Right of Reply: Not a security risk but a bargaining chip

Esther Pollard - The Jerusalem Post - Feb. 22, 2009

My husband, Jonathan Pollard, was an ideologue, not a mercenary. He did not spy for money, as Larry Derfner claims. ("Jewish paranoia and Jonathan Pollard," February 19). In 1987, after nine months of government polygraphing, the sentencing judge recognized Jonathan's motive as ideological and did not impose a fine.

Jonathan was officially recognized as an Israeli agent in 1998, ending years of Israeli government lies and evasions. Now in his

24th year of captivity,

Jonathan is a convenient target for elements within the American administration who have no use for the US-Israel special relationship.

Derfner dismisses the campaign for Jonathan's release as Jewish paranoia which imagines anti-Semitism lurking everywhere. No one at the forefront of Jonathan's struggle has ever accused presidents George W. Bush or Bill Clinton of anti-Semitism, as Derfner claims. Nor do we routinely portray Jonathan as another Alfred Dreyfus. However, we do challenge those who, in a bid to defame Jonathan, deny the elements common to both cases.

Apparently untroubled by the facts of the case, Derfner attributes its judicial anomalies to a de facto presumption of Jonathan's guilt, which he insists ought not to be questioned or challenged.

Jonathan was never charged with intent to harm the US, as he surely would have been had there been any evidence. But Derfner blithely maintains that the fact that Jonathan remains incarcerated is proof positive that the US must have a good reason and that the government, not Jonathan, must be given the benefit of the doubt.

Ignoring the politically-driven nature of Jonathan's life sentence, Derfner misconstrues the reluctance of previous American presidents to commute Jonathan's sentence. He quotes former NSA official Elliott Abrams as saying, "There are details of his case that have always made [Pollard's] release problematic, and that's all I'm going to say about it." Abrams is right. There is an agenda blocking Jonathan's release but not for legal reasons. Derfner points to Abrams' statement as irrefutable proof of the incalculable harm which Jonathan did to U.S national security. This is nonsense.

In the victim impact statement (VIS) submitted to the court in 1987, the government's own words, carefully scripted to present a compelling case for the maximum sentence, reflect only short-term friction between the US and unnamed Arab countries and a temporary reduction in bargaining leverage by the US. Hardly, as Derfner suggests, permanent, irreversible and overwhelming damage to US national security.

Initially noting the substantial "breadth and scope" of the information provided, and that "thousands of pages" of documents had been delivered by Jonathan to Israel, the VIS goes on to describe the actual damage to the United States as follows: "Mr. Pollard's unauthorized disclosures have threatened the US [sic] relations with numerous Middle East Arab allies, many of whom question the extent to which Mr. Pollard's disclosures of classified information have skewed the balance of power in the Middle East. Moreover, because Mr. Pollard provided the Israelis virtually any classified document requested by Mr. Pollard's coconspirators, the US has been deprived of the quid pro quo routinely received during authorized and official intelligence exchanges with Israel, and Israel has received information classified at a level far in excess of that ever contemplated by the National Security Council. The obvious result of Mr. Pollard's largesse is that US bargaining leverage with the Israeli government in any further intelligence exchanges has been undermined. In short, Mr. Pollard's activities have adversely affected US relations with both its Middle East Arab allies and the government of Israel."

It was a last-minute secret memorandum to the court submitted by then-secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger which prompted the judge to ignore the plea agreement and sentence Jonathan to life. At sentencing, Jonathan saw the complete Weinberger memorandum and its hyperbolic worst case scenario accusations; but since then neither he nor his security-cleared attorneys has ever been permitted access to the document to challenge it in a court of law.

Nearly two decades later in an interview, Weinberger recanted, admitting that the Pollard case had been exaggerated to serve another agenda, "it was a very minor matter, but made very important." When asked to explain, Weinberger reiterated that "the Pollard matter was comparatively minor. It was made far bigger than its actual importance."

AMERICAN OFFICIALS who have seen Jonathan's complete sentencing file - former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani, Sen. Charles Schumer and Congressman Anthony Weiner among them - say that there is nothing in the file to justify Jonathan's life sentence.

Former CIA director James Woolsey knows exactly what Jonathan did and does not need to speculate. Woolsey wrote a compelling letter to president Bush urging him to commute Jonathan's sentence to time-served before leaving office in January 2009.

Former US senator Dennis DeConcini, head of the Senate Intelligence Committee at the time of Jonathan's arrest, wrote to president Clinton in 1996 urging him to release Jonathan. He repeated his call for Jonathan's release in a 2008 letter to president Bush.

Even those American officials who in the past had followed a politically-scripted agenda, protesting en masse Jonathan's release - a veritable Greek chorus of admirals, secretaries of defense, congressmen and senators - held their peace this time. The absence of orchestrated protest during Jonathan's recent clemency campaign spoke volumes to the White House.

After meeting with Jonathan's attorneys, White House officials gave Jonathan's clemency petition the green light. In moving the petition forward to the president, they signaled their expressed belief that whatever Jonathan had done 24 years ago, the bill has been paid in full and it is time to release him.

SO WHY is Jonathan still in prison?

Perhaps Dennis Ross, former special US envoy and now an Obama appointee, provides the answer. In his book The Missing Peace, Ross explains that Jonathan Pollard is too valuable as a political bargaining chip to release him as a matter of simple justice.

Ross writes that he advised president Clinton at the 1998 Wye Summit not to release Jonathan: "It would be a huge payoff for [Israel]; you don't have many like [Pollard] in your pocket. I would save it for permanent status. You will need it later, don't use it now." Ross adds: "I also said I was in favor of [Pollard's] release, believing that he had received a harsher sentence than others who had committed comparable crimes. I preferred not tying his release to any agreement, but if that was what we were going to do, then I favored saving it for permanent status."

Perhaps this explains why president Bush did not reject Jonathan's clemency petition. It remains on President Barack Obama's desk, ready for future exploitation by the State Department. As long as Jonathan's petition remains viable, he can be used against Israel at a moment's notice, as a deal-maker or deal-breaker.

Could it be that this is what former State Department official Elliot Abrams knows but does not want to talk about?

Derfner is right about one thing: this is not merely a case of anti-Semitism. There is something far more nefarious about it. This is a case of callous and inhumane imprisonment for purely political and strategic reasons.

Indeed, Jonathan Pollard is a political hostage in the hands of Israel's closest ally.

President Obama can end this travesty of justice by cutting the Gordian knot and setting Jonathan free now.

Bio Note: Jonathan Pollard is an American-born Israeli citizen who worked for Israel's Ministry of Defense. He is currently in his 25th year of captivity in an American prison for his activities on behalf of the security of the State of Israel. Esther Pollard is his wife.

  • See Also: Right of Reply: Not treason, not dual loyalty, but equal justice is the issue