Prevent a death sentence, release Pollard

Jonathan Pollard was sentenced to life imprisonment but if he isn’t given parole soon it may become a death sentence. The time has come for the US government to temper its justice with mercy and release him.

Jonathan Pollard 311 (R) (photo credit: Courtesy of Justice for Jonathan Pollard)
Jonathan Pollard 311 (R)
(photo credit: Courtesy of Justice for Jonathan Pollard)
Jonathan Pollard was sentenced to life imprisonment but if he isn’t given parole soon it may become a death sentence.
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Pollard and the Israeli government were caught with their hands in the proverbial till. Pollard stole military secrets from the US Navy and handed them over to Israel’s Defense Ministry. Both parties were aware that what they were doing was illegal and deceitful and the fact that Pollard was cooperating with "Popski's Private Army" - a unit run by the Defense Ministry that is not part of the official Israeli intelligence community - does not diminish the culpability.
That being said, there are mitigating factors that the US should now be taking into consideration. Jonathan Pollard has already been in prison for twenty six years in some of the harshest prisons in the US penal system. He pleaded guilty at his trial thus saving the US Government the need to conduct a trial. The Israeli government admitted responsibility - a highly unusual move when espionage is concerned. Israel gave back the intelligence material to the US - in effect providing the US Government with the evidence it needed against Pollard.
Needless to say, cooperation of this kind that assists in convicting one's own agent goes against the basic instincts of intelligence agencies; not least of all because it can cause demoralization among agents who may be risking their lives in enemy territory. Cooperation took place in the Pollard case because it involved the United States and because there was an understanding that it would be reflected in a lenient sentence.
Pollard arrived at a plea bargaining agreement with US prosecution and subsequently cooperated fully with the US authorities. But apparently, the US Court was not informed of this cooperation and did not accept the plea bargain or its stipulation that the prosecution would not request a life sentence. The court imposed the harsh sentence of life imprisonment as a result of a still-classified memorandum to the Court from the then-US Defense Secretary, Caspar Weinberger.
The contents of the Weinberger memorandum were not disclosed to Pollard's lawyers. Stephen Williams, US circuit judge for the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, wrote in a dissenting opinion that he would have vacated the sentence "because the government's breach of the plea agreement was a fundamental miscarriage of justice requiring relief."
Note that Pollard was never charged with harming the US nor with the intention of harming the US. It should be emphasized that Pollard provided the information to Israel - an ally of the US - and not to an enemy state. No one else in US history has ever received a life sentence for passing classified information to an ally.
Israel, a country at war, has had its own cases of espionage but not one of those convicted has ever served a sentence as long as Pollard’s. Israel's "atomic" spy Mordechai Vanunu served eighteen years while Colonel Shimeon Levinson, the chief security officer of the Prime Minister's Office who sold the Soviet Union details of Israel's counter intelligence operations, served a sentence of twelve years.
Mercy is a characteristic that should be a part of every democratic society. The time has come, therefore, for the US Government to temper its justice with mercy and not allow Pollard's life sentence to transform into death by incarceration.
The writer is a professor of international law at the Hebrew University and is the former legal adviser to the Israel Foreign Ministry