A Portrait of American Justice

25th Anniversary Review Series - Article #16:
A Portrait of American Justice

Justice4JP - December 1, 2009

To mark Jonathan Pollard's 25th year in American captivity - which is also his 25th year of abandonment and betrayal by the government of Israel - J4JP will be reviewing some of the best-written, most informative, and most interesting articles, essays and information written about the case over the last two and a half decades. Article #16 below was written in November 2003, by Esther Pollard. The appeals court had just denied Jonathan the right to bring the case back to court so that the merits might be heard. It should come as no surprise that, to this day, the merits of the case have never been heard in a court of law.

The oral arguments for the denied appeal had been heard on September 2nd. The Judge had ordered that Jonathan be brought to Washington to attend the court session. Most people took this as a good sign. The Pollards did not. They were right.

The Pollards' essay below reveals, for the first time, the cruel and unusual punishment that Jonathan was subjected to while he was held in Washington. He was treated the way prisoners of war are mistreated in order to break them: subjected to extreme sensory deprivation; deprived of basic nutrition and exercise; subjected to a host of despicable afflictions and humiliations; unnecessarily shackled and painfully bound for long periods of time. Not for the first time, nor the last in Pollard's excruciating 25 years of incarceration. This, apparently, is American justice.

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A Portrait of American Justice

The Pollards Respond to Court's Decision

Esther Pollard - J4JP Release - November 14, 2003

"Many people wondered why it was that Jonathan had been summoned to Washington at all. They wondered even more when Jonathan neither spoke nor was spoken to during the court proceedings. The truth is so simple, it is hard to believe: the only point of bringing him to Washington was to put him on display. But clearly no one "higher up" counted on him presenting so well after two weeks of extreme isolation, affliction and sensory deprivation." (Esther Pollard)


When I saw Jonathan today, I brought him word of the court's rejection of his legal motions. The first words Jonathan spoke in response to the news were in praise of his attorneys, Eliot Lauer and Jacques Semmelman.

Since taking Jonathan's case in the year 2000, Lauer and Semmelman have distinguished themselves as truly outstanding litigators, and as two of the finest, most honest, decent, morally impeccable individuals that one may ever be privileged to meet. That is why in response to this turn of events, Jonathan and I will leave the legal response to his attorneys. Instead we will share our personal response, a portrait of American Justice.

We were not surprised by the court's rejection of Jonathan's motions. Why not? For us, the handwriting was on the wall ever since Jonathan returned from Washington after the oral arguments on September 2nd. The first time I saw him back at FCI Butner, a few days later, was the first time he was able to tell anyone about the severe deprivation, mistreatment, and affliction he was quietly subjected to in Washington.

Let me state from the outset, that neither the Arlington County Detention Center where he was held, nor the federal Marshals whose custody he was in, were responsible for this. They were dismayed and distressed with treating Jonathan this way, but received their orders from "higher up." As uncomfortable as they felt, they were "just following orders".

Their orders for handling Jonathan were detailed and specific - not standard procedure - and clearly designed to break him. There were special orders to govern every aspect of his daily life, calculated to maximize the discomfort, the isolation and the humiliation. No doubt the expectation was to have him so broken by the time he showed up in court on September 2nd that he might act out and say or do something to discredit himself. But, as usual, the "higher ups" underestimated Jonathan. No one who saw Jonathan in court on September 2nd would have imagined the kind of abuse he had been enduring for two weeks.

Here's a portrait of Jonathan's experience. Remember, this is what he lived 24 hours a day, day and night, for two weeks. If you can, imagine what it is like to live under these circumstances:

Let's start with the basest of the base. Imagine being forced to wear the same dirty underwear, day in and day out, for two weeks. Imagine not being allowed to change your underwear, not even once, for the duration. For two weeks, Jonathan repeatedly asked for a fresh pair of underwear. His request was always greeted with sympathy, relayed to authorities "higher up", then after some time had elapsed, the request for a fresh pair of underwear was denied.

When he arrived at the Arlington Detention Center, Jonathan was given only one set of prison clothes, not two, which is standard issue. For two weeks, he requested, but was not permitted any change of clothing. As previously stated, not even a change of underwear. When after a week, a staff member came to collect his clothes for laundry, he was not able to hand them over since he had no replacement, and could not go naked for days, waiting for his clothes to be returned.

The staffer was quite surprised to learn that Jonathan had no change of clothes and went off to get him some. She came back looking sheepish and admitted that the orders from "higher up" would not permit it. Jonathan asked to speak with the head of the Detention Center, the Major. When the Major eventually appeared, Jonathan asked him for a change of clothing. The Major looked embarrassed and did not respond. He could not look Jonathan in the eye. Eventually, he admitted, that he had "orders from higher up". Jonathan never did get another change of clothing. When Jonathan returned to FCI Butner after his two-week stay in Washington, they took his Arlington clothing and bagged it and tagged it for destruction, it smelled so bad.

Jonathan was denied permission to shower or bathe. In the entire two week period that he was in Washington, he was permitted one shower, just prior to his appearance in court. It is difficult to describe the kind of distress this causes for a person as meticulous about his personal hygiene as Jonathan is.

On the first day, upon arrival at Arlington, Jonathan was given a tiny airline-type disposable toiletries kit which contained a mini deodorant, a tiny toothpaste and a miniature toothbrush - all intended for one-time use. These were the only toilet supplies he was permitted for the entire two weeks. On special "orders", he was not permitted any replacement supplies or any additional supplies. He was not given any soap.

Jonathan was held in extreme isolation. He was locked down 24 hours a day in solitary. No television. No radio. No books. No magazines. No newspapers. No distraction of any sort. His locked-down cell was in the medical unit, opposite a small prison library. He could see the books from his cell. Every day, he pleaded to be given a book - any book. His request was met with much sympathy but again with the response that orders "from higher up" would not permit it.

Again, on special "orders", Jonathan was not permitted to have a pen or pencil or paper. The only thing that Jonathan was permitted in his cell was toilet paper. He could have as much toilet paper as he liked. At one point, he was so bored that he began to make origami shapes out of toilet paper. They were taken away from him and he was ordered to stop the origami.

It goes without saying that Jonathan was deprived of all religious material. He was not permitted tallis, teffilin, tehillim or even a siddur. Rabbi Pesach Lerner was in touch with the Chaplain at Arlington Detention Center. At first the Chaplain assured Rabbi Lerner that "like all the other prisoners, Jonathan could receive chaplaincy visits and that he could receive whatever religious items he needed." That was until the Chaplain checked with the authorities. Then he too received orders from "higher up": no chaplaincy visits, in fact, no visitors whatsoever; no phone calls; no contact with the outside world. Total isolation.

For the duration of Jonathan's stay in Washington, the orders from "up high" were to handle him as if he were a violent criminal and a maximum security risk, to be chained and shackled for all movement. In this respect, he was treated far more severely at Arlington than he ever was in the worst of his years in solitary confinement. Even at USP Marion he was never handled as if he were a Hannibal Lecter. Again, the orders did NOT come from FCI Butner, from Arlington, from the Bureau of Prisons or from the Marshals - all of whom tried to be reasonable and fair in their response to Jonathan's stay in Washington. The orders came from "higher up."

When Jonathan was given his one and only shower in two weeks, the shower was located about 10 feet away from the cell in which he was held. The guards were forced by special "order" to shackle him hand and foot and use belly chains on him to move him the 10 feet to shower. After the shower, Jonathan was moved back to his cell in chains. He was forced to put on his soiled clothing, the only clothing he had. Again he requested fresh underwear. Again a staffer tried to get him some. Again "orders" were that he was to receive nothing but what he had on his back.

Although the law mandates that a prisoner have at least one hour out of solitary confinement for minimal exercise and recreation, Jonathan had no recreation time at all out of isolation. The prison did not have the unusually high number of guards stipulated by the "orders" to permit him to rec in the yard. He was told he could rec for an hour in the hall outside his cell, as long as he retained his shackles hand and foot. This was not an option since the shackles prevented him from moving and they also cut his wrists and ankles to shreds. As a result, he had no rec time out of his cell whatsoever. He was locked down 24 hours a day for the duration. Again, I repeat, the "orders" were that he was not to receive any reading or writing material, nor to have access to radio, television or newspapers. No distraction, no amusements, no relief for mental boredom or fatigue. And no visits, no phone calls, no mail.

Neither I, nor Jonathan's attorneys knew of all these deprivations since Jonathan was being held incommunicado and could not tell anyone.

Early on, Rabbi Pesach Lerner enlisted the help of a couple of Congressmen to try to "straighten out " the visit situation. Right up through the ranks, the Congressmen, Rabbi Lerner, and I made phone calls and inquiries to assert our right to visit Jonathan. We went all the way to the top levels of the Bureau of Prisons. Again and again we were told that no one at the Bureau or at the prison level was opposed to Mrs. Pollard and/or Rabbi Lerner visiting Jonathan. Several times assurances were given, that "Mrs. Pollard should enjoy all the same rights and privileges to visit with her husband that she has at FCI Butner."

With each new assurance, Rabbi Lerner or I would call Arlington and again ask for clearance to visit. Each time, we were told that the while the prison would be happy to accommodate us, the orders from "higher up" remained in effect: no visits, no phone calls, no mail. Legal counsel only. Arlington officials, truly apologetic and sympathetic, never told us who was "higher up" than the Bureau of Prisons, but we knew.

Attorneys Eliot Lauer and Jacques Semmelman did visit Jonathan once, upon his entry to Arlington County Detention Center. They were distressed that Jonathan was forced to meet with them shackled hand and foot, and to remain in shackles throughout the meeting. They protested and you guessed it: "orders from higher up." It was too soon for them to know the rest of the abuse that lay ahead for Jonathan, and they did not see or speak to Jonathan again until they met in court the following week.

Jonathan's repeated requests for a legal call to his attorneys were always greeted positively by the Major and other staff at Arlington, but were never approved. Days went by and Jonathan would repeat his requests for a legal call, something that is his right by law, but not a single call was ever approved. The Major was clearly embarrassed about this "irregular" state of affairs and did his best to avoid Jonathan.

On the day of the court appearance, the Marshals took Jonathan out of Arlington at approximately 4:30 AM. They delivered him into a holding pen at the courthouse around 5:00 AM, to wait there for the 2:00 PM court date. The holding pen had nothing in it but a hard bench and a roll of toilet paper. Jonathan was given no food and no drink. When he inquired, the Marshals were sympathetic but explained that there were "orders" that he not be fed at all, all day, up to and including the time of the 2:00 PM court appearance. The reason he was deprived of food? The "orders" they said, indicated reasons of "national security"!

At 2:00 PM, the Marshals brought Jonathan to the court room. Before allowing him to enter, they warned him that they were under order to remove him swiftly and forcibly if he dared to smile or make eye contact with anyone in the court room. He politely took issue with these orders. The Marshals were sympathetic but said that these were their "orders from higher up" and if he defied them, the consequences would be severe.

Jonathan told the Marshals that they had to cut him some slack on this, that there were some very important people, such as his Rav and his wife who had come a long way to be there and he could not just ignore them. The Marshals listened and did not reply. Now you know why Jonathan was so circumspect in court and so careful to just barely nod or smile or to just give a quick wink to his key people.

When the court proceedings were over, Jonathan pleaded with the Marshals to be allowed to approach his wife for just one second. (I was just a few feet away from him). Again they were sympathetic but quoted "orders" and said no.

When Eliot Lauer asked if HaRav Mordecai Eliyahu, who had traveled thousands of miles to be there for the oral arguments, could have a second with Jonathan, again the Marshals answer was "orders" permit only counsel to approach Jonathan, no one else.

In short, orders from "higher up" created a situation designed to bring Jonathan into court looking and acting like a broken man, and daring him to act out. For two weeks Jonathan had been kept in extreme isolation, no contact with the outside world, no distractions, no sensory input, no auditory or visual relief, no relief for boredom, no clean clothes, no clean underwear, no visits, no humanity, no contact with his attorneys, moved about in only in heavy shackles and chains, no exercise and so on. After two weeks of this extreme deprivation, he was to be kept hungry and thirsty and then brought into the court room under threat that if he so much as looked at anyone, he would be forcibly removed and punished.

Many people wondered why it was that Jonathan had been summoned to Washington at all. They wondered even more when Jonathan neither spoke nor was spoken to during the court proceedings. The truth is so simple, it is hard to believe: the only point of bringing him to Washington was to put him on display. But clearly no one "higher up" counted on him presenting so well after two weeks of extreme isolation, affliction and sensory deprivation.

This is our portrait of American Justice. Does it look like a portrait of a time and place where the truth is sought and justice is the aim? If you had seen this portrait previously, would you have expected anything more of the courts than we did? Or would you have understood, as we did, that once again the Government would express its politically-motivated will via the courts? That the whole ugly travesty of justice known as the Pollard Case is to remain securely sealed behind a spurious veil of secrecy.

Consider this:

Moments prior to the start of the court proceedings on September 2nd, Jonathan's rabbi, HaRav Mordecai Eliyahu, blessed Eliot Lauer and Jacques Semmelman. He told them, "I want you to know that you are doing this for Am Yisrael, not for Jonathan Pollard, but for Am Yisrael!" When a flicker of surprise crossed the attorneys' faces, the Rav added, "Yes of course, it is for Jonathan too, but what is truly at stake here today is Am Yisrael."

Go back now over everything we have shown you in our portrait above. Delete the name "Jonathan Pollard" and substitute in "Am Yisrael".

The treatment of Jonathan Pollard is less about Jonathan Pollard, than it is a reflection of the "higher up" attitude towards Israel and the Jewish community. Jonathan is merely a symbol, and his case is the means for humiliating and debasing Israel and for putting the American Jews in their place. In Washington, it was Israel in shackles and chains, and Israel being deprived, afflicted and mistreated. Not Jonathan Pollard.

Make no mistake. There never was any intention of this judicial sham providing relief for Jonathan. Only contempt for Israel and the American Jews.

And in their silence and neglect, Israel and the American Jewish leaders have sold out far more than Jonathan Pollard. They have sold us all out. Their silence and lack of honest initiative to resolve this case has allowed a travesty of justice to fester for 18 years, with no end in sight.

The conspicuous absence of Israeli representation in court on September 2nd and the obvious disinterest of the American Jewish leadership is not taken as neutrality by the American Administration. Nor even as indifference. Rather, it is taken as complicity. It is taken as an endorsement of the harsh treatment of Jonathan Pollard and the grossly disproportionate sentence he is serving.

The lack of protest, the failure of Israel to get off of her knees and insist on Jonathan's release which has been promised over and over again but never delivered; the failure of the American Jewish leadership to support the legal initiatives or to articulate a clear position on the case to the President, only guarantee that this case will continue to be exploited to the detriment of all Jews.

It is time for Israel to wake up and step up to the plate. It is time for the American Jewish leadership stop posturing and start doing. The charade is finally over. Enough is enough. Decisive action to secure justice can wait no longer. The silence is killing us all....


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