The American president and freedom for Jonathan Pollard

Executive clemency is not merely the president’s privilege, it's his solemn duty; US judicial process hijacked by a political agenda.

By ESTHER POLLARD
August 24, 2011 23:00
4 minute read.
Esther Pollard

Esther Pollard with poster 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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The extensive powers of clemency the American Constitution grants to the president are his solemn responsibility. This executive privilege is bestowed to enable the president to safeguard the rights of all American citizens.

In cases where the justice system has discharged its responsibility appropriately and the public good would be neither benefited nor harmed by the president’s intervention, it is entirely his prerogative whether or not to exercise executive clemency.

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But in a case like that of my husband Jonathan Pollard, where the judicial system has been subverted to prosecute one American citizen excessively and where all legal remedies have been exhausted, there is a moral imperative compelling presidential intervention.

Incredibly Obama has responded with prolonged, inscrutable silence to a virtual deluge of appeals entreating him to exercise executive clemency to free Jonathan.

Now completing his 26th year of a life sentence, it is manifestly clear that the judicial process was hijacked by a political agenda.

As JJ Goldberg revealed in a 1998 LA Jewish Journal essay, “Crime and Punishment,” “high-ranking sources say that it was the Joint Chiefs of Staff who urged the judge, through then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, to ignore the plea agreement and throw the book at Pollard.... They wanted to send a message.... Pollard is still in jail, these sources say, not because his crime merits his lengthy sentence – it doesn’t – but because too many American Jews still haven’t gotten the message.”

Weinberger himself – the man who drove Jonathan’s life sentence – admitted in a 2002 interview with journalist Edwin Black that the Pollard case had been blown out of all proportion. Asked why he had omitted any reference to Pollard in his memoirs, Weinberger replied that the Pollard case was “a very minor matter, but made very important.” Asked to elaborate, Weinberger repeated, “As I say, the Pollard matter was comparatively minor. It was made far bigger than its actual importance.”

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Jonathan is the only person in the history of the US ever to receive a life sentence for spying for an ally. This sentence has always been reserved for those who spy for America’s enemies. He received the life sentence without benefit of trial – the result of a broken plea bargain, which he honored and the US abrogated. By sentencing Jonathan as if he were an enemy spy, the American judicial system effected a de facto redefinition of Israel as an enemy, not an ally.

Every attempt to seek relief from Jonathan’s life sentence has been stymied. All legal remedies have been exhausted, without the merits of the case ever being heard in a court of law. Even the possibility of parole has been denied since the government placed an insurmountable obstacle in the path of his security-cleared attorneys, unjustly denying them access to the secret portions of their own client’s file. Without that access, those who oppose parole are free to fabricate reasons for keeping him in prison. The case has been appealed all the way up to the Supreme Court, which has refused to hear it.

Today, the only remedy that remains is executive clemency – the one area where the president’s power is absolute. Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution states: “[The President] shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States…” While the president may consult with the White House Legal Counsel or the Pardons Attorney, he is under no obligation to do so.

Prior to the Pollard case, no other clemency appeal in history has provided any president with such unprecedented, transparent, bipartisan support from senior American officials. Among those now calling for Jonathan’s release are a former director of the CIA, a former attorney-general and a former deputy attorney-general, a former deputy secretary of defense, a former vice president, a former White House legal counsel, two former secretaries of state, and former heads of the Senate Intelligence Committee, as well as sitting congressmen and senators from both sides of the aisle. In the face of such an overwhelming appeal, President Obama maintains a stony silence. Even requests for clemency by the prime minister and president of Israel have met with absolute silence.

Rather than embrace his responsibility for executive clemency, the president simply remains silent while his appointees are given free rein to make a mockery of justice by deflecting responsibility back to the very system that failed in the first place.

To avoid having to respond to public inquiry, they claim they cannot comment because the issue is before the American justice system. The system that subverted justice 26 years ago is now being referenced as if it were about to spontaneously correct the injustice it has perpetrated.

The numerous appeals to President Obama now pending, requesting executive clemency for Jonathan Pollard, are my husband's last hope of resolving a 26-year-long injustice which now threatens to end his life in prison.

The sublimely moral task of saving Jonathan’s life, while at the same time safeguarding the American public by correcting this injustice, sits squarely with the president of the United States, Mr. Barack Obama.

Executive clemency is not merely the president’s privilege. It is his solemn duty.

The writer is the wife of Jonathan Pollard.

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