WASHINGTON [MENL] - An Israeli intelligence agent sent to life in prison has made his first public appearance as part of an effort to appeal his sentence.
Jonathan Pollard, a U.S. national who has spent nearly 18 years in prison, was brought to U.S. District Court in Washington on Tuesday in his first court appearance in 16 years. The 90-minute hearing before Chief Judge Thomas Hogan heard arguments by Pollard's attorney to open a secret government file as part of an effort to appeal Pollard's life sentence.
Attorney Eliot Lauer asked the court for access to a 1987 letter from then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger that outlined the damage caused by the relay of naval intelligence by Pollard to Israel. The 46-page Weinberger memorandum, which was never disclosed, was said to have contained such allegations that Pollard provided Israel with diagrams of the PLO headquarters in Tunis, details of Soviet weapons exports to Syria, Libyan air defenses, and weapons of mass destruction programs of several Arab states and Pakistan.
Pollard's request for an appeal of his sentence has been pending since 2000. Three similar appeals to see the secret government file on Pollard have been rejected.
Lauer argued that access to Pollard's secret file would allow the defense to counter the government's claim that Pollard, now 47, caused tremendous damage to U.S. national security. Pollard's supporters, including those in Congress, said the memorandum has been discredited after the United States captured and prosecuted CIA agents who had relayed secrets to the former Soviet Union.
"At the same time the government is arguing that the file is not relevant, government attorneys are looking at the same file," Lauer said, referring to a government document that 25 U.S. government employees have reviewed the Pollard file between 1993 and 2000.
The packed courtroom included one member of the House of Representatives. Rep. Anthony Weiner, a New York Democrat, has asserted that Pollard was sentenced to life based on an intelligence assessment that proved incorrect.
Pollard, who served as a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy, was arrested in 1985 and charged with relaying thousands of intelligence documents to Israel during the previous two years. He pleaded guilty to one count of espionage and despite a plea bargain with the Justice Department was sentenced to the maximum life in prison.
For a decade, Israel denied any official connection to Pollard, saying he was working for a rogue espionage operation in the United States. But in 1995, in a move that acknowledged its connection to the agent, Israel granted Pollard citizenship.
In 1998, President Bill Clinton pledged to release Pollard as part of U.S.-sponsored deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. But Clinton withdrew his commitment when CIA Director George Tenet threatened to resign.
Israeli officials dismissed the prospect that Pollard would be released. They said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has refused to launch a public effort to win Pollard's release on grounds that it would damage Israeli-U.S. relations.
"Successive Israeli governments always diverted anybody who wanted to work for him and said that only a quiet campaign would be effective," Knesset member Gilead Erdan said. "We have decided to launch an open struggle."