Should Jonathan Pollard be pardoned?

Jennifer Rubin - The Washington Times - December 22, 2010

Ha'aretz and other news outlets are reporting that Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu will formally request that the U.S. release Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard. Why, especially in the wake of the WikiLeaks classifed information disclosures, would Netanyahu make the request now to spring a spy who has been imprisoned for 25 years?

In Israel, there is widespread sentiment in favor of Pollard's release. A brief look at the headlines and a small sampling of Israeli opinion suggests that Israelis, while not enamored of Pollard, think he's been given a raw deal. Daniel Gordis, senior vice president of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, e-mails me that Israelis are convinced "that he's served far beyond what he deserved" and is the victim of former U.S. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger (long regarded by Israel as antagonistic toward the Jewish state), who intimidated to the court that Pollard gave information to the Soviets. (Later, we came to learn that this was the doing of Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames.) Gordis says, "The sense hear, I think, is that Bibi SHOULD ask, but that Obama should do it on humanitarian grounds, not as a tit for tat with a freeze or anything like that. If Obama tries to make it conditional on some political issue or step, most people here would tell Bibi to tell the president to take a hike."

Some Israelis are even more adamant. Ruthie Blum Leibowitz, an Israel-based journalist and former features editor for the Jerusalem Post, tells me, "The guy served his time, and then some. And since the information Pollard allegedly passed on to Israel was about the Iraqi nuclear reactor, if he's not given a medal or a pardon, he could at least be let out of jail for good behavior after all these decades."

Former U.S. officials are stepping forward to present evidence and arguments for Pollard's release. Lawrence Korb, a former U.S. assistant secretary of defense, outlined the rationale for Pollard's release in an interview with the Jerusalem Post:

Korb said he intends to make the case for releasing Pollard, a one-time US Navy intelligence analyst who gave secrets to Israel and is now serving a life sentence, when he visits the Knesset.

"Yes, he deserved to be punished," Korb said, but added that the 25 years he's already been in prison is sufficient considering the average sentence for passing classified material to an ally is seven years.

Pollard's continued incarceration is a "miscarriage of justice" in Korb's words.

To bolster his case, Korb intends to point to Weinberger's own admission before his death in 2006 that the Pollard incident was "a minor matter" rather than as he had described in his impact statement on the damage Pollard did, which influenced Pollard's sentence.

"Weinberger had almost a visceral dislike of Israel's impact on our policy," Korb recalled in trying to explain his former boss's motives.

A Democratic foreign policy hand tells me that, considering Korb's arguments, "it hardly makes sense for the Israeli PM to take a less forward position. It has become clear in recent years that Weinberger and others blamed Pollard for heinous and treasonous acts of betrayal that far exceeded what he was actually was guilty of, and what, we now know, were the acts of the traitors Hanssen and Aimes." His point isn't that Pollard shouldn't have been severely punished. Rather, he argues that it may be time for the U.S. to reassess matters, since Pollard has "served four times the length of time typical of someone who has spied for an ally, and his health has gravely deteriorated."

Similarly, former Democratic Sen. Dennis DeConcini recently petitioned Obama, according to the Jerusalem Post:

Former US Senate Select Intelligence Committee chairman Dennis DeConcini wrote US President Barack Obama for the second time in five months this week, calling upon him to commute the life sentence of Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard to the 25 years he has already served.

DeConcini said he felt compelled to write Obama again, in order to follow up on a recent Congressional letter, signed by 39 Congressman, advocating Pollard's release.

"I was on the Senate Intelligence Committee when Pollard was arrested, and subsequently became its chairman," he said. "I am well aware of the classified information concerning the damage he caused. Pollard was charged with one count of giving classified information to an ally, Israel. He was never charged with nor to my knowledge did he ever give any information to a third country."

A source intimately familiar with the Pollard case said DeConcini's letter was the first time someone who knows the classified information has definitively stated in their own words that the Israeli agent did not give any information to a third country, a charge that has been suggested in media reports.

DeConcini also wrote Obama that Pollard's sentence was unjust given the shorter time served by agents of enemy countries and the plea bargain Pollard reached with the American Justice Department.

Pollard's own website provides

an interesting table

comparing his sentence with that of other spies. The argument on sentencing boils down to this: "Jonathan Pollard is the only person in the history of the United States to receive a life sentence for spying for an American ally. On November 21, 2010, Pollard entered the 26th year of his life sentence, with no end in sight. The maximum sentence today for such an offence is 10 years. The median sentence for this offence is 2 to 4 years." Even this data, however, does not persuade some. As one Capitol Hill advisor familar with the case put it, "spying for a foreign country, even a close ally, is a betrayal of our country and unforgivable."

Those of us lacking access to the material DeConcini and the president have at their disposal have a difficult time assessing whether Pollard was subjected to unfair treatment. But the feigned indignation by some members of the media and the usual Israel bashers, suggesting that Netanyahu's request is beyond the pale or evidence of atrocious judgment, is entirely unwarranted. He's only asking, after all. And frankly, after being bashed by domestic critics and coalition partners who disagreed with his effort to mollify an American administration at times quite hostile to the Jewish state, it's entirely understandable that Netanyahu would look after his own political fortunes.

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