Jonathan Pollard broke the law and deserved to be punished. But he has served long enough and should be freed.
It’s been more than 15 years since I first publicly advocated for Jonathan Pollard to be released from prison. I did so less than two years after I had completed my term as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. In reiterating that plea today, I find that a number of other high-ranking government officials have come to share my view.
The time is long overdue.
In the past 18 months I have been publicly joined in that view by many noteworthy veterans of government service – including the former head of the CIA James Woolsey, the former deputy attorney-general Philip Heymann, and the former White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum – all of whom have reviewed the classified information of the Pollard case.
A good deal of momentum in the push for clemency has come from people who dealt with the case from the highest positions of government, from the time Pollard was arrested on November 21, 1985. Then-secretary of state George Shultz has now publicly called for his release. The head of the Senate Intelligence Committee at the time, Sen. David Durenberger, recently sent a letter to the president that I co-signed with 16 other former senators advocating Pollard’s immediate release. The fact is that the classified information I reviewed nine years after Pollard’s arrest does not justify his continued confinement.
Federal prosecutors in the Pollard case sent the court a victim-impact statement which accurately reflected the extent of his crime. In summary, the statement said that Pollard gave Israel US information on the weaponry of the Arab countries and this information deprived the US of its bargaining leverage with Israel on intelligence sharing and assisted Israel in its balance of power with the Arab countries. The statement concluded that “In short, Mr. Pollard’s activities have adversely affected US relations with both its Middle East Arab allies and the government of Israel.” This statement is also consistent with the fact that Pollard was not charged with intending to harm the US.
I am encouraged by the recent meeting between Vice President Biden and Jewish leaders to discuss Pollard’s plight. This was the highest-level meeting ever held with an administration official concerning Pollard. It is obvious that across the Jewish community there is widespread support for Pollard’s release and this view is shared by major American figures from both sides of the political aisle.
The gross disparity between Pollard’s sentence and that given to others who passed classified information to allies is striking: the average sentence for the offense is two to four years. Pollard has just begun his 27th year in prison. Further, Pollard himself wrote a moving open letter to President Obama expressing remorse for his actions and requesting his release. President Shimon Peres handed the letter to the president.
Unfortunately in Washington, political considerations always come into play. There have been reports of opposition to clemency for Pollard from the intelligence and defense community. I have heard no rational basis for their opposition, nor has any been expressed publicly.
With a presidential election coming up in less than a year it is interesting to note that the Republican candidate for president three years ago and one of his main Republican rivals for the nomination – Sen. John McCain and Gov. Mike Huckabee – have both publicly called for clemency. But I do not believe this is, or should be, a political decision. Simply put, Pollard broke the law – no matter how you slice it or dice it, he was convicted. Period. However, 27 years is far more than a sufficient sentence for the offense he committed. The president should grant him clemency.
In January, 2011, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu read a public letter of apology in the Knesset to President Obama concerning Jonathan Pollard. In the letter, Netanyahu indicated that not only have Israel and Pollard expressed remorse but that Israel has not and will not engage in any similar action, and they have not. Prime Minister Netanyahu asked for Pollard’s release from prison. So far this request, that is supported by the Opposition in Israel as well, has gone unanswered. Former Prisoner of Zion Natan Sharansky has publicly stated that 26 years is more than enough for Pollard. President Obama should commute Jonathan Pollard’s sentence to time served.
The writer is a former U.S. senator from Arizona and former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.