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 all 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 driven 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 and convicted in 1987 of espionage on behalf of an American
Pollard’s conviction was justified, but his sentence was
entirely out of line with others engaging in similar behavior. The usual
sentence for this offense is no more than six or eight years, with actual jail
time before release averaging two to four years or less.
serving his 27th year of an unprecedented life sentence.
his life sentence without benefit of trial, as the result of a plea agreement
which he honored and the government abrogated.
Pollard’s life sentence
was driven in a less-than-legitimate manner by a last-minute affidavit submitted
to the sentencing judge by Weinberger that painted a dire picture of the damage
that Pollard was alleged to have caused to US national security. There is no
evidence that Pollard intended to harm the United States or help its
Because of 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 his right to a direct appeal against his
life sentence. The only appeals he was able to bring 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 arrest and conviction, who
have intimate knowledge of the Pollard case and are now calling for his release,
it is clear that Pollard no longer poses any security threat with the
information he obtained nearly 30 years ago.
We believe that deterrence
has been achieved and the requisite level of remorse has been
We understand that Pollard’s commutation is strongly supported
in Israel, in the US and around the world, since it is clear that his punishment
was much worse than that of anyone else who has committed a similar crime.
Pollard is the only person in the history of the United States who ever received
a life sentence for spying on behalf of an ally.
We believe that
commuting Pollard’s sentence to time served is the right and compassionate thing
We believe that his continued incarceration constitutes a travesty
of justice and a stain on the American system of justice.
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 non-relevant hearsay which posits that if released, Pollard
will be regarded as a hero or martyr.
A case in point is the 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 and the
documented record bears this out.
Interestingly, Peretz never mentions
the gross disproportionality 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, in
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
Peretz claims that the importance of Pollard’s release to the
people of Israel, a strong US ally, is negligible. He then contradicts himself
when he accuses officials who support the release of Jonathan Pollard of
“sensing the public wind” and capitalizing on the Pollard issue by jumping
aboard the bandwagon.
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 President Barack Obama for
executive clemency for 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 secretary of state George Shultz, former secretary of state Henry
Kissinger, former White House legal counsel Bernard Nussbaum, former
attorney-general Michael Mukasey, former deputy attorney-general Phillip
Heymann, former Senate Intelligence chairman Dennis DeConcini, former national
security adviser Robert C. McFarlane, former CIA director James Woolsey; and
They have testified and stated formally in writing their
strong views that the original sentence Pollard received was far too severe. We
All of the appeals to President Obama have requested clemency as a
matter of simple justice because Pollard’s sentence is grossly disproportionate
when compared with others who committed similar offenses. Indeed it is far
harsher than sentences received by many of those who committed far more serious
offenses by spying for enemy states. Israel is not an enemy of the
The fact that Pollard’s health is failing adds urgency to our
requests for clemency. After 27 years in prison in some of the harshest
conditions, Pollard’s health has severely deteriorated.
All of Pollard’s
legal remedies have been exhausted. Most recently, an attempt by Pollard’s pro
bono lawyers, Eliot Lauer and Jacques Semmelman, to have his life sentence
vacated was ruled barred by the statute of limitations.
appeals to President Obama for executive clemency for Jonathan Pollard are all
still pending. They 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 and cannot or will not
provide relief, that the American Constitution confers upon the president
virtually unlimited powers of executive clemency. Moreover, it is in cases like
this that a moral imperative compelling intervention on the part of the
president exists, now that all other avenues of relief via the American justice
system have been exhausted.
President Obama has the exclusive power to
commute Jonathan Pollard’s life sentence to the nearly 27 years he has already
It is not merely the president’s prerogative to eliminate this
longstanding stain on the US justice system. We believe that it is his solemn
The writer served as US assistant secretary of defense during the
Reagan administration. He is a senior fellow at the Center for American