The buck stops here

It is not only the president’s constitutional right to set Pollard free from his grossly disproportionate life sentence. It is his duty.

March 20, 2013 23:59
3 minute read.
Various party representatives campaign for Pollard

Various party representatives campaign for Pollard 370. (photo credit: Adi Ginsburg)


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Freedom for Jonathan Pollard is a matter of Israeli national consensus. More than 200,000 Israelis signed a petition calling upon President Barack Obama to bring Pollard with him to Israel, but that didn’t happen.

In the US, 30 national Jewish organizations have issued a pre-Passover appeal to President Obama led by Conference of Presidents leaders Richard Stone and Malcolm Hoenlein, requesting that Obama release Pollard prior to his 10,000th day of imprisonment, on April 8, 2013.

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After wishing Obama a successful trip to the Middle East, they respectfully and urgently requested that the president “act on the commutation of his sentence to time served before this milestone is reached. Mr. Pollard, whose health has deteriorated, has expressed remorse and regret repeatedly.”

Obama’s answer to a question about Pollard in an interview with Channel 2 television last week was troubling and insensitive. He did not seem to be aware of the concern among the Israeli public and US Jewry over the injustice of Pollard’s life sentence, nor of the fear that Pollard’s failing health threatens to end his life after 28 years in prison.

On the contrary, Obama responded by reducing Pollard’s plight to that of a common criminal who just wants to get out of jail early. He implied that Pollard was trying to jump the line without following proper procedure.

The president’s response distanced himself from any direct responsibility for Pollard’s fate: He suggested that Pollard should avail himself of the procedures offered by the US justice system which may have “the potential to ultimately release him.”

Obama stated that his own involvement is limited by law to observing from a distance to ensure that all prisoners are treated equally, including Pollard.


The truth of the matter is quite at odds with Obama’s take.

Pollard’s petition for executive clemency landed on the president’s desk on October 15, 2010. It was presented after Pollard had been in prison for 25 years and had exhausted all legal remedies and procedures.

Nine supplemental filings have been added to Pollard’s petition for clemency over the past two years. Each additional filing contained copies of letters from high-ranking American officials urging Obama to commute Pollard’s disproportionate sentence to time served as a matter of justice.

Among those calling for Pollard’s release are those who have first-hand knowledge of the case and are familiar with the secret files. They include former CIA director R. James Woolsey, former White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum, former senator and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Dennis DeConcini, former US assistant secretary of defense Lawrence J. Korb, and former attorney-general Michael Muckasey. In their opinion, keeping Pollard in prison any longer is intolerable and unjust.

Former secretaries of state George Shultz and Henry Kissinger have declared in letters to the president that the people who are best informed about the classified material Pollard passed to Israel favor his release.

Pollard’s clemency file contains numerous petitions by American congressmen and senators, public officials, religious leaders, retired judges, law professors and a host of other notable individuals and groups calling for his release as a matter of justice.

Bolstering the outpouring of support for Pollard’s release, a recently declassified 1987 CIA damage assessment puts the lie to American allegations that have been used for over a quarter of a century to justify Pollard’s continued incarceration.

Now in Israel on his first official visit, President Obama owes a formal response to official appeals by President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for Pollard’s release.

But more important, Pollard is owed a response to his petition for clemency, and not a brush-off.

Pollard did as the president suggested. He followed procedure. That procedure, once exhausted, led to the petition that is sitting on the president’s desk.

It is not only the president’s constitutional right to set Pollard free from his grossly disproportionate life sentence. It is his duty.

Pollard is not an ordinary prisoner. He is an Israeli citizen and the victim of a grave injustice that has gone on far too long.

Only Obama can set Pollard free and with the same stroke of his pen repair the American system of justice and restore Israel’s confidence in our closest ally. Mr. President, the buck stops with you and the time is now.

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