The movement to win presidential commutation for convicted spy Jonathan Pollard has picked up some big names in recent weeks and new momentum. It’s happening thanks in large measure to an informal coalition of Pollard activists who have mapped out a new strategy for winning his release after 25 years in prison.
That strategy involves strong personal appeals from former high-ranking officials who have a personal familiarity with the case, said University of Baltimore law professor Kenneth Lasson, a longtime Pollard activist and one of four men behind the new push.
The latest to appeal to President Obama: former Vice President Dan Quayle, who wrote this week, “I believe that a life sentence for the crime committed is very extreme. Though his crime was very serious, I hope you will once again look very carefully at this pending request.”
Other letters have been written by former Secretary of State George Schultz, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey and former Sen. Dennis DeConcini (R-Ariz.), who chaired the Select Intelligence Committee.
“I am well aware of the classified information concerning the damage he caused,” DeConcini wrote. “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.”
Also writing on Pollard’s behalf and giving the effort a bipartisan flavor: Bernard Nussbaum, who opposed clemency during his term as White House counsel during the Clinton administration but now says Pollard’s continued incarceration is a “miscarriage of justice.”
Lasson said that the flurry of high-powered, bipartisan former officials speaking out on Pollard wasn’t exactly spontaneous.
“The story is that these big names didn’t volunteer to do this, but they also didn’t balk when they were asked,” he told The Jewish Week. “They are people of conscience and knowledge, who are coming out with very strong statements urging clemency.”
The new, big-name strategy was developed and is being coordinated by Lasson; Rabbi Pesach Lerner, executive vice president of the National Council of Young Israel; Farley Weiss, a Phoenix attorney and Young Israel leader and David Nyer, a Monsey social worker and Young Israel activist who played a major role in convincing 39 Democratic House members to sign a letter urging clemency last year.
Lasson said the key is to generate letters “from people who have been in government and who actually reviewed the Pollard files.”
Lasson is cautiously upbeat.
“I never saw this much momentum for clemency before the last six months, when we got this effort under way,” he said. At the same time, he said the “biggest factor” will be how Obama responds to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official request for clemency.
“President Obama will have to respond to the Prime Minister one way or another,” Lasson said.