Cruel and unusual

Let Pollard spend the rest of his days in Israel.

November 19, 2016 22:01
3 minute read.
Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard leaves a federal courthouse in New York

Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard leaves a federal courthouse in New York. (photo credit: REUTERS)

After decades of arguments for and against the life sentence imposed on Jonathan Pollard for spying on Israel’s behalf, followed by similar arguments regarding the draconian terms of his parole after serving an unprecedented 30 years, his current appeal of his parole terms did not seem to hold much promise. This has all changed now, with the revelation that these harsh release conditions were probably based on a staged “violation” of his plea agreement.

US District Judge Katherine Forrest’s decision in August to keep in place Pollard’s harsh parole conditions, now under appeal, was predicated on her understanding that an interview Pollard gave in 1986 to then-Jerusalem Post correspondent Wolf Blitzer was in violation of the plea agreement he had signed.

The curious fact has now come to light, however, that Pollard was in federal custody at the time, which clearly meant that he could have given such an interview only after receiving permission. Indeed, Pollard had applied for and received permission for the interview from the relevant US authorities, which raises the question why.

It is unthinkable that these authorities were not familiar with their own rules. The only possible conclusion is that this was a deliberate lapse, whose existence was concealed from the court in order to bolster an argument for unprecedentedly harsh parole conditions. A still unanswered question is who told the relevant agencies what to do.

These conditions require him to wear an electronic ankle bracelet at all times for GPS tracking of his whereabouts, which are limited by a strict curfew – he cannot leave his New York City home between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. The bracelet also impinges on his religious freedom by forcing him to violate the Sabbath in order to keep it functioning. Any computers he uses – whether his own or an employer’s – are subject to constant monitoring.

Pollard’s attorney, Eliot Lauer, said last week that “the commission also claimed that Pollard has ‘a propensity to violate the terms of his plea agreement and/or an order of the sentencing court,’ based on Pollard’s alleged violation in 1986 of a gag order issued prior to his sentencing, when Pollard, while incarcerated, was interviewed by journalist Wolf Blitzer, who was admitted to the prison by federal authorities.”

The interview was published over several months in The Jerusalem Post and reprinted in The Washington Post and The New York Times. Pollard’s wife, Esther, has said that he had obtained written permission from the Bureau of Prisons for the interview and restricted his remarks to the bureau’s guidelines.

Adding insult to injury, Lauer noted that an unnamed parole official sought it necessary to inform the court that “Pollard has ‘a propensity to violate the terms of his plea agreement and/or an order of the sentencing court,” citing his alleged 1986 violation of the gag order.

Esther Pollard quoted Blitzer as saying it appeared to him that the approval for the interview was “part of a calculated scheme” by the prosecutors as a pretext for later claiming that Pollard violated the plea agreement. She said former government prosecutor Joseph diGenova later confirmed this by telling The Village Voice that he had hoped the interview would be the “rope” with which Pollard would hang himself.

Blitzer’s account of the issue may be viewed at length in his book Territory of Lies: the Exclusive Story of Jonathan Jay Pollard: the American Who Spied on His Country for Israel and How He Was Betrayed.

It is unlikely that those responsible for this apparent deception will come forward to admit that their cruelly motivated, unseemly and bizarre attempt to add to Pollard’s punishment was in fact an act of vengeance – as if 30 years’ imprisonment were not enough.

While another appeal by Pollard for a modicum of justice awaits decision, there is one person who could end this sad saga at last in a timely manner: President Barack Obama. Amid the endless speculation of what he might do vis-à-vis Israel in the interim before handing over his office to Donald Trump, there is one act Obama could do that would at least partially redeem his administration in the eyes of the Jewish people everywhere: let Pollard spend the rest of his days in Israel.

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