Jonathan and Esther Pollard.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
By the time US President Barack Obama reads this editorial he will be winding up the last few hours of his presidency. During his last days in office, Obama has used his clemency power to commute the prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, a former US Army analyst who was convicted of espionage in July 2013 by a military court after she turned over a massive cache of defense and diplomatic records to the organization WikiLeaks.
Obama has granted a total of 1,385 commutations, establishing himself as the most clement president in recent history. Obama has issued the most combined commutations and pardons of any president since Harry Truman, and more than Reagan, Clinton and both Bushes combined.
We are asking Obama to consider one more commutation – that of Jonathan Pollard, a US Navy civilian intelligence analyst who spied for Israel over a span of 18 months in the 1980s.
Pollard has paid his price. Before being paroled in 2015 and placed under highly restrictive conditions, he spent more than 10,000 days in a series of maximum and medium-security prisons. After being sentenced, he was incarcerated in a federal prison hospital in Springfield, Missouri, where he was reportedly “routinely deprived of his clothing and his eyeglasses in attempts to humiliate and ‘break’ him.”
In 1988, he was transferred to a maximum security prison in Marion, Illinois, where he remained in solitary confinement until 1993, when he was moved to a medium- security facility in Butner, North Carolina.
What’s more, Pollard was never tried in a court of law.
Abiding by the prosecution’s terms, Pollard cooperated with FBI investigators and pleaded guilty to one count of espionage, conspiring to deliver national defense information to a foreign government. The prosecution for its part requested a “substantial” prison term instead of life in prison. However, the US judge, not bound by the prosecution’s plea bargain, nevertheless sentenced Pollard to life.
The judge was apparently swayed by then-secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger, who submitted a victim impact statement, and by the CIA, which produced a damage assessment.
Over the years a number of American leaders have called for Pollard’s release. In July 2015, around the time Pollard was let out of prison on parole, the assistant secretary of defense at the time of Pollard’s capture, Lawrence Korb, penned a piece in Foreign Policy titled “Let my Pollard go!” In it he argued that the claims that Pollard inflicted severe harm to US national security were “exaggerated” and have been routinely contradicted by more senior former government officials, including former vice president Dan Quayle, former deputy attorney-general Philip B. Heymann, former White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum, former US deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams, former US secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz and Sen. John McCain.
R. James Woolsey, a former director of the CIA and undersecretary of the navy, more than hinted in a July 2012 oped in The Wall Street Journal that Pollard’s heavy sentence was motivated by antisemitism. If Pollard had spied for a friendly US ally like Greece, South Korea, or the Philippines, Woolsey asked, would he have received such a harsh sentence? In comparison, Woolsey noted that the US has caught several spies from enemy countries and has given them much shorter sentences.
Obama has spent the last days of his presidency showing compassion to individuals he felt should no longer be forced to remain in prison or live under restrictive conditions. We are not asking that the outgoing US president pardon Pollard. He committed crimes against the US. However, Pollard has suffered long enough. He has paid his price to society. His sentence should be commuted so that Pollard can spend the last days of his life a free man without restrictions. Previous US presidents missed the opportunity to commute Pollard’s sentence.
Perhaps they felt Pollard had not served long enough.
But after 30 years in prison and more than a year on parole under draconian restrictions – one of which is a curfew that denies him the right to attend a synagogue – the time has come.