LA Times Editorial: Not a good swap

The idea of freeing Jonathan Pollard in exchange for peace process concessions by Israel is unseemly and impractical.

See J4JP Comment following the editorial below. See also J4JP notes and corrections in [square brackets ] in the body of the editorial below.

The Los Angeles Times - Editorial - October 23, 2010

There may be good reasons for granting clemency to Jonathan Pollard, the former Navy intelligence analyst who was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 for providing U.S. military documents to Israel. But Pollard's usefulness as a diplomatic bargaining chip isn't one of them.

Four Democrats in Congress are circulating a letter urging President Obama to release Pollard as a way of encouraging Israel to make "difficult decisions" in the peace process with the Palestinians. Such an arrangement was suggested during recent talks about how the United States might persuade Israel to extend a freeze on the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. It wasn't the first time the idea of "swapping" Pollard for Israeli concessions had been proposed. [J4JP: No swap was proposed. See J4JP Comment following the text below.]

The idea is unseemly and impractical. Granted, the United States has released foreign spies - most recently sleeper agents from Russia - in exchange for the freedom of Americans or political prisoners. [J4JP: The 10 Russian agents were released so swiftly that they were neither interrogated nor indicted so, clearly, no accurate damage assessment. exists. It is a moot point whether they were merely "sleeper" agents.] But there is no one this country needs to ransom from Israel. As for the supposed diplomatic benefits of Pollard's release, it's doubtful whether it would induce Israel over the long term to pursue policies it considered inimical to its security. Israel is much more likely to be influenced by continuing U.S. support for its security as it pursues negotiations with the Palestinians.

Pollard's lawyers have petitioned Obama for a commutation of his sentence to the time he already has served. What criteria should influence the president's decision? The fact that Pollard spied for a friendly nation isn't an extenuating factor; even if Israel and the United States have identical interests, which isn't always the case, the decision to share intelligence with another country belongs to the political leadership of this nation, not to individual government employees. [J4JP: Jonathan Pollard is the only person in the history of the United States to receive a life sentence for spying for an ally. Proportional justice, or "equal justice for all" which is supposed to be guaranteed by the American Constitution means similar sentences for similar offenses. There is no reasonable or acceptable way to explain or justify why the median sentence for this offense is 2 to 4years for everyone else, but for Pollard it is life.]

A better argument for clemency (one that also figures in the letter from the members of Congress) is that Pollard's sentence was excessive compared with those of other convicted spies. That disparity is something for the president to consider. Even so, other factors must be taken into account, including whether Pollard is sincerely remorseful and whether his continued detention is a deterrent to others who might be tempted to engage in espionage against their own country, either out of ideology or for financial gain. [J4JP responds: The 3 old canards of remorse, deterrence and financial gain continue to be raised endlessly, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, only in the Pollard case. One more time: 1) Jonathan Pollard did not enjoy financial gain from his espionage activities on behalf of Israel. This fact was established after 9 months of intensive polygraphing by the FBI, and recognized by the sentencing judge who declined to impose a monetary fine. 2) Deterrence: 25 years trumps all. For an offense that carries a median sentence of 2 to 4 years and today is capped at maximum of 10 years, the 25 years that Pollard has already served in prison, far outweighs any deterrent value that his continued incarceration would have. He has already served two and a half times the current maximum sentence for this offense, and more than 6 times longer than the median sentence. 3) As for the remorse canard, this is a non-issue. Suffice to say that the official record shows that Jonathan Pollard has consistently expressed remorse for his actions, to U.S. Presidents and others: see the Remorse Page for further information.]

In making any decision, Obama should consult his legal and national security advisers. But he shouldn't allow himself to be stampeded into a decision by an illusory promise of diplomatic dividends.

View original article.

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J4JP Comment

Allies do not engage in swaps. They make gestures to sustain good relations. A recent example is the case of the 10 Russian spies who were recently summarily expelled from the US as a gesture to Russia. This gesture was even more significant in that the Russian spies were not interrogated or indicted, just quickly expelled.

The Congressional letter by four Democrat Congressmen urging President Obama to release Jonathan Pollard does not call for a swap. It does call for a gesture. It calls for the release of Jonathan Pollard after 25 years in prison because his sentence is grossly disproportionate and it sees his release as a gesture to a beleaguered, war-weary ally, Israel. A copy of the letter and the media release that explains the letter can be read here.

The unlimited powers of clemency the US Constitution grants to the president are his solemn responsibility. The Constitution grants these powers as part of the president's duty to safeguard the rights of all American citizens in those cases, like the Pollard case, where the judicial system either cannot or will not correct itself.

In a recent op-ed Esther Pollard explains her husband's plight:

"Having served 25 years in the harshest conditions the American penal system has to offer, Jonathan is ill, his immune system depleted and his very survival is at stake...The petition for executive clemency, filed last week by Jonathan's American attorneys, Eliot Lauer and Jacques Semmelman, is my husband's avenue of last resort to resolve a travesty of justice that now threatens to end his life in prison."

Mrs. Pollard also explains why this gesture, a matter of justice, and a matter of saving a life, is a win-win situation all around.

"At a time when the people of Israel are being asked to believe Obama's claims about America's strong ties to Israel and of the US's special friendship with the Jewish state, it is too great a leap of faith to rely on words alone.

"With one stroke of his pen, President Obama can restore honor to the American system of justice, regain the confidence of the American Jewish community, and reassure the people of Israel, that in spite of the Netanyahu government's failure, America can be relied upon to do what is right."

See the full text of her op-ed here.

J4JP urges President Obama to act without delay to release Jonathan Pollard and send him home to Israel now.

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