Jonathan Pollard, John Walker Lindh: Scales of Justice Out of Balance

Robert A. Cohn, Editor - The St. Louis Jewish Light - July 24, 2002

In a stunning development last week, John Walker Lindh, the 21-year old Californian who fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan, pleaded guilty o two felony charges in a surprise plea bargain that assures him that he will serve a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The deal struck with prosecutors eliminates the possibility of either a life sentence or a sentence of death for the so-called "American Taliban."

The surprise development in the case of John Walker Lindh recalls to mind the case of Jonathan Jay Pollard, the former U.S. Naval intelligence officer who was convicted in 1985 of spying for the State of Israel. Like Lindh, Pollard had been promised "leniency" if he pleaded guilty to the charge of spying for a foreign power, in this case a friendly government in Israel in contrast to the Taliban against which American troops were engaged in a "war on terrorism" at the time of Lindh's capture. Pollard had been assured that if he pleaded guilty that the federal court before which his case was being heard would be "lenient." At the last minute, a 56-page, back-channel memorandum was sent to the judge by then Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, one of the most anti-Israel defense secretaries in American history, who said on the record that he believed that Pollard deserved to be sentenced to death. Instead of the "lenient" sentence Pollard was promised for cooperating, he received a sentence of life in a maximum security federal prison in North Carolina. He has remained in prison despite numerous entreaties on his behalf that his sentence be commuted to time served or that he be granted an outright pardon - requests that have thus far been ignored by successive American presidents as well as the federal courts.

While each case has its own unique circumstances, it is difficult to balance the scales of justice between the Pollard and Lindh cases. In the case of Pollard, he admitted that he broke the law, and did so in order to protest the security interests of the State of Israel, not merely a 'friendly" government, but a staunch ally of the United States. Of course Pollard should be punished for his crime, but his life sentence seems grossly disproportionate not only in comparison to the shorter sentences given to much more notorious spies who provided information to hostile regimes in the former Soviet Union or Iraq, but in view of the extremely lenient maximum sentence for John Walker Lindh, who was wearing the uniform of a government that was officially at war with the United States at the time. As a young man of 16, Lindh had converted to the radical form of militant Islam preached by the harsh and cruel Taliban regime and by the Al Qaeda terrorists of Osama bin Laden. At the time of his capture, Lindh was clearly aware of the atrocity committed by Al Qaeda with Taliban backing at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, terrorist actions that took the lives of more than 3,000 American citizens.

Pollard was of course wrong to provide classified information to any government, but he was motivated by a desire to save Israeli lives. The information he shared with Israel involved details of plans by Syria and Iraq to develop weapons of mass destruction and information about the terrorist network then operating out of Tunisia, the Palestine Liberation Organization, chaired then and now by Yasser Arafat.

In another high profile national security case, another bizarre twist in the American justice system occurred when Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, last week acknowledged in a federal court that he was part of the Al Qaeda network and tried to plead guilty to conspiring in the attacks. Moussaoui entered his plea even as he reiterated that he was not directly involved in the plot. Moussaoui, whose admitted links to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network and acknowledged guilt in conspiring to help kill as many as 3,000 Americans, shows his contempt for all that America stands for - including our democratic and constitutional criminal justice system. The judge wisely refused Moussaoui's surprise verdict.

Justice in America is supposed to be "blind" and impartial. In the cases of Pollard and Lindh, justice seemed to have blinders on, and the scales are totally out of balance.