From Schalit to Pollard

Jonathan Pollard is not just an interest for the Jewish community; meeting with Joe Biden should include non-Jewish leaders.

Pollard protest 311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Pollard protest 311
(photo credit: Reuters)
Although one might question the wisdom of the Gilad Schalit exchange for over 1,000 Arab terrorists, no one should question the value Israel puts on the lives of its citizens. Despite the terrible price Israel has paid to terrorism and war, and despite previous hostage trades with those seeking to destroy the country, Israel’s resolve to pay an extraordinary price to bring one soldier home is testimony to the value Israelis put on human life.
Now that the campaign for Gilad Schalit is over, Israelis and friends of Israel should redirect that focus to winning the release of Jonathan Pollard. It is a propitious time, with the upcoming meeting with a high level elected US administration official on Pollard, the first to occur since his arrest 26 years ago. That meeting is with Vice President Joe Biden, the very person who claims that he is blocking Pollard’s release.
Four years ago, Vice President Biden publicly came out for the commutation of Jonathan Pollard’s sentence to time served; now, astonishingly, he has reversed this position. It is of particular shock to all of us who have reviewed Pollard’s case and agree that an injustice has been done. In response to the uproar concerning this about-face, Biden has agreed to a meeting of Jewish leaders to discuss the case. Because this is a pivotal meeting that very well could lead to Pollard’s release, it is imperative that we are clear in articulating that an injustice occurred, and, no less, that it Pollard’s release is a necessary move in America’s interest.
On June 27, 2011, I wrote President Obama asking for the commutation for Pollard’s sentence to time served. I did so after having met with Pollard, having reviewed his case and having full knowledge of his letter of remorse. It is well documented that the average sentence for a similar crime is 2-4 years. Pollard is now in his 26th year of incarceration! This is simply wrong, and no longer just. Former attorney-general Michael Mukasey made it quite clear when he asserted that no-one questions that Pollard had no intention to harm the United States by his actions.
Furthermore, this is not merely a matter of correcting an unjust sentence; rather the Pollard case harms the integrity of the United States Justice Department.
Commuting Pollard’s sentence to time served is consistent with the recommendation of his prosecutors, an opinion contained in the plea bargain they signed with Pollard. It is truly astonishing, and it raises severe ethical and moral questions, why these same prosecutors, Joseph DiGenova and John L. Martin, now advocate that Pollard serve a life sentence when they themselves, with full knowledge of the case, had agreed in writing to not seek a life sentence. What further raises questions is the fact that they sent two affidavits from former secretary of defense Casper Weinberger to the sentencing judge that clearly argued for a stronger sentence then what the prosecutors requested. This, it must be understood, was the impetus in obtaining a life sentence despite the government’s explicit promise to not to seek such a sentence. And yet the government argued on Pollard’s appeal that they had not violated their plea bargain. Now, by advocating a life sentence, they have exposed themselves as intentionally violating the plea bargain and, in turn, they have severely harmed the integrity of the Justice Department to whom they had a sworn oath to uphold.
While the integrity of the Justice Department and lawyers' ethics are important issues, the Pollard case raises even more serious issues of national security, matters that have now been damaged by the actions of DiGenova, Martin and others.
Recently, Pakistan arrested a Pakistani citizen, Dr. Shakeel Afridi, who helped US intelligence track down Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad. A Pakistani commission has recommended bringing charges of high treason against Dr. Afridi. CNN National Security Analyst Peter Bergen commented that due to the severity of the Pollard sentence, other countries feel that they can treat those who help allies of their countries, in this case the US, with equal severity.
Clearly, such an action by Pakistan will hurt US efforts in recruiting citizens of foreign countries in our efforts to go pursue other al- Qaeda leaders, something that will consequently and undeniably jeopardize US national security. Actions have consequences and it behooves us to understand the connection.
Prime Minister Netanyahu is the only Israeli prime minister who has visited Jonathan Pollard and has publicly written a letter to the president of the United States requesting his release. Netanyahu also publicly apologized for Israel’s actions with Pollard and stated that Israel would not and has not taken any similar action since. With the upcoming meeting with Biden, a person who had a strong record of friendship with Israel as a senator and as a former supporter of Pollard’s release, it is critical that the government of Israel bolster the efforts of those attending the meeting by further pressing on the Pollard case at this time. At the same time, the meeting with Biden should also include non-Jewish leaders, as the meeting is very important to America’s interests and the case of Jonathan Pollard is not just an interest for the Jewish community.
Yes, Vice President Biden was right four years ago. And because he recently stated that he is the main one blocking Pollard’s release, he therefore needs to reevaluate his new position and instead join former secretaries of state Shultz and Kissinger, former attorney general Mukasey, former CIA director James Woolsey, former head of Senate intelligence DeConcini, former assistant secretary of defense Lawrence Korb, Arizona Senator John McCain and other prominent Americans from both parties, in support of Pollard’s release. From his own words, if he were to do so then Pollard would be released.
It is certainly the just thing to do.
The writer is a former congressman from Arizona.