Kenneth Lasson - Baltimore Jewish Times - February 27, 2009
The worldwide Jewish community waits, at varying degrees anxious and rueful,
to see how President Obama will treat Israel.
Anxious, because no one knows what audacious aspirations he can
realistically harbor for a Mideast foreign policy that has been challenged
by intractable hatreds and hopes for more than half a century. Rueful,
because a lot of us felt that George W. Bush, while a bad president for
America, was a good one for the Jewish state.
Not so fast. Even for many of those inclined toward the latter view, Mr.
Bush turned out to be a great disappointment in handling the needlessly
festering case of the imprisoned Jonathan J. Pollard.
In his two terms, fervent appeals were made quietly to the president - from
people as diverse as U.S. senators and members of the Knesset, American law
professors and the chief rabbi of Israel, and thousands of common citizens
worldwide. To many of them, Mr. Bush appeared to be receptive and
respectful, and he promised a thoughtful response. A petition for clemency
was on his desk the day he left office. He did nothing.
Is there any chance that Mr. Obama will be any more enlightened, honest and
The plight of the former U.S. naval intelligence analyst, convicted in 1985
of passing classified information to Israel and sentenced to life in prison,
is a sorry stain on the moral fabric of two great countries. Pollard has
been used and abused by both America and Israel - treated unjustly by our
generally fair-minded system of justice, and forsaken by a Jewish state
founded on humanitarian values and ennobled by the single-minded pursuit of
its enemies and the redemptions of those held captive for its sake.
Why is Jonathan Pollard still in prison?
Never mind the legal arguments - that he was convicted on trumped-up
evidence that he's never had the chance to challenge, that the U.S. Justice
Department violated an honest plea agreement and that his life sentence is
grossly disproportionate to any other punishment of similar offenders. The
hard facts remain that he was never charged with treason, never caused
Americans any great harm, and has suffered mightily for the confessed sins
On the other hand, there is a good case to be made that Pollard is being
punished for a crime he did not commit - the one to which the convicted
traitor Aldrich Ames has openly confessed; nor was he ever charged with
treason. In fact, the "victim impact statement" offered by prosecutors did
not impute to him any damage to American interests or harm to intelligence
The life sentence handed out to Pollard for an offense that normally nets a
four-year term amounts to a gross miscarriage of justice. So does the fact
that the government of Israel abandoned one of its loyal agents,
Applying for parole is not an option for Pollard, because of a severe and
wholly unique impediment placed in his way by the Department of Justice: His
current attorneys - both of whom have been given top secret security
clearances - have never been permitted to see the documents submitted to the
judge before Pollard's sentencing in 1987. Without access to that file,
persons opposed to parole have free rein to say anything about Pollard they
wish, with no risk of being contradicted by the documents.
Thus, Mr. Obama should show clemency for clear, straight-forward reasons:
He'd be correcting a longstanding miscarriage of justice.
Pollard's life sentence - by far the harshest ever meted out for a similar
offense - continues to make "equal justice under law" seem like little more
than a palsied proverb. Of the dozens of Americans convicted of the same
crime, many more perfidious spies have received lesser or no punishment.
He'd be acting the way other countries have acted toward us.
Few know the mirror-image cases that make Pollard's plight all the more
sadly ironic: In the 1990s, Israel caught at least two Americans and one
Mossad agent spying for the U.S. The Americans were noiselessly expelled,
the Israeli pardoned.
He'd be making an important gesture of America's appreciation for Israel's
abiding friendship, acknowledging the Jewish state's willingness to accede
to much of our Middle East strategy.
In short, the president should act now to reflect the time-honored values of
fairness and decency to which the nation he leads has always aspired. Here's
a change he could implement without spending a penny - a moral stimulus
every bit as necessary as an economic one.
Jonathan Pollard has already served 24 years in prison.
Grant him clemency.
Kenneth Lasson, a law professor at the University of Baltimore.
JUSTICE FOR JONATHAN POLLARD