A large solidarity demonstration for Jonathan Pollard was held September 2nd outside the US Consulate in Jerusalem, as Pollard appeared in a US District Court in Washington. Pollard is hoping to be able to challenge his life sentence. It has been almost eighteen years since Pollard, a former US Naval Intelligence analyst, was arrested for passing intelligence information to Israel, and many Israeli leaders still would rather sweep the entire Pollard affair under the rug.
In July, Prime Minister Sharon was given a petition signed by 112 Knesset members to deliver to President Bush during the Prime Minister's recent visit to Washington. Sharon, who had also signed the petition, decided at the last minute not to bring the petition with him on his trip to the White House.
Pollard has supporters around the world who are demanding his immediate release. Some try to claim he is innocent and that his only crime was saving lives and acting on his good conscience. Others claim he has been in prison long enough, and that a life sentence is cruel and unusual punishment.
The latest claim is that Pollard was handed such a harsh sentence because of what Pollard supporters call the "humongous lie." They say Pollard was accused of giving Israel a list of US agents operating in the Soviet Union, and that the list was intercepted by a Soviet spy operating within Israeli intelligence. A number of agents on the list were killed; however, we now know these agents were actually betrayed by Soviet spies Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen.
Pollard's supporters must understand that claiming Pollard is innocent will not get him freed. Pollard himself admits his wrongdoing. The best hope of freeing Pollard is by showing that the government, Pollard's attorneys, and the court all mishandled Pollard's case. This needs to be presented both to the court and the US government.
Pollard, who cooperated with authorities in order to receive a more lenient sentence, was given the most severe sentence ever handed down for passing classified documents to a friendly nation. Pollard claims the government reneged on its promise not to seek a life sentence in exchange for his cooperation.
Whether the prosecution violated its end of the deal is a serious question, but a court is not obligated to accept plea agreements. A famous example of that is Al Capone's trial in 1931. Capone knew he was in trouble at the start of the trial when US Federal Judge James H. Wilkerson informed Capone and his attorneys that he would not respect any "bargains."
In Pollard's case, there was behavior by the government that stinks of impropriety. Then-Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger, who was one of the most powerful people in the world, sent a memorandum to the Judge just before sentencing calling for the harshest sentence possible for Pollard's "treasonous" crimes (Pollard was never accused of treason). This is tantamount to bribery or at least attempting to place undue influence on a federal judge. How could the judge not have been influenced one way or another when one of the most powerful men in the world handed him such a strong recommendation?
When I asked Esther Pollard about Weinberger's interference, she quickly cut me off and said, "Why is everyone so obsessed with Weinberger? The point is that the Israeli government has abandoned my husband."
With all respect, Mrs. Pollard, we all want to see your husband's case reviewed and see his sentence shortened, but there was a possible crime involved that affected your husband's sentencing.
There is sufficient reason to focus on Casper Weinberger. Weinberger wrote in the memorandum, "It is difficult for me, in the so-called 'year of the spy,' to conceive of a greater harm to national security." Fifteen years later Weinberger admitted, "…the Pollard matter was comparatively minor. It was made far bigger than its actual importance."
Yes, Mrs. Pollard, the Israeli government has ignored your husband's pleas for help for too long. The Prime Minister needs to pressure the US government to release Pollard. If the Road Map is ever revived, Israel might be able to demand Pollard's release in exchange for concessions, but you need to put your efforts where they have the best chance of success. There are serious questions about the propriety of the court and the government's handling of Jonathan's case.
There are also questions about Pollard's defense. The Government of Israel paid for Pollard's defense team. The Israeli government wanted to rid itself of the embarrassment of the Pollard affair. Could this have been part of the reason for the lack of proper follow up in Pollard's case? Pollard's attorney failed to file a Notice of Appeal within the 10-day time limit.
This could not have been just an oversight. Pollard was given a life sentence, and his attorney failed to immediately submit the appeal. I can't even imagine an excuse for this. It also appears that his former attorney, Richard Hibey, also can't imagine an excuse. Hibey has refused to comment about his failure to file the notice.
The US District Court adjourned on Tuesday without a ruling. Esther Pollard is not surprised. In a recent interview, she told Israeli TV/radio personality Nissim Mishal that Tuesday's court appearance was not a trial or a hearing, but merely oral arguments. She said, "It is essentially just more talk about whether or not to allow the attorneys to continue Jonathan's cases, which have already been sitting on the judge's desk for the last three years. It is a device that allows the Court to avoid making a decision…"
Esther Pollard sounds bitter and skeptical, with good reason. Her husband's attorneys are upbeat and hopeful, yet there has been no ruling to date following her husband's hearing. It appears that Esther is right to be skeptical. Her husband's life is wasting in a prison cell as the court continues to sit on its hands.
Jonathan Pollard has served his time. Almost eighteen years is sufficient punishment for his crimes. To continue his life sentence is excessive. It is time for the world's Jewish communities and for all who embrace fairness to stand up and demand justice for Jonathan Pollard.