Eighteen Years is Enough Jail for Jonathan Pollard

Congressman Anthony D. Weiner - The Jewish Press [NY] - September 4, 2003

Jonathan Pollard was a spy. No doubt about it. When he used his job as a naval intelligence office to sneak documents to Israel in the mid-1980s, he violated his oath and broke the law.

But now, 18 years later, we have the chance to bring a just end to the Pollard saga - with a commutation of his sentence.

As much as Pollard was the perpetrator of a serious crime, he was also the victim in a case that was replete with bad timing, bad judgment, bad lawyering, and bad faith by the U.S. government.

The year 1985 was called the "year of the spy" on magazine covers because of the string of damaging cases that included John A. Walker, Jerry Whitworth and Ronald Pelton, each of whom spied for the Soviet Union and was sentence to life in prison. In the midst of this embarrassing string of cases, Jonathan Pollard was discovered to have copied and passed documents to our ally, Israel.

Pollard agreed to plea guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit espionage and the government agreed not to ask for life imprisonment. Lawyers on both sides of the case expected a sentence in line with similar ones - between 2-4 years. Then the proceedings took an unexpected turn.

The day before sentencing, then Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger, submitted a memorandum - that remains classified - that [falsely] accused Pollard of "treason" and suggested that Pollard's crime had been worse than that of the three Russian spies. Despite the agreement with the Justice Department, the Weinberger memo had a profound impact on the court. The ruling - life imprisonment.

For the first time in American history, a person got life for one count of conspiracy to commit espionage on behalf of an ally.

It is hard to imagine that things could have gotten worse for Pollard, but they did. In a breathtaking legal screw-up, Pollard's lawyer did not object to the violation of the plea agreement. And in a move that has left conspiracy theorists howling every since, the attorney, Richard Hibey, failed even to file for an appeal.

Jonathan Pollard may have demonstrated bad judgment at times in the case. But it has been the bad faith of government officials that has led to his being in jail for 18 years. For there has been a shameful public campaign to exaggerate the crimes he committed. Officials in the intelligence community who have no direct knowledge of the case have spread blatantly false information about Pollard's actions. I have seen the secret documents and am bound by law not to describe the material or even characterize it. What I can say is, when you read or see someone explaining that the crime was much worse than the public record indicated, remember the adage - those who know aren't talking and those that are talking don't know.

On Tuesday, September 2, Jonathan Pollard stepped into a court room for the first time in 18 years as a tiny ray of hope shined in what hopefully was the first proceeding that may free him His current pro bono attorneys, Eliot Lauer and Jacques Semmelman, have been fighting to see the secret Weinberger memo so that they can prepare their case for either re-hearing of his sentence or an application or commutation of his sentence. In a final act of bad faith, the Justice Department and Defense Department want to keep the evidence from reaching even the lawyers for the case - both of whom have top secret security clearance.

Justice was served when Pollard went to jail. Now it is just to let him out.

Anthony Weiner, a Democrat, represents Queens and Brooklyn, New York .

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