Once again it’s that time of the year when the president considers granting clemencies and once again the name of Jonathan Pollard has surfaced. The former U.S. Navy civilian intelligence analyst was arrested in 1986, pleaded guilty the following year to spying for Israel and was sentenced to life in prison. He is still there.
“There is no doubt that he paid a heavy price and, from the standpoint of either punishment or deterrence, we believe he has been imprisoned long enough,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) wrote in a letter to the president asking that he commute Pollard’s sentence.
Rep. Eliot Engel (D-Bronx, Rockland, Westchester) also signed the letter, which was signed by 42 other House members, most of them Democrats. The JTA noted, however, that a number of Republicans also signed on and that a similar effort last year drew support from only Democrats. The fact that Smith signed and circulated the letter indicates that Republicans — who until now believed Pollard’s national security breach was so egregious that he should never be released – believe Pollard has suffered enough.
The letter was sent just days before the declassification of a 1987 CIA damage assessment in the Pollard case that Pollard supporters said demonstrates how the U.S. government has lied about key issues in the case. An editorial in the Jerusalem Post said the report “bolsters official calls for the immediate release” of Pollard. It said it confirmed claims that “Pollard spied for Israel, not against the United States.”
Specifically, the report said Pollard was seeking nuclear, military and technical information on the Arab states, Pakistan and the Soviet Union – and nothing about the U.S. It said Pollard’s Israeli handlers told him to provide them with information about Syrian drones and central communications, Egyptian missile programs and Soviet air defenses.
An article on the website of the National Security Archive said Pollard handed to the Israelis information on the “PLO headquarters in Tunisia; the specific capabilities of Tunisian and Libyan air defense systems; Iraqi and Syrian chemical warfare productions capabilities (including detailed satellite imagery); Soviet arms shipments to Syria and other Arab states; naval forces, port facilities, and lines of communication of various Middle Eastern and North African countries; the MiG-29 fighter; and Pakistan’s nuclear program” and a U.S. assessment about Israeli military capabilities.
The Jerusalem Post called this information a “game changer.” It noted that the document said Pollard was fully cooperative with prosecutors and that the amount of material Pollard gave Israel was “far less than claimed.” And it said the document “reveals the subterfuge used by the U.S. government to breach its plea agreement with Pollard” and instead request that the court sentence him to life in prison.
Perhaps most damaging was the document’s claim that the reason the government broke the plea deal was because Pollard gave an “unauthorized” interview to the Jerusalem Post and his wife gave one to 60 Minutes.
“No reporter, much less one carrying a camera and a tape recorder, could possibly gain access to a prisoner in a U.S. federal prison without authorization,” the Post said, calling the government’s claims “preposterous.”
And regarding the damage Pollard caused to justify such a harsh sentence? The Post said newly released documents “reflect the damage as being nothing more than short-term friction between the U.S. and unnamed Arab countries and temporary reduction in bargaining leverage held by the U.S. over Israel. Not the kind of permanent, irreversible and overwhelming harm to U.S. national security that some have claimed.”
At the age of 58, Pollard, who has repeatedly expressed remorse for his actions, has battled health issues for several years and was recently hospitalized.
The Congressional letter pointed out also that a “number of people convicted of spying for other countries, ranging from the former Soviet Union to South Korea, have been given lighter sentences than Mr. Pollard. We would not expect that Mr. Pollard would be treated any better than anyone else who has committed similar acts, but we certainly do not believe he should be treated any worse.”
The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, which has championed Pollard’s release for many years, said in a statement that it hoped President Barack Obama would “heed the appeal of the many leaders from a wide variety of spheres of American life, in addition to the many members of Congress who have appealed for his release. This includes people who were involved in the case or others who were initially opposed to any act of clemency.”
Speaking in behalf of the National Council of Young Israel, Rabbi Pesach Lerner, the group’s executive vice president emeritus, noted that unless he is freed soon, Pollard “will spend his 10,000th day in prison. On behalf of justice and humanitarian concerns, we join in the call for his freedom.”
We have also heard from the director of Israel Policy and Advocacy for the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, who issued a statement saying there is “nothing to be gained from keeping Jonathan Pollard in prison any longer. He has suffered long enough and has taken responsibility for his actions. For him to continue to be incarcerated, when others who have been convicted of greater crimes and who have been found guilty of compromising our nation’s security have served less time, makes one wonder why he is still being held as a prisoner.”
And we have heard from the executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, Rabbi Steven Weil, who was quoted as thanking members of Congress for their clemency request.
We have yet to hear from President Obama.