A Plea for Pollard


jonathan-pollardBy Dvir Abramovich

The continued drumming for the release of Jonathan Pollard has amplified. After Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu formally wrote to President Barack Obama earlier this month requesting clemency for Pollard, he was joined by former US secretary of state George Schultz, Harvard Law School and Obama’s mentor Professor Charles Ogletree, Lawrence J Korb, assistant secretary of defence in the Reagan administration, and Michael B Mukasey, an attorney-general under President George W Bush, who have appealed to Obama to release a man who is in ill health and has served more time than most rapists, murderers and even war criminals.

In his letter, Shultz wrote: “I am impressed that the people who are best informed about the classified material he passed to Israel, former CIA director James Woolsey and former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Dennis DeConcini, favour his release.”

There are scores of unanswered questions, contradictions and intrigues concerning this saga. The main question is why Pollard has been in prison for more than 26 years, with no end in sight. It’s noteworthy that the US District Court has refused to give him access to records that could bolster his case for presidential clemency.

Astoundingly, as time recedes, the crusade for Pollard has grown. Israeli soldiers have been issued with an IDF prayer for Pollard; in 2004, the Knesset gave its approval to recognise the creation of a forest to be named the Pollard Freedom Forest.

On Jerusalem Day several years ago, Pollard’s remarks contained the following, “My brothers and sisters! I have been slowly bleeding to death before your very eyes”, and during an interview he whispered to a Yediot Achronot reporter: “Don’t leave me in the bor [pit]; get me out of here.”

Interestingly, the Israeli Supreme Court has refused to recognise Pollard as a “prisoner of Zion”.

For those too young to remember, Pollard, a civilian analyst with the US Navy, was sentenced in 1987 to life imprisonment after fully cooperating with authorities and admitting to passing military documents to Israel, relating in the main to Syrian, Iraqi, Libyan and Iranian nuclear, chemical and biological warfare capabilities being developed for use against Israel. At the time, the US was obligated to share information with Israel under the 1983 Intelligence Exchange Agreement, but failed to do so.

So, should Pollard be released? There are those who wish he would rot in prison. But a deeper look reveals that this is not an open and shut case. Many feel that a sense of proportion and mercy must prevail. Several legal scholars (the president of the American Bar Association, for instance) maintain that the punishment is so out of proportion that by now elements of compassion and humanitarian considerations (argued by the Archbishop of San Francisco) should come into play.

The spectrum of voices advocating his release is extraordinary. Four past prime ministers of Israel – including current PM Netanyahu, who said that he signed the 1998 Wye Plantation agreement “with the clear understanding that Pollard would be released” – and leading Israeli politicians from both the left and right and the gamut of Jewish organizations worldwide, have all called for Pollard to be pardoned.

Eli Wiesel believes Pollard has suffered enough and that justice has been served, stressing that Pollard admitted the error of his ways, regrets his actions and has impressed him with his feelings of remorse.

Federal Judge Stephen Williams, the lone dissenter in one of Pollard’s appeals, stated that his plight “was a gross miscarriage of justice”.

Investigative reports show that initially the US Government promised to refrain from asking the court to impose a life sentence, but that a last-minute damage assessment document – prepared by KGB mole Richard Ames and blaming Pollard for the crimes he himself committed – sealed Pollard’s fate.

Former New York mayor Rudi Giuliani has observed that the life sentence is far too long compared with sentences in similar cases, while former CIA director Woolsey noted: “Israel is a friend. I think we ought to look at it.”

A comparison with others who have spied for allied nations shows that the sentence is far longer even when compared to those who spied for enemy nations. Pollard is the only person in US history to receive a life sentence for one count of passing classified information to an ally.

When a Russian spy-ring was discovered last year, the US exchanged 10 Russian sleeper agents for four Americans accused of espionage. Michael S Schwartz, a US Navy lieutenant commander, who for two years passed on Defence Department classified documents to the Saudis, was spared a court-martial and imprisonment. J Reece Roth, a professor of engineering who transferred US Air-Force secret technologies to China and Iran, was sentenced to four years, and Robert Kim, who spied for South Korea, was sentenced to nine years.

Now, Pollard’s legal appeals have run their course. Only Obama can pardon him.

Dvir Abramovich. the Jan Randa lecturer in Jewish Studies, is the director of the Centre for Jewish history and Culture at the University of Melbourne.

{The Australian Jewish News/Matzav.com}