspar Weinberger, who had massive investments in arming Iraq. I hope I'm not moving too fast on this.
John: You are going a little fast, Esther, and we've got lots of time and we've got lots of layers to cover...
Esther: I'm not used to the luxury of so much time on the air. When we're only given two or three minutes, I explain in a nutshell that my husband, Jonathan Pollard, warned Israel that Saddam Hussein was preparing unconventional weapons of war to scorch the Jewish state.
Paul: And when was this?
Esther: This was circa 1985; a little bit earlier, in fact, because Jonathan's warnings gave Israel enough time to prepare an entire plan of defense. Again, Jonathan didn't charge off on his white horse to warn Israel without first doing everything that he could think of to get the illegally embargoed information released to Israel through legal channels.
Paul: I was going to say, were there not other ways that he could have warned Israel without doing what he did?
Esther: He tried every way that he knew of at that time. He feels today that he should have continued to search for a legal way to act upon his concerns for Israel. But the fact of the matter is he went all the way up to the Under Secretary of Defense at that time to get this information released legally to Israel; and he was routinely told to shut up and mind his own business.
Paul: Well, if there was a danger to the Israelis, why would America not want them to know about it?
John: Oh Paul, you're asking such hard questions. I'd like to hear what you have to say about this, Mrs. Pollard?
Esther: Officially, American wanted Israel to know. That was the official policy. But this illegal embargo of information to Israel was an unofficial policy by a "government in the shadows"
that likely continues to this day.
There are those who simply do not value the U.S.- Israel special relationship, and who are terribly concerned about what they perceive as Israel always being given the military edge by the United States. And they seek ways on their own to undermine this.
Paul: Well, that's the point I would like to make. I'm trying to get to his state of mind: if Jonathan had information that the Israelis should have had to protect themselves against an Arab enemy, why would the American Government not want that information to be passed on?
Rabbi Potasnik: Paul, I would suggest reading some of the writings of John Loftus. Esther, I think Loftus has written extensively on this. There is an anti-Israel school within the State Department. You have Arabists who have been there for years who very much resent, as Esther has said, any kind of special relationship that exists between America and Israel and they will do everything they can to thwart that relationship.
Esther: As the evening goes on, I hope I'll be able to give you several examples of how my husband's case, to this day, is still exploited by those elements within the Administration who have no love for Israel and no use for the special relationship. The Pollard case skeleton is still pulled out of the closet from time to time and the bones rattled as needed in front of Israel and the American Jewish community to keep them in line.
John: Esther, I want to do some bookkeeping, for a moment. Jonathan did not ever have a trial; there was a plea bargain to one felony count, is that correct?
Esther: That's correct.
John: Now there's cheap talk about "treason" and "traitor" and all this. I have encountered well-meaning people, Esther, who've been educated in a vocabulary that is inappropriate for this
situation. I want to be clear about where we're headed here:
The man who is in jail tonight pled guilty to one felony count of passing security information, not to an enemy power, but to a friendly foreign state. Paul and I are going through this with another legal matter, right now; and it is particularly important, in a legal matter, to be very, very
careful about the language that you're using because that is all that a court of appeal can ever have in front of it. This a man who pled guilty to one count. So whatever Esther is about to say about what he did, in the end the U.S. government has him on one felony count.
Rabbi Joe: And he co-operated! He co-operated with the authorities.
Esther: Yes. And yet people come back and say, "There was a plea bargain so there must have been other charges against him that were dropped." In fact, there weren't any other charges! The plea agreement, by the way, is a matter of public record. No other charges were dropped in the plea agreement.
Paul: Mrs. Pollard, I want to know how it became known to members of the government that he had passed information.
Esther: You mean, how Jonathan came to be arrested?
Esther: He knew that there was a limited amount of time that you can do this kind of thing before
being caught, and he knew it was time to close down shop. But the Israelis became greedy. They said, "You're assuring our security for years to come; it's a shame we have such reliable enemies and such unreliable allies..." and they begged him to stay on. They promised him they would rescue him. They assured him that they had an emergency plan ready to pull him out if he were exposed. So he stayed on until it was noticed that he was passing documents and there was an alert.
Paul: How was it noticed?
Esther: New information came to light this year that may affect our understanding of this when an Israeli who spied for America was discovered this year - a guy named Andrzej Kielczynski - he admits that he gave the Americans information on Jonathan's espionage activities. This Israeli was a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs Committee in Israel. Kielczynski openly admits to fingering Jonathan.
John: Jonathan Pollard was an agent of the Israeli government; he wasn't doing it for money like Hanssen; he had a control agent in New York; there was an apparatus that, in the end, abandoned him. We're going to take a break now: this is John Batchelor - Paul Alexander - Rabbi Joe Potasnik - and from Canada, Mrs. Esther Pollard. And Jonathan is in North Carolina, and if he has a radio he can hear us because that's our signal. And we'll be back.
(Commercial break follows then program resumes with an archival sound-byte of Richard Hibey, Jonathan Pollard's first attorney speaking with reporters around the time of Jonathan's arrest:)
Hibey: "This is a person who is, notwithstanding his plea to this particular offense, totally committed to America.
Reporters: Why did he do what he did, Mr. Hibey?
Hibey: Because he also believes in the Israeli state.
Paul: He believes in the Israeli State, John. Welcome back. John's here, Paul's here, Joe's here and Mrs. Esther Pollard from Canada is with us. Tonight we're discussing the Jonathan Pollard case.
John: That was a remark from the 1980's. Esther, do you recognize that voice?
Esther: Yes, I do. I think we may be talking about Hibey in a little while, particularly with Eliot Lauer, Jonathan's current attorney, who will be coming on the program tonight. We've got a case in court now in America, where we are seeking to vacate Jonathan's sentence. It's a fully-documented case that demonstrates that Jonathan received his life sentence in complete violation of a plea agreement, based on false allegations, based on the absence of evidence and with totally ineffective assistance of counsel.
Rabbi Joe: John and Paul, there's something that needs to be stressed, here, that Esther pointed out earlier in the conversation. Esther is not seeking special treatment for Jonathan Pollard; all she's seeking is justice that she would expect for anyone in a similar situation. And that needs to be emphasized; otherwise there are those will perceive this as the Jews asking for some kind of special treatment here. And that's not the case.
Esther: On the contrary. I think people have to understand several things here. Number one, Jonathan was never accused of, never indicted for and never convicted of treason. And yet he's routinely blackened in the press by government sources and leaks that keep trying him in the court of public opinion but never in a court of law where he can rebut the charges.
Now, anyone who commits a similar offense in America usually gets a two-to-four-year sentence. Jonathan is the only person in the history of the United States to be given a life sentence for spying for an ally.
Paul: Mrs. Pollard, how is he today? How is his health?
Esther: He's in very poor health. The last time I spoke to him, as a matter of fact, he hadn't slept for four days because he can't breathe. He has serious respiratory problems complicated by the fact that, after 16 years in prison - seven of those years in the harshest possible conditions in
solitary confinement - his immune system has been seriously impaired, so he's constantly getting sick.. He picked up a virus now because of the closed ventilation and sanitary conditions in the prison. With the virus complicating his respiratory problems, when he lies down he chokes.
Rabbi Joe: Esther, tell us some of the tasks he's being asked to perform in prison.
Esther: I'm going to decline on that one because he's still in prison; I can only tell you stories about where he used to be, and the things they used to do to him. Where he is now, he is still a captive and it's just better not to talk about it.
Paul: Well John and I know about that from another story we're covering. Mrs. Pollard, why would he be in solitary confinement for seven years?
Esther: That's an excellent question. There are all kinds of reasons why people are put into solitary confinement. One possible reason might be that the government suspects that someone like Jonathan might still have some kind of information that is still sensitive and they want to make sure that he does not have access to the outside and that he could not pass on that information. If you think about it, Jonathan's now been in open population, out of solitary confinement since 1993; and yet government sources keep claiming that he's still so dangerous and he still knows too much. Well, if he really knew "too much" they would never have allowed him to be moved to open population!
Perception is reality. By treating Jonathan as if he were the dangerous spy that they portray him as in the media, that is what the public continues to believe about Jonathan and about the ally he worked for, Israel. It sends a message about both the American Jewish community and the State of Israel. That is the major reason that Jonathan was moved to solitary confinement at Marion, Illinois, to "K" unit - the harshest unit and which, by the way, Amnesty International has condemned as "inhumane".
Something that might interest your listeners is that the American justice system has a tradition of very honorable and noble values which, in reality, are too often honored in the breach.
For example, when my husband was brought to Marion, hands and feet in shackles, federal marshals pointing guns at his head, he was greeted at the door by the warden of Marion who told him to turn around and face the outside. And my husband asked why, and he was told, "Because this is the last time you'll be seeing the outside. The next time you come out of here, it will be in a coffin, feet first." In Marion that message was repeated to him daily. The plan was for him to die in his first year in solitary confinement in Marion.
John: Excuse me, Esther; I want to date this. This is 1986? The second Reagan administration...
Esther: Probably '88, because in '87, immediately after sentencing the first thing they did was to ship Jonathan to a prison facility for the criminally insane in Springfield Missouri. He was held there incommunicado, completely naked, deprived of his clothing and his glasses.
When Jonathan was sentenced in 1987, he was sentenced at a hearing, not at a trial, and he should have gotten a sentence similar to what other people had gotten for doing the same thing, which is two to four years.
Paul: Two to four. Is that what he expected?
Esther: You know what? Nobody would have been upset if it had been 10 years, because with all the considerations that go into such a sentence, he would have been out long ago.
Paul: No one expected a life sentence, though.
Esther: Remember - it was a plea bargain. Who plea bargains for a life sentence? Especially when the median sentence for such an offense is usually 2 to 4 years! Later on, I hope we'll go into the Michael Schwartz case, where this fellow committed the same offense as Jonathan, but he was a non-Jew, spying for Saudi Arabia and he got no jail time.
John: Schwartz got two to four years and never did any jail time?
Esther: No, Schwartz got no jail time whatsoever. He committed the same offense as Jonathan. He confessed, he was indicted, but just before he was about to stand trial, a speedy "deal" was worked out so as not to offend the Saudi ally that he had spied for. The deal was a slap on the wrist and a kiss good-bye: Schwartz lost his Navy job, pension and rank and was dismissed with a "less-than-honorable discharge". In return, the charges against him were quietly dropped.
John: So Pollard, the Jew gets life, and for the same offense, Schwartz the non-Jew gets nothing. Even Michael Walker, of the infamous Walker spy ring, is out of jail now. Before we get out of here, I want to repeat that last cut.
(The historic sound-byte of Hibey is played again.)
Hibey: "This is a person who is, notwithstanding his plea to this particular offense, totally committed to America.
Reporters: Why did he do what he did, Mr. Hibey?
Hibey: Because he also believes in the Israeli state.
John: This is John - and Paul - and Rabbi Joe - and Esther Pollard from Canada, and we'll be back with the Jonathan Pollard case.
(A commercial break follows then program resumes.)
John: The men who your husband trusted abandoned him, Esther.
Esther: Can we go back to the sentencing hearing, because I think it's terribly important to understand that at the last moment then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger filed a memorandum with the judge in which he made a number of hyperbolic and false accusations against Jonathan.
John: That is the 46-page memorandum that is talked about...
Esther: I'd rather not address the number of pages because that just misleads people; and our attorney is better qualified to discuss such things. The point is, there was a memorandum that was filed, and it falsely accused Jonathan of treason. Remember, Jonathan was never indicted for treason and here you have then-Secretary of Defense making this claim in a memorandum to the
sentencing judge. You said earlier that you have to be so careful about language that is used before the courts. Who better than the then-Secretary of Defense should know that you don't label someone with the charge of treason if they've not been indicted for it? But he was signaling to the judge that he did not want the plea agreement honored.
Paul: Let's point out, Mrs. Pollard, that that document has been sealed...
Esther: I'm on my way to that, yes. He was signaling to the judge that he wanted a life sentence, and the judge threw the plea agreement out the window and gave Jonathan a life sentence. At the time that this document was filed, my husband said to his attorney, "Can't we do something about
this? Can't we protest?" And his attorney, for reasons utterly inexplicable, deliberately misled him and said "No, the sentencing hearing has to be finished today."
Rabbi Joe: John and Paul, why would Caspar Weinberger take that strong stance?
Esther: Since the day that Weinberger filed that document, none of Jonathan Pollard's attorneys has ever been allowed to access that document to challenge it in a court of law.
John: Mrs. Pollard, we're going to ask you to wait, and when we come back we're going to be with one of your attorneys, Eliot Lauer. We're going to address that court document and all the court matters from the '80's and subsequently. This is John - and Paul - and Rabbi Joe, and we're on with Mrs. Pollard. More on the Jonathan Pollard case. This is WABC.
WABC Special - Interview With Esther Pollard
Justice4JP Release - July 27, 2001
Click here to go straight to Part I.
During the second half of the 4 hour radio Special Congressman Gary Ackerman is slated to be interviewed. Ackerman is delayed and while awaiting his appearance the show hosts speak with Esther Pollard.
Paul: This is John and Paul and Rabbi Joe, and we're waiting for Congressman Gary Ackerman. And Esther Pollard has been listening in.
Rabbi Joe Potasnik: John and Paul, can I just tell you what you've done for Esther?
I spoke to her during the break. For a long time she has been so disappointed by the general
indifference to the massive injustice that her husband is suffering, and this program is giving
her renewed hope - that there are those who care and who will try to make a difference for Jonathan. So she is truly grateful for all that you are doing tonight!
John: Esther also made a wonderful historical point about the other spies mentioned earlier -the ones that Weinberger referred to in his "the year of the spy" statement, that was l986 as I recall;
Esther just pointed out that those spies were spying for an enemy state, a foreign power.
Esther: You're talking about Pelton, Whitworth and Walker. These people spied for enemies; there were charges of treason involved; and I'm hoping that in the future you will interview Professor Angelo Codevilla...
John: Yes, we wanted to have him here tonight but I don't think he's back in the country, yet.
Esther: Professor Codevilla will be able to tell you in detail what those other spies did. But the fact of the matter is that the damage they did is quantifiable: you can count the dead agents, you can count the number of programs that were betrayed. You can measure the loss and damage to the U.S. in specific terms.
For example, from the writings of Angelo Codevilla, I can tell you that the program Ronald Pelton betrayed was a program called "Ivy Bells". Professor Codevilla - who was personally involved in this program - explains that it consisted of recorders placed by US nuclear submarines onto an undersea cable linking two Soviet naval bases. Not only were the lives of US sailors in danger during each mission. The take from the program provided the only unencrypted intercepts of Soviet military command messages. It was priceless. In the event of war, America's very life would have depended on it. The loss of that program entailed tremendous financial losses and immeasurable damage to U.S. national security. To compare Jonathan's actions with those of Pelton is an outright lie.
In Jonathan's case, nobody's ever been able to point to a single concrete instance of damage. There are always these allegations of "trust me - he did terrible harm." Meanwhile, you just heard from Congressman Anthony Weiner who said he saw no examples of "terrible harm" in those documents...
Rabbi Potasnik: Esther, the question that has been asked of me and others and perhaps of you: why was there this push by some leaders of the American Jewish community for Marc Rich and not for Jonathan Pollard?
Esther: (sigh) I'm deeply troubled to even have to answer such a question. I'm deeply disappointed in the Jewish leadership. I guess the only way I can answer is to point out that the Jewish leadership is probably not a whole lot different from the ethnic leadership of most communities in that they are self-appointed, they are self-perpetuating and they function largely on self-interest. I believe that Jonathan's case has never been effectively dealt with by the leadership.
One of the heartaches of the Pollard case is that the Government of Israel and the Jewish leadership lobbied far more effectively and far more vigorously for Marc Rich, a criminal fugitive from justice, a man who never spent a day in prison, who was never in any mortal danger, who sat in a villa in Switzerland enjoying life. And they managed to secure a pardon for him to make sure that he would never have to face American justice. But in 16 years that kind of intensive effort was never put out for Jonathan Pollard.
John: Mrs. Pollard, can you tell me about your husband's state of mind today? How does he keep hopeful in a situation like this?
Esther: He's hopeful for two reasons - and maybe, after tonight, a third reason. The first is because the only reason we're still standing today in spite of the best efforts of two governments to shut us down is because we know that we have the truth.
The second reason, which is the overriding reason is that G-d runs the world, and G-d's own name is Truth. We believe that, ultimately, G-d's Will will be done and the truth will come out.
And if there's a third reason, it because of the work that you're doing tonight: there's never been a four-hour program devoted to the truth about the Pollard case. And for that we are infinitely grateful and very aware that this must be the guiding hand of Heaven to finally take the vast quantity of truth that we've been able to amass in the last 16 years which has now been documented in Jonathan's legal documents, and here you now are, finally putting it out. I can't thank you enough.
Rabbi Potasnik: There's one more reason, and that's you, Esther, that you have become a very, very effective spokesperson. How did you and Jonathan meet?
Esther: We knew each other as kids, actually. We had been on a youth group program to Israel. We had a lot in common, including our love of the land and the people of Israel. After that summer in 1971 that we both spent in Israel, he went back to the United States, I went back to Canada. He forgot about me and I forgot about him; but we never forgot our love of the land
and the people of Israel and it was many years later that we reconnected - after his arrest.
John: Esther, we have to go to a break; but we have Congressman Ackerman on the line, so when we come back we'll be joined by him. Esther, you're wonderful. This is John. And Joe. And Paul's in with Congressman Ackerman. And we'll be back.