In the wake of the presidential clemency awarded 11 Puerto Rican activists, imprisoned Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard is asking President Bill Clinton to apply the “same standards in my case” and release him.
“I can only hope that the president will see that by commuting my sentence, he would be underscoring his administration’s commitment to due process and fair play,” Pollard told The Jewish Week in a phone interview from the federal prison in Butner, N.C.
But even some supporters of clemency for Pollard argue that given the political backlash against Clinton’s FALN decision, linking the two cases may only complicate Pollard’s situation.
In granting clemency to the activists, Clinton acted against the recommendation of the FBI, Bureau of Prisons and several U.S. attorneys general. Similarly, the intelligence community and the State Department have come out against clemency for Pollard.
“He has cited these negative stands in justifying his decisions to turn down my requests for clemency in the past,” said Pollard. “What we know now is that he totally disregarded these negative views” in granting clemency to the Puerto Ricans.
In justifying his action, Clinton explained that none of the prisoners released last Friday was convicted of any bombings and that they had served long sentences — more than 16 years — for offenses that did not harm others.
All had belonged to the radical pro-independence Puerto Rican group known as the FALN, which was responsible for more than 130 bombings in New York and Chicago during the 1970s and ’80s that killed six people and injured dozens. They were convicted of seditious conspiracy and possession of weapons and explosives.
Pollard, a former Navy intelligence analyst who has served 14 years in prison for leaking U.S. military secrets during the early 1980s, said he meets the same criteria Clinton established in freeing the Puerto Rican nationalists. He said that just as they were required to renounce violence, he has vowed “not to go back to spying.”
And the length of his prison term, Pollard said, is longer than “anyone else in the history of the United States has served for similar actions.”
“I have stated on every available occasion my deep and unqualified remorse for what I did. I have stated to the president in writing that I wish I had acted within the bounds of the law in my concerns for Israel’s security. There is no excuse for what I did. It was a terrible lapse of judgment on my part. Nothing good came out of my actions. and they certainly should not be seen as a model for others to emulate. I was scared for Israel’s security and acted out of fear, not judgment.”
Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, who has long called for the release of Pollard, said regardless of the president’s clemency for the Puerto Ricans, “I hope he will get out because of humanitarian reasons. He deserves compassion and has suffered enough. He has expressed contrition and regret.
“In the days of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, when we plead to God for compassion, let us plead that man has compassion.”
Another Pollard supporter, Seymour Reich, former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said that although Pollard is correct in seeing the similarities between the two cases, “it does not help him to raise the issue publicly. It’s going to be counter-productive.
“Hopefully the president will commute his sentence and exercise clemency, but the less said about it the better. If the president is going to do it, let him do it. Let’s not put the president in the embarrassing position of making comparisons.”
Supporters of Pollard, led by Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn), last month began pressing Hillary Rodham Clinton, an all-but-declared New York senatorial candidate, to intervene with the president on their behalf. Mrs. Clinton’s spokesman, Howard Wolfson, has said she would not comment pending the completion of a review of the Pollard case by the White House.
But some Pollard supporters worried that the case for clemency could be pulled down by the political undertow created by charges that Clinton offered the FALN clemency to boost his wife’s chances to win the New York Senate race. Now they fear any presidential action on the Pollard matter would be attacked as one more bald political pitch to an important constituent group.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said he believed Pollard should be freed, but a letter from 60 other senators in January called upon Clinton to keep him behind bars. They argued that freeing Pollard would implicitly condone an ally’s spying on the U.S. A spokesman for Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) said the senator declined to sign the letter in the belief that this was a matter properly before the president and the courts.
In a letter to a constituent, Moynihan, who is stepping down next year, pointed out that Pollard consistently has rebuffed efforts to help him. He said Pollard “has not only refused to apply for parole but has fired the attorneys who had urged him to do so, and refuses to even speak with his parents and sisters, who have championed his case through the years.”
A spokesman for Moynihan, David Luchins, pointed out that in 1993, a newly inaugurated Clinton sent assurances that he would grant Pollard a pardon if he expressed true remorse. Pollard signed such a letter but later renounced it, dooming his chances for presidential action, Luchins said.
New York City’s public advocate, Mark Green, who spent two hours with Pollard two weeks ago, wrote to the president this week seeking clemency. He told The Jewish Week that it is “not helpful to compare his unique case” to others because Pollard “was sentenced for a crime he was never indicted or convicted of — treason. He was sentenced to life in prison for charges that have never seen the light of day in court and have never been corroborated. That’s outrageous and Kafkaesque.”
Although some of Pollard’s supporters have suggested that Pollard would have a better chance of clemency were he to maintain a low profile for six months, Green, who is expected to run for mayor, rejected that assertion.
“It is essential that those who believe he has served a disproportionate sentence for his admitted crime should now publicly rebut the slander campaign that confuses espionage for an ally with treason with an enemy,” said Green. “It’s a miscarriage of justice.”