By Dennis DeConcini
It’s been more than 15 years since I first publicly advocated that Jonathan Pollard, convicted of spying for Israel, should be released from prison. I did so less than two years after completing my term as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. In reiterating that plea today, I find that a number of other high-ranking government officials have come to share my view. The time is long overdue.
In the past 18 months, I have been publicly joined in that view by many noteworthy veterans of government service — including former head of the CIA James Woolsey, former Deputy Attorney General Philip Heymann and former White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum — all of whom have reviewed the classified information of the Pollard case.
A good deal of momentum in the push for clemency has come from people who dealt with the case from the highest positions of government, from the time Pollard was arrested on Nov. 21, 1985. Then-Secretary of State George Shultz has now publicly and in writing called for his release. The head of the Senate Intelligence Committee at the time, Sen. David Durenberger, recently sent a letter to the president that I cosigned with 16 other former senators advocating Pollard’s immediate release.
The fact is that the classified information I reviewed nine years after Pollard’s arrest does not justify his continued confinement.
The federal prosecutors in the Pollard case sent the court a victim-impact statement that accurately reflected the extent of his crime.
In summary, the statement said Pollard gave Israel U.S. information on the weaponry of the Arab countries and this information deprived the U.S. of its bargaining leverage with Israel on intelligence sharing and assisted Israel in its balance of power with the Arab countries.
The statement concluded, “In short, Mr. Pollard’s activities have adversely affected U.S. relations with both its Middle East Arab allies and the government of Israel.” This statement is also consistent with the fact that Pollard was not charged with intending to harm the U.S.
I am encouraged by the recent meeting between Vice President Joe Biden and Jewish leaders to discuss Pollard’s plight. This was the highest-level meeting ever held with an administration official concerning Pollard. It is obvious that across the Jewish community there is widespread support for Pollard’s release, and this view is shared by major American figures from both sides of the political aisle.
The gross disparity between Pollard’s sentence and that given to others who passed classified information to allies is striking: The average sentence for the offense is two to four years. Pollard has just begun his 27th year in prison.
Further, Pollard himself wrote a moving open letter to President Barack Obama expressing remorse for his actions and requesting his release.
Unfortunately in Washington, political considerations always come into play. There have been reports of opposition to clemency for Pollard from the intelligence and defense community. I have heard no rational basis for their opposition, nor has any been expressed publicly.
In January 2011, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu read a public letter of apology in the Knesset to Obama, noting that not only have Israel and Pollard expressed remorse but that Israel has not and will not engage in any similar action. Netanyahu asked for Pollard’s release from prison. So far this request has gone unanswered.
Dennis DeConcini is a former U.S. senator who represented Arizona.