Simple justice demands the release of Pollard

Pollard received his life sentence without benefit of trial, as the result of a plea agreement which he honored and the government abrogated.

Esther Pollard with poster 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Esther Pollard with poster 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In a startling public disclosure before he died, former US secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger, the man who drove Jonathan Pollard’s life sentence, admitted in a 2002 interview that the Pollard case was “a minor matter” which had been blown out of all proportion to serve another agenda.
This came as no surprise to those of us who have first-hand knowledge of the Pollard case. Weinberger was known to be driven by his deeply-held animus toward the State of Israel. His extreme bias against Israel was manifested in recurrent episodes of strong criticism and unbalanced reasoning when decisions involving Israel were being made. It is widely recognized that Weinberger’s interference in the judicial process netted Pollard a life sentence.
Jonathan Pollard was arrested in 1985 and convicted in 1987 of espionage on behalf of an American ally, Israel.
Pollard’s conviction was justified, but his sentence was entirely out of line with others engaging in similar behavior. The usual sentence for this offense is no more than six or eight years, with actual jail time before release averaging two to four years or less.
Pollard is serving his 27th year of an unprecedented life sentence.
Pollard received his life sentence without benefit of trial, as the result of a plea agreement which he honored and the government abrogated.
Pollard’s life sentence was driven in a less-than-legitimate manner by a last-minute affidavit submitted to the sentencing judge by Weinberger that painted a dire picture of the damage that Pollard was alleged to have caused to US national security. There is no evidence that Pollard intended to harm the United States or help its enemies.
Because of a gross deficiency on the part of his attorney, who neglected to file a notice of intent to appeal following his sentencing hearing, Pollard has been forever deprived of his right to a direct appeal against his life sentence. The only appeals he was able to bring were collateral, and were dismissed on technicality, not substance.
For those of us who served in senior government positions at the time of Pollard’s arrest and conviction, who have intimate knowledge of the Pollard case and are now calling for his release, it is clear that Pollard no longer poses any security threat with the information he obtained nearly 30 years ago.
We believe that deterrence has been achieved and the requisite level of remorse has been expressed.
We understand that Pollard’s commutation is strongly supported in Israel, in the US and around the world, since it is clear that his punishment was much worse than that of anyone else who has committed a similar crime. Pollard is the only person in the history of the United States who ever received a life sentence for spying on behalf of an ally.
We believe that commuting Pollard’s sentence to time served is the right and compassionate thing to do.
We believe that his continued incarceration constitutes a travesty of justice and a stain on the American system of justice.
Incredibly, there are still some with dubious agendas who oppose Pollard’s release. They lobby against Pollard on the basis of long-discredited canards such as the charge that Pollard spied or attempted to spy for countries other than Israel; or on the basis of non-relevant hearsay which posits that if released, Pollard will be regarded as a hero or martyr.
A case in point is the article by Martin Peretz published this week by The Wall Street Journal. Peretz falsely accuses Pollard of offering classified information to other countries, such as Pakistan. This assertion is categorically false. Pollard was never accused, indicted or convicted of spying for any country other than Israel and the documented record bears this out.
Interestingly, Peretz never mentions the gross disproportionality of Pollard’s sentence; the strong support by credible Senior American officials who have seen the full classified file; or the way that support for Pollard’s release as a matter of simple justice cuts across all party lines, religious lines and political affiliations in Israel, in the US and around the world.
Instead, Peretz speciously claims that supporters of Pollard present him as a martyr and this, he claims, is justification for keeping Pollard in prison for the rest of his life.
Peretz claims that the importance of Pollard’s release to the people of Israel, a strong US ally, is negligible. He then contradicts himself when he accuses officials who support the release of Jonathan Pollard of “sensing the public wind” and capitalizing on the Pollard issue by jumping aboard the bandwagon.
The truth is, in recent months many of my colleagues, senior American officials as well as high ranking legal officials and elected representatives, have appealed to President Barack Obama for executive clemency for Jonathan Pollard.
Among them are cabinet officers, experienced jurists and officials serving at the time of Pollard’s arrest who were intimately involved in reviewing the evidence. Some of the names include: former secretary of state George Shultz, former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, former White House legal counsel Bernard Nussbaum, former attorney-general Michael Mukasey, former deputy attorney-general Phillip Heymann, former Senate Intelligence chairman Dennis DeConcini, former national security adviser Robert C. McFarlane, former CIA director James Woolsey; and many more.
They have testified and stated formally in writing their strong views that the original sentence Pollard received was far too severe. We agree.
All of the appeals to President Obama have requested clemency as a matter of simple justice because Pollard’s sentence is grossly disproportionate when compared with others who committed similar offenses. Indeed it is far harsher than sentences received by many of those who committed far more serious offenses by spying for enemy states. Israel is not an enemy of the US.
The fact that Pollard’s health is failing adds urgency to our requests for clemency. After 27 years in prison in some of the harshest conditions, Pollard’s health has severely deteriorated.
All of Pollard’s legal remedies have been exhausted. Most recently, an attempt by Pollard’s pro bono lawyers, Eliot Lauer and Jacques Semmelman, to have his life sentence vacated was ruled barred by the statute of limitations.
The numerous appeals to President Obama for executive clemency for Jonathan Pollard are all still pending. They are Pollard’s last hope of resolving a 27-year-long injustice which now threatens to end his life in prison.
It is precisely for cases like this, where the justice system has failed and cannot or will not provide relief, that the American Constitution confers upon the president virtually unlimited powers of executive clemency. Moreover, it is in cases like this that a moral imperative compelling intervention on the part of the president exists, now that all other avenues of relief via the American justice system have been exhausted.
President Obama has the exclusive power to commute Jonathan Pollard’s life sentence to the nearly 27 years he has already served.
It is not merely the president’s prerogative to eliminate this longstanding stain on the US justice system. We believe that it is his solemn duty.
The writer served as US assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan administration. He is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.