White House Confirms Receipt of Netanyahu Letter for Pollard

Hamodia Staff - Hamodia - January 7, 2011

YERUSHALAYIM - The White House confirmed it received the letter sent by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu appealing to the president to free Jonathan Pollard, and Pollard advocates troubled by the U.S. response emphasized the unique harshness of his sentence.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, commenting on Netanyahu's request, said, "I think it is important to underscore that Mr. Pollard was convicted of some of the most serious crimes that anybody can be charged [with]."

"We have received the letter and will review it," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said. Neither spokesman said how long the review process would take and what steps were involved.

In an email to Hamodia yesterday, Pollard's wife, Esther, speaking on behalf of "Justice for Jonathan Pollard," dismissed Gibbs's hyperbolic characterization as a smoke screen.

"Gibbs's comment about the seriousness of the crimes committed was intended to deflect the question asked and prevent the questioner from continuing to press. It is totally irrelevant for two reasons," Mrs. Pollard wrote. "[First], the 'seriousness of the crimes committed' was never an issue and is not in dispute. The issue is the gross disproportionality of the sentence Jonathan Pollard received. Jonathan Pollard is the only person in the history of the United States to receive a life sentence for spying for an ally. The median sentence for this offense is two to four years of actual jail time. He is now serving his 26th year of a life sentence.

"[Second], the president's powers of executive clemency are unlimited. Off-the-cuff comments such as the one made by Gibbs to deflect the question that had been asked are totally irrelevant. The President of the United States is the only one who will decide whether or not to sign Pollard's clemency papers."

Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America, issued the following statement: "Nobody denies that Jonathan Pollard was convicted of a very serious crime. But that's just the starting point for analysis. As serious as the crime may have been, did it merit a life sentence? Given the lesser sentences given to other spies convicted of spying for friendly countries, given the fact that the sentence was handed down after a plea bargain, given the heavy-handed tactics the prosecution employed in the months leading up to the sentence, given Pollard's deteriorating health ... and more, 25 years is enough."

Rabbi Pesach Lerner, executive vice president of the National Council of Young Israel, countered Gibbs's remark by pointing out that top U.S. officials involved in the Pollard case have called for his release.

"They know what Jonathan did and have said enough is enough. These people have come out publicly saying he should be freed based on time already served," Rabbi Lerner said. "For Gibbs to say [Pollard] was convicted of some of the most serious crimes ignores the comments of those people who were privy to all the information and have come out strongly for his release."

Officials who are decrying Pollard's ordeal and demanding his release include Lawrence Korb, assistant secretary of defense at the time of the Pollard case; James Woolsey, former director of the CIA; Michael Mukasey, former U.S. attorney general; Dennis DeConcini, senator and chairman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee at the time of Pollard's case; Dennis Ross, special assistant to President Obama; and Judge Steven Williams, one of the judges on a panel that presided over Pollard's appeal years ago based on improper representation by his lawyer.

Woolsey said Pollard was convicted for consequences the U.S. thought would eventually result from his activities and has declared that it is well known they did not occur. Judge Williams called Pollard's sentence a travesty of justice.

The prime minister noted the mitigating circumstances of Pollard's case - that he did not pass classified material to an enemy state, that he has been punished more severely than anyone else who has committed comparable crimes and that his health is declining.

Netanyahu was strikingly apologetic in his missive, which he read aloud in the Knesset earlier this week.

"At the time of his arrest, Jonathan Pollard was acting as an agent of the Israeli government," Netanyahu wrote in his letter, sent Tuesday. "Even though Israel was in no way directing its intelligence efforts against the United States, its actions were wrong and wholly unacceptable. Both Mr. Pollard and the Government of Israel have repeatedly expressed remorse for these actions, and Israel will continue to abide by its commitment that such wrongful actions will never be repeated."

Netanyahu's letter, Israel's first formal request for Pollard's release, came a day after a similar written request to President Obama from more than 500 members of the clergy.

On Wednesday, Obama also received a letter urging clemency for Pollard from Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree, director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard, who taught both Obama and his wife, Michelle. The president still considers him his mentor and friend, The Jerusalem Post reported.

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