'James Cunningham was consulted on Pollard funeral'

Account by US officials contradicts statement by US ambassador in 'Post' interview; claims State Dept. nixed request to attend dad's funeral.

July 10, 2011 19:23
3 minute read.
James Cunningham

James Cunningham 311 R. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The American Embassy in Tel Aviv was consulted about whether to allow Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard to attend the June 20 funeral of his father, cancer researcher Morris Pollard in Indiana, US officials in Washington were quoted as saying on Sunday.

The officials contradicted statements made by outgoing US Ambassador James Cunningham in a parting interview with The Jerusalem Post that was published on Friday.

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When Cunningham was asked why Pollard was not allowed to attend the funeral, he said: “Those kinds of issues are – as I believe in your system – really fenced off from outside considerations, so I can’t answer that. It is really in the hands of the Justice Department, the people who run our legal system.”

The American officials in Washington said the decision not to permit Pollard to attend the funeral had been made by US State Department officials who consulted with the embassy. They said the embassy made a decision to not endorse Pollard’s request for 24 hours of “compassionate leave” to attend the funeral.

A senior American official who was directly involved in processing the request said that Pollard’s application for compassionate leave was blocked by the State Department and not the Department of Justice or the Bureau of Prisons.

The official explained that the way the system works is that such requests are handled by the Department of Justice, but every other branch of government is allowed to have input, and strong opposition from any part of the system counts like a veto. Normally there is no interference by other branches. But this time, the State department effectively stepped in and vetoed the request.

Cunningham's predecessor as ambassador to Israel, Richard Jones, got into trouble for being too forthcoming when speaking about Pollard. Jones had to apologize for telling an audience at Bar-Ilan University in May 2007: "The fact that he wasn't executed is the mercy that Jonathan Pollard will receive."

"I apologize for the remarks I made this morning regarding the case of Mr. Jonathan Pollard, which were misinformed and misleading," Jones said. "I certainly do not personally believe that Mr. Pollard should have received capital punishment and I was appalled to learn that I had given that impression. I regret any distress that I may have caused Mr. Pollard?s family and loved ones."

Jonathan Pollard's wife Esther, who demanded the apology from Jones at the time, declined to comment specifically about what Cunningham and the American officials said.

"It remains a very bitter pill for us to swallow that Jonathan was not permitted to attend the funeral of his father, or to say good-bye to him in final moments on earth," she said. "Many people point out that Jonathan's Dad was an American national hero who served his country with distinction in the armed forces and who repeatedly endangered his own life to save American lives. It is hard for everyone to understand how even for Morris' own sake, this small gesture was not made to his son. Now the only thing left to ask for as a matter of justice and humanitarian concern is Jonathan's release -- while he is still alive."

A spokesman for the American embassy in Tel Aviv declined to "speculate or comment."

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