End a great injustice

Jonathan Pollard remains in prison largely because of former defense secretary's biases.

By LAWRENCE J. KORB
April 4, 2012 15:26
3 minute read.
Israelis protest for Jonathan Pollard in Jerusalem

Israelis protest for Jonathan Pollard in Jerusalem 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

The life term that Jonathan Pollard received for spying on the US for Israel was a direct result of two damage assessments written by my one-time boss, former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. When asked by Pollard’s father why Weinberger had written such harsh damage assessment affidavits that they apparently caused the judge to overturn the plea bargain government prosecutors made with Pollard, I replied that he was most likely motivated by his visceral dislike for Israel and its impact on US policy.

That was 27 years ago. Last year I wrote US President Barack Obama asking him to commute Pollard’s sentence. In my letter I again made the point about Weinberger's personal views motivating his affidavits. I have now been joined in this assessment by Ronald Reagan’s National Security Advisor at the time, Robert “Bud” McFarlane, someone who would have been in a much better position than me to understand Weinberger’s motivation.

In a letter to President Obama on February 9, McFarlane asked the president to commute Pollard’s sentence. McFarlane argued that Weinberger’s affidavits were “inspired in large part by his deeply held animus towards the state of Israel” and were manifested in [Weinberger’s] “recurrent episodes of strong criticisms and unbalanced reasoning when decisions involving Israel were being made.”

He went on to point out that Pollard’s resultant imprisonment was “disgraceful and mean-spirited,” and “well beyond what any court would sentence for the same action today.” McFarlane called Pollard's life sentence a “great injustice,” and he encouraged the president to commute Pollard’s sentence to time served.

Most of the major decision-makers who were intimately involved in the case have issued public calls for clemency. They include former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Senator David Durenberger (R-MI) (who served as Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence at the time of Pollard's conviction), and former Congressman Lee Hamilton (R-IN) (Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee at the time of Pollard's sentencing). They certainly had the best sense of the damage Pollard caused, and like McFarlane and me, they realize that the punishment did not fit the crime.

Key figures who viewed the classified damage assessment years later also favor Pollard’s release. They include former head of Senate Intelligence Dennis DeConcini (D-AZ), Deputy Attorney General Philip Heymann, Attorney General Michael Mukasey, White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum, as well as James Woolsey, former Director of the CIA. Mukasey, who was attorney general for George W. Bush, stated it well when he wrote that no one alleges Pollard intended to harm the United States with his actions – nor was he ever charged with harming the US.

Rumors have recently circulated that there is still opposition to Pollard’s release in the defense and intelligence communities. Perhaps the reason it has not been made public is that the voices of those who favor clemency are so overwhelming. As a former Assistant Secretary of Defense and naval intelligence officer, I can say unequivocally that there is no reasonable basis for such opposition – if indeed it exists.

In the last 18 months the only people with significant knowledge of the Pollard case to publicly oppose his release are his government prosecutors – namely, Joseph DiGenova and John Martin. It is astonishing that DiGenova and Martin would oppose Pollard's release, given that it would be consistent with the plea bargain they themselves arranged. They are certainly aware that the average sentence for the offense Pollard committed is 2 to 4 years. Such actions are morally wrong and ultimately damage the integrity of the Justice Department for which they had a duty to uphold. 

As Senator DeConcini recently wrote, “Enough is enough.” It is clear that every day Pollard remains in prison is a continuation of a great injustice, one which President Obama could rectify with a simple stroke of his pen. If there was any doubt about why Pollard was treated so unfairly, Bud McFarlane’s letter should put that to rest.

The writer is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and a Senior Adviser to the Center for Defense Information. He was formerly Director of National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.


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