This week Morris Pollard, Jonathan’s father passed away without the chance of seeing his son. And Jonathan, a prisoner in a federal penitentiary, was not allowed even to attend the funeral. My condolences to Jonathan and to the Pollard family.Beyond their prisoner status what do Gilad and Jonathan have in common? Certainly not the nature of their crimes since Gilad’s “crime” was that he happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, while Pollard chose both place and time. Nor are their jailors similar since Hamas is a terror organization failing as a governing body, while the United States is a stable democracy that prides itself in protecting the rights and lives of its citizens. Yet the two do share much in their status as prisoners, although as regards Pollard this is obscured by the “smoke and mirrors” of his crime, and the nature of his jailors.
America’s image is as a country of laws, and with a mission to spread democracy throughout the world. Declarations by President Bush regarding regime change in Iraq as justified in providing a “democracy” for that country’s suffering inhabitants; President Obama demanding the overthrow of despots previously American allies facing street protests provides yet further evidence of the seriousness with which the superpower takes its self-assigned mission.
So how do you compare the treatment and manipulation of Gilad, an innocent, with Jonathan, a criminal serving what is by many considered a just punishment? And even if Jonathan’s sentence was not justified, indeed pre-ordained, how demonstrate this?
To set the stage: The early to mid-1980’s not only represented a breakdown of the administration’s ability to maintain security in its intelligence services, resulting in the year of the spy, it was also a period during which Irangate was in process. Irangate was a criminal enterprise conducted by the Reagan Administration involving the sale of arms to Iran and gifting the same to right-wing terrorists in Nicaragua. The administration covered it up by enlisting Israel as the arms supplier, and the Saudis to bankroll and launder monies involved in the transactions. Irangate was coincidentally beginning to unravel just as Pollard’s espionage activities were being exposed. His arrest at the end of 1985 immediately predated the appearance of Irangate in the media.
But why the Pollards when the Walker family had been providing America’s principal enemy, the Soviet Union, with naval codes, code machines and classified documents for nearly twenty years? Had the US and USSR gone to war the results of the Walker treason (the act of, “levying war against [the US], or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort”) would have been catastrophic to America.
Then there was Larry Wu Tai Chin, Communist China’s man in Washington. Chin had been supplying the PRC massive amounts of materials for nearly 30 years. For example, he supplied the them Nixon’s secret diplomatic goals before the president’s trip to China (those documents were then shared with China’s North Vietnamese allies who just happened to be at war with the US at the time).
So how explain that a spy for Israel, charged with, “one count of passing classified information to an ally without intent to harm the United States;” why were the Pollards transformed into the poster children of deception, perfidy and treason for the Year of the Spy, and for decades thereafter?
American-Jewry, ever fearful of the charge of “dual loyalty,” could be counted on to react loudly and defensively, to provide an excited and continuing stream of newsprint. A survey by the World Jewish Congress done in 1998 concluded that, “the Pollard case seemed to be their [American Jews] worst nightmare come true.” And Israel had already been demonized in the press by administration officials anxious to shift blame for the Irangate fiasco onto the state of the Jews (Bush officials made the same effort two decades later when the Iraq misadventure began turning south). Embarrassed by the charge President Reagan publicly apologized to Israel in 1987 for the lies and manipulations. Another event that had placed Israel in administration cross-hairs was the attack on the Osirak reactor, center for Iraq’s nuclear weapons program.
Between an Israel already demonized, and an American Jewish community always fearful of “dual-loyalty,” a Pollard Affair would serve administration purposes well.
But the defense secretary had more ambitious plans.
Yisrael Medad, with whom I collaborated on behalf of Pollard in early 1990, responded to a recent blog, by Jerusalem Post blogger Michael Omer-Man that continued the fallacy that Pollard was responsible for his life sentence by inviting Wolf Blitzer to prison for an interview. Yisrael’s response, “You write that ‘the Blitzer interview is most likely the reason why the government decided to seek the maximum penalty’. Ask yourself: why did the USGov permit the interview to take place?”
Once we recognize Pollard’s situation, a high profile prisoner purported to possess secrets endangering American security locked away in a high security federal prison, is it not obvious that Pollard is not “free” to “invite” a correspondent into prison for an interview. Any visitor would have to go through layer upon layer of intelligence clearances, just for starters. And Blitzer, to add incredulity to an already incredible event, was working for an Israeli newspaper, the Jerusalem Post. An Israeli spy allowed to speak to an Israeli correspondent? Nobody below the White House would think to assume the authority to permit such a visit.
The obvious question and its obvious answer is that the Israeli journalist was allowed into the high security prison, complete with tape recorders and cameras, for the precise reason Yisrael suggests. And cream for the coffee: Blitzer was not only provided access to the prisoner once, but a second time one month later! Early into his book, Territory of Lies, Blitzer himself raised the uneasy question of his having been used as a patsy in a government scheme to establish grounds in order to justify the government’s already decided life sentence.
Weinberger’s last minute arrival at the judge’s chambers, his “top secret memorandum” in hand was only the final gloss and “legal” cover for the sentence. In that document and many times in interviews since, he described Pollard’s espionage as “treason,” a charge that he, a lawyer, and the judge as well, would have known does not apply in peacetime and involving an ally.
Fifteen years later Weinberger would insist that the Pollard Affair was but a tempest in a teapot, “a very minor matter… it was made far bigger than its actual importance." Pressed as to why the case was made “far bigger than its actual importance,” Weinberger, in apparent irritation replied, "I don''t know why-it just was!”
According to Lawrence Korb, US Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Reagan Administration: "Based on the knowledge that I have firsthand, I can confidently say that the punishment was so severe because of lack of sympathy for Israel (in other words, it never was about Pollard!) by the U.S. Secretary of Defense at the time, my boss, Caspar Weinberger.” A harsh judgment by a close aide and confidante; but even this indictment does not go far enough.
Weinberger’s ambition, I argue, was not just to provide cover for administration crimes and misdemeanors; nor was it just that he was always sensitive regarding his Jewish name (he was an Episcopalian from a Jewish grandfather); nor even just to put Israel on the defensive in service to his immediate purpose of shifting US policy towards the Saudis: Weinberger wanted Pollard behind bars indefinitely in order to provide the Arabists within the US government bureaucracy a continuing tool with which to assert pressure on Israel. Pollard represents a constant irritant between the United States and Israel.
And this, I conclude, is the reason for Pollard’s otherwise legally unjustifiable sentence, his reason for continuing in prison now 26 years and counting. If the term “Prisoner of Zion” means a government exploiting a Jew for its own purposes, then Pollard surely qualifies.
And Israel, the true target of the Pollard Affair; not even Israeli leaders seem to fully appreciate the underlying nature of Pollard-as-hostage.