In a startling public disclosure before he died, former US secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger, the man who drove Jonathan Pollard’s life sentence, admitted in a 2002 interview that the Pollard case was “a minor matter” which had been blown out of proportion to serve another agenda.
This came as no surprise to those of us who have first-hand knowledge of the Pollard case. Weinberger was known to be fueled by his deeply-held animus toward the State of Israel. His extreme bias against Israel was manifested in recurrent episodes of strong criticism and unbalanced reasoning when decisions involving Israel were being made. It is widely recognized that Weinberger’s interference in the judicial process netted Pollard a life sentence.
Jonathan Pollard was arrested in 1985. In 1987, Pollard was convicted of espionage on behalf of an American ally, Israel.
Pollard’s conviction was justified but his sentence was not. The usual sentence for this kind of offense is no more than 6 or 8 years, with actual jail time before release averaging 2 to 4 years or less. Pollard is currently serving his 27th year of an unprecedented life sentence.
Pollard received his life sentence without benefit of trial, as the result of a plea agreement which he honored and the US government abrogated.
Pollard’s life sentence was secured in a less than legitimate manner by a last minute affidavit submitted to the sentencing judge by Weinberger. Weinberger's affidavit painted a dire picture of Pollard's treason by embellishing the damage he allegedly caused to US national security. There is no evidence that Pollard intended to harm the US or help its enemies.
Due to a gross deficiency on the part of his attorney – who neglected to file a notice of intent to appeal following his sentencing hearing – Pollard has been forever deprived of the right to appeal his life sentence. Pollards only appeals were collateral and were dismissed on technicality, not substance.
For those of us who served in senior government positions at the time of Pollard’s conviction and have intimate knowledge of the Pollard case, it is clear that Pollard no longer poses any security threat with the information he obtained nearly 30 years ago. Pollard must be released immediately; deterrence has been achieved and appropriate remorse has been expressed.
Pollard's release is strongly supported in Israel, the US, and around the world. It is clear that his punishment is far harsher than anyone who ever committed a similar crime. Pollard is the only person in the history of the US who ever received a life sentence for spying on behalf of an ally.
Commuting Pollard’s sentence to time served is the right and compassionate thing to do. Pollard's continued incarceration constitutes a travesty of justice and a stain on the American system of justice.
However, there are still some with dubious agendas who oppose Pollard’s release. They lobby against Pollard on the basis of long-discredited canards such as the charge that Pollard spied or attempted to spy for countries other than Israel; or on the basis of irrelevant hearsay which posits that if released, Pollard will be regarded as a hero or martyr.
An example of such opposition is an article by Martin Peretz published this week by the Wall Street Journal.
Peretz falsely accuses Pollard of offering classified information to other countries, such as Pakistan. This assertion is categorically false. Pollard was never accused, indicted, or convicted of spying for any country other than Israel – a fact that is supported by documented evidence.
Interestingly, Peretz never mentions the gross dis-proportionality of Pollard’s sentence; the strong support by credible senior American officials who have seen the full classified file; or the way that support for Pollard’s release as a matter of simple justice cuts across all party lines, religious lines, and political affiliations in Israel, the US, and around the world.
Instead, Peretz speciously claims that supporters of Pollard present him as a martyr and this, he claims is justification for keeping Pollard in prison for the rest of his life.
Peretz claims that the importance of Pollard’s release to the people of Israel, a strong US ally, is negligible. He then contradicts himself by accusing officials who support the release of Jonathan Pollard of “sensing the public wind” and capitalizing on the Pollard issue by jumping aboard the band wagon.
The truth is, in recent months, many of my colleagues, senior American officials, as well as high ranking legal officials and elected representatives have appealed to US President Barack Obama for executive clemency on behalf of Jonathan Pollard. Among them are cabinet officers, experienced jurists, and officials serving at the time of Pollard’s arrest who were intimately involved in reviewing the evidence. Some of the names include: former secretaries of state George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former attorney general Michael Mukasey, former national security advisor Robert C. McFarlane, former CIA director James Woolsey, and many more.
All of these officials have testified and formally stated their strong opinions that Pollard's original sentence was far too severe.
The fact that Pollard’s health is failing adds urgency to our requests for clemency. After 27 years in prison, Pollard’s health has severely deteriorated.
All of Pollard’s legal remedies have been exhausted. Recently, an attempt by Pollard’s pro-bono lawyers, Eliot Lauer and Jacques Semmelman, to have his life sentence vacated was barred by the statute of limitations.
The numerous appeals to President Obama for executive clemency for Jonathan Pollard are all still pending. These appeals are Pollard’s last hope of resolving a 27-year-long injustice which now threatens to end his life in prison.
It is precisely for cases like this, where the justice system has failed to provide justice, that the US Constitution gives the president virtually unlimited powers of executive clemency. Moreover, it is in cases like this that a moral imperative should compel presidential intervention.
President Obama has the exclusive power to commute Jonathan Pollard’s life sentence to the nearly 27 years he has already served. It is not merely the President’s prerogative to intervene in order eliminate this longstanding stain on the US justice system, it is his solemn duty.
The writer served as US assistant secretary of defense during the Regan administration under secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger. He is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.