Release Pollard: He's Served Enough

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein - New York Newsday - October 25, 1995

DURING HIS RECENT visit to Washington, Israel's prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, raised with President Bill Clinton once again the humanitarian issue of freedom for Jonathan Pollard. This man's suffering deserves to be alleviated now.

Ten years ago, Jonathan Pollard, a former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst, made the bad mistake (as he admits with remorse) of illegally relaying classified information to an allied government, Israel. Pollard pleaded guilty and cooperated extensively with prosecutors with an understanding that the government would not seek the maximum sentence of life in prison. Despite this plea bargain, he was sentenced to life. A memorandum was submitted by then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger to the sentencing judge that falsely accused Pollard of "treason" and implicitly sought the maximum sentence.

But now it is time to parole Pollard.

First, because there is a need to rectify several injustices with respect to his case. The justice system says that when a person is convicted of breaking the law he or she will receive approximately the same punishment that any other person would receive for a similar violation, committed under comparable circumstances. This principle has not been followed in the Pollard case.

In all other cases of espionage on behalf of allied or neutral countries - for example, Britain, Greece and Egypt - the median sentence has been less than five years, with time actually served averaging fewer than four. For example: Abdul Kedar Helmy, arrested two years after Pollard, illegally transmitted to Egypt materials used in stealth aircraft, missiles and rockets. The materials were to be used by Egypt in a joint weapons project with - of all countries - Iraq. Helmy's activities were coordinated by Egypt's defense minister. For this he received a sentence of only four years.

Because of his plea bargain, Jonathan Pollard was not entitled to a trial. When his sentence was later challenged, one of the three appeals judges asked, "How much more should be required" to find that there had been a miscarriage of justice?

It is time to parole Pollard for another reason. His actual time in prison has been spent for most of the past 10 years in extremely harsh conditions. For a year he was held in a ward for the criminally insane, when there was no need for treatment (shades of Gulag!). For 6 1/2 years he was in solitary confinement in the penitentiary in Marion, Ill., the most restrictive and harsh federal prison in the country. No other person who spied for an ally has been treated in this manner.

It is as illuminating as it is troubling that, even 10 years after Pollard's arrest, the government has still failed to present any credible evidence of any damage to U.S. security attributable to Pollard's actions that would even begin to justify or explain why Pollard remains the only person to receive a life term for spying for an ally.

An Israeli radio broadcast on Aug. 9 quoted a U.S. administration source to the effect that Pollard could "help his own cause if he changed his attitude and showed remorse." Such a statement is astonishing in view of his repeated expressions of deep and genuine remorse. In a visit I paid to him in prison last year, he could not have been more clear about his own poor judgment in the past, or even his "arrogance", a word he used and repeated in a genuine expression of self-criticism. Never once did he cite the government's handling of his case to excuse his own errors and mistakes. Typical of his expressions is a letter Pollard wrote to his mother and father in June, 1991, from Marion. Writing about his decision to become a spy, he said: "I was faced with a cruel dilemma in which I thought I had to choose between the law and my conscience. The danger that I perceived to Israel's existence was so acute that I instinctively chose action over reflection. I now know that was wrong. I should have made the effort to discover a legal solution to the predicament I faced. For this error in judgment I am profoundly sorry."

Whatever stern warnings the United States meant to convey to Israel, and to other potential American spies, have been more than adequately conveyed by his having served 10 years in prison, a period longer than that of any American in history convicted of spying for an ally - and longer than for most Americans convicted of spying for enemies.

It is time to parole Pollard or, by presidential action, reduce his sentence to time served. The coalition of voices raised in his behalf stretches from left to right in both the Christian and Jewish segments of the community. The strongest support has come from prominent Christian religious personalities such as the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, former president of the University of Notre Dame; the cardinals of San Franciso and Boston, and the Christian evangelical community, led by the Rev. Pat Robertson. Everyone has come together on this issue to say, in effect: Enough is enough!

For Pollard's sake, for the sake of the system of American justice in which we all believe and which binds this country together, and for the sake of compassion and mercy toward a human being, the parole board should act favorably on his case this fall, or President Clinton should release him from prison.

Haskel Lookstein is rabbi of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in Manhattan and immediate past president of the Synagogue Council of America.

  • See Also: The Remorse Page