UPDATE: Jonathan Pollard To Be Released From Prison
search

UPDATE: Jonathan Pollard To Be Released From Prison

White House says announcement not timed to assuage Israel on Iran deal; rather 30-years is enough.

Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard will be released from prison Nov. 21 after completing a 30-year prison term, The Jewish Week has learned.

Pollard’s lawyer, Elliot Lauer, said an official announcement would be made later today.
Seymour Reich, a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and a longtime supporter of Pollard’s release, said when told the news, “That’s fantastic. It’s overdue, but I’m glad he’s getting out.”

Reports that Pollard might be released on or before Nov. 21 surfaced two weeks ago quoting unnamed U.S. officials. There were even suggestions — later vehemently denied by the Obama administration — that his release was timed to assuage Israeli objections to the Iran nuclear agreement, which is awaiting congressional approval.

The Parole Board considering Pollard’s release met recently and was to announce today its decision to release him Nov. 21, the day in 1985 when Pollard and his wife at the time, Anne, were arrested. FBI agents took them into custody after they were denied admission to the Israeli Embassy in Washington where they fled to escape arrest.

At the time of his arrest, Pollard, who will be 61 Aug. 7, was a civilian U.S. Navy intelligence officer. In 1987, he pleaded guilty to passing classified military information to Israel and was sentenced to life in prison. Anne Pollard was sentenced to five years in prison. The two later divorced.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch told the Aspen Security Forum Saturday that she believed Pollard had served enough time behind bars and that her office would not ask the Parole Board to block his release.

She pointed out that under the sentencing structure in 1987, a sentence of life in prison meant 30 years. That changed “in the late '80's and early '90's to where now a life sentence is in fact a life sentence,” Lynch said. “But under the law in which he was sentenced and the laws of our country which we abide, [there is] not really a recommendation needed from us."

Asked whether Pollard’s release was timed to placate Israeli opposition to the Iran nuclear agreement, she replied: “It would have been extremely far-thinking of people 30 years ago to sentence Mr. Pollard and set this mandatory release date to coincide with the Iran deal. And if they were able to pull that off I would be quite impressed."

She pointed out that under the sentencing structure in 1987, a sentence of life in prison meant 30 years. That changed “in the late '80's and early '90's to where now a life sentence is in fact a life sentence,” Lynch said. “But under the law in which he was sentenced and the laws of our country which we abide, [there is] not really a recommendation needed from us.
Asked whether Pollard’s release was timed to placate Israeli opposition to the Iran nuclear agreement, she replied: “It would have been extremely far-thinking of people 30 years ago to sentence Mr. Pollard and set this mandatory release date to coincide with the Iran deal. And if they were able to pull that off I would be quite impressed."

Shortly before the Parole Board announced its decision to free Pollard, Abraham Sofaer, a former State Department legal adviser who led the team that gathered the information that led to Pollard’s conviction, said he hoped Pollard would be released.

“I think [30 years] is an adequate punishment,” he told The Jewish Week. “It is really a matter of rachmanis (compassion) now. There is no need to punish him [further], and no call to keep him in prison. He is not a danger to the U.S. whatsoever, and that is why I think the Parole Board should let him go.”

He hastened to add that he has no “respect” for Pollard because of his spying activities for which Israel paid him: both in cash and in gifts, “including a diamond ring for his wife.”
“This is not the kind of thing a patriotic, sincere person would be taking,” Sofaer said. “It shows a corrupt motive.”

“I think he was a greedy person who had no concept of what he was doing,” Sofaer added. “But I think as a mater of compassion he has served enough, and I don’t think this is being tied to Iran — and it shouldn’t be. Israelis will say what think of the Iran agreement and American Jewish organizations will say what they think, and I think the Parole Board will act on the parole situation.”

Asked about Pollard’s lengthy prison sentence, Sofaer said two keys factors were responsible for that: poor legal advice at the time of his sentence and an unrepentant attitude after he was first imprisoned.

Initially, Pollard insisted that he was providing Israel with material that was critical to Israel’s defense and that was only giving Israel only that material that was supposed to have been provided as part of bilateral agreements between the two allies.

Pollard, who had had high-level security clearance, told The Jewish Week by phone from his prison in Butner, N.C., in December 1998 that he knew exactly what classified material he was sharing with Israel and that he examined every document before handing it over to his Israeli associates.

“I went to great lengths to sanitize as much of the information as I could before I provided it to Israel,” he said. “I cleaned it up as much as I could. If the Israelis were to get only one thing on a page and there were three or four items, I [removed the other items] to ensure that they got just the information they were to receive under the terms of our bilateral sharing agreement.”

He maintained money was never an issue for him because he was an Israeli agent. And he insisted that the U.S. deliberately withheld the information it was supposed to share with Israel in order to prevent Israel from taking any more unilateral actions like its 1981 bombing of the nearly completed Iraqi nuclear reactor.

He also pushed back against the comments of four retired U.S. Navy admirals who called Pollard a “traitor” in an op-ed in The Washington Post. Pollard said that by calling him a traitor — a crime with which he was never charged — the admirals were “redefining the status of Israel with regard to the U.S. If I am a traitor, who is the enemy I served?”

Just weeks after that interview, there were reports that Pollard would be released as part of a plea deal between the Palestinian Authority and Israel that was being negotiated in Maryland by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Bill Clinton. Pollard had been granted Israeli citizenship in 1995.

Pollard told The Jewish Week that his second wife, Esther, had called him “at 7 in the morning” to tell him the news.

“Everybody here was very happy for me,” he said. “I’ve never shaken so many hands in my life. The guards, too, patted me on the back. The guards said, `You’re going home.’ … I was packing; I thought this was it. I packed my Chumash [Five Books of Moses], my tallit and tefillin and my wife’s pictures.

“Everybody was coming around my room asking for books, clothes, deodorant, food. Everybody was claiming things. That’s what happens in prisons.”

Pollard said his roommate, a Muslim, “embraced me and said, ‘Both our peoples are going home, isn’t it wonderful?’”

He was referring to the planned release of 750 Palestinian prisoners who were to be set free as part of the peace accord.

Pollard said he later “heard through my own channels that I would be leaving Saturday night and going to Israel with the prime minister on his plane.”

But later in the day he said he learned that Clinton had acceded to opposition to his release from the CIA and that he would not be released.

“The room started spinning, I got nauseous and broke into a cold sweat,” he recalled. “My blood pressure shot up and I went and sat down at my desk and blacked out. My roommate said I was out for about a minute or two.”

Republican congressional leaders had also voiced their opposition to Pollard’s release, saying in a letter to Clinton, “There is every reason to believe, based on his own statements, that “he would resume his treacherous conduct.”

Pollard vehemently denied that, saying: “I have given my word that I am remorseful and will do whatever I have to to lead a constructive and honest life in the future.”

Sofaer noted that in subsequent years Pollard was more mellow and was quoted as saying that he had “made a mistake and that he wants to go and live the rest of his life in quiet bliss.”

stewart@jewishweek.org

read more:
comments