Congressmen Gary Ackerman of New York and Barney Frank of Massachusetts recently wrote to President Obama and asked that he commute Jonathan Pollard’s sentence to time served.
Congressman Ackerman is the most recent Democrat to serve as Vice Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and is a member of the House Financial Services Committee. Ackerman is also the Ranking Member and the most recent Democrat to Chair the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. The subcommittee, which is a key panel of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has jurisdiction over U.S. policy towards countries in the Middle East and South Asia, including Israel and Iran.
Congressman Frank served as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee from 2007 to 2011, where he remains the ranking Democrat. In November 2010, Frank spearheaded a letter to President Obama that was signed by 39 members of Congress, which asked the President to commute Jonathan Pollard’s sentence.
In their letter to the President, Ackerman and Frank cited the disproportionate sentence that Pollard received as a primary reason for clemency. Jonathan Pollard has spent more than 26 years of an unprecedented life sentence languishing in a federal prison for passing classified information to Israel, an ally of the United States. The median sentence for this offense is 2 to 4 years. No one else in the history of the United States has ever received a life sentence for this offense.
“[T]here is a great disparity between the amount of time that Mr. Pollard has served and the time that has been served by many others who were found guilty of similar activity on behalf of nations that, like Israel, are our allies,» Ackerman and Frank wrote in their letter to the President. “Mr. Pollard has been incarcerated now for over twenty six years, and from our perspective this stands as a sufficient time from the standpoint of either punishment or deterrence.»
Congressmen Ackerman and Frank also noted that commuting Pollard’s sentence would go a long way in demonstrating to Israel that the bond between the United States and Israel is powerful and unwavering. In addition to President Peres and Prime Minister Netanyahu stressing the grave danger that a nuclear Iran poses to Israel and the United States when they recently met with President Obama, the Israeli leaders also asked the President to release Pollard
“We further believe that at a time when Israel, our democratic ally, is being faced with a range of difficult decisions, a decision by you to commute Mr. Pollard’s sentence would not only be a humane act, but would also be taken in Israel as a further affirmation of the strong commitment the U.S. has to the ties between us, and we believe that such an affirmation could be especially useful at a time when those decisions are being made,» wrote Ackerman and Frank.
In January 2011, Prime Minister Netanyahu became the first Israeli prime minister to formally and publicly request the release of Jonathan Pollard when he sent an official letter to President Obama calling on him to free Pollard. In addition, in April 2011, President Peres hand-delivered a personal letter from Jonathan Pollard to President Obama, in which Pollard pleaded with the President to release him. To date, there has been no response to either request from the White House.
Congressmen Ackerman and Frank’s letter to President Obama comes in the wake of numerous calls for clemency for Pollard from prominent government officials, high-ranking individuals in the national intelligence arena, leading professionals in the legal world, and renowned religious and communal leaders.
The major decision makers who were intimately involved in the Pollard case and who were most informed on the impact of Pollard’s actions have issued public calls for Pollard’s release, including former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Senator David Durenberger, who served as Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence at the time of Pollard’s conviction, former Congressman Lee Hamilton, who served as Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee at the time of Jonathan Pollard’s sentencing, former Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb, and former National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane, who served under President Ronald Reagan at the time when Pollard was investigated and ultimately charged with disclosing classified information to an ally without intent to harm the United States.
In addition, former CIA Director James Woolsey and former Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Senator Dennis DeConcini, each of whom reviewed the classified intelligence reports about the Pollard case, have publically called for Pollard’s release.
Former White House Counsel Bernard Nussbaum and former Deputy Attorney General and Harvard Law Professor Philip Heymann, each of whom is fully aware of all of the contents of Pollard’s classified file and with the facts and circumstances of this case, have long been on record calling for Pollard’s release.
In addition, some of the other prominent American leaders who have called for clemency for Pollard include former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Vice President Dan Quayle, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Republican Senator John McCain, and Democratic Senator Charles Schumer.
Further, a bi-partisan group of eighteen prominent former United States Senators, including four of whom are former Chairmen of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and one of whom is a former U.S. Attorney and well-known federal prosecutor, recently called on President Obama to commute Pollard’s sentence.
Pollard has repeatedly expressed his remorse publicly and in private in letters to many Presidents and others. His health has deteriorated significantly during his more than two-and-a-half decades in prison.
Despite the fact that Pollard entered into a plea agreement and fully cooperated with the prosecution in his case, he nonetheless received a life sentence and a recommendation that he never be paroled, which was in complete violation of the plea agreement he had reached with the government.