This week, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism once again called for the release of Jonathan Jay Pollard from federal prison. It issued the statement following news reports that President Barack Obama had considered freeing the former civilian defense analyst who pleaded guilty to one count of espionage, only to be talked out of doing so by Vice President Joe Biden, who reportedly said he would see Pollard released “over my dead body.”
It is not the first time a Democratic president has been talked out of ending Pollard’s incarceration. President Bill Clinton reportedly was prepared to free Pollard in late 1998, as an incentive to win concessions from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the Wye River Conference.
A public comment by Clinton that he was considering the release brought a storm of protest. The director of central intelligence at the time, George Tenet, threatened to resign if Pollard was let go. Howls of protest also came from Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Melvin Laird, Caspar “Cap” Weinberger, James Schlesinger, and Elliot Richardson – all former defense secretaries (and in one case, a once-and-future one). Clinton was forced to back off.
You would think that Pollard was a longtime master spy for an enemy bent on this country’s destruction. Cap Weinberger, who helmed the Defense Department when Pollard was actively engaged in spying, made just such a claim. In a “victim’s memorandum” to the federal judge in the case, most of which remains classified, he insisted that the information Pollard stole made its way to the Soviet Union and that Pollard was guilty of treason. If ever there was evidence of such a thing, it was never publicly shared. In any case, it since has been proved to be false.
Pollard was not spying for an enemy. He was spying for an ally: Israel.
That does not excuse his crime – and an inexcusable crime it was, make no mistake – but it does raise questions about why he received so harsh a sentence and why so many important people seem so intent on keeping him behind bars. Pollard, you see, was sentenced to life in prison based on Weinberger’s secret memorandum.
Then as now, such a sentence was unheard of for someone guilty of spying for an ally. The average sentence until then and since then for such a crime is seven years. Pollard has been in prison for more than 25 years. The sentencing judge acknowledged it was Weinberger’s memo that convinced him to hand down so harsh a sentence. No one has yet said what it is that keeps that sentence in place.
“In the midst of the Days of Awe, as we ponder the wrongdoings we have committed and pray for God’s mercy,” said the Reform statement, “we prayâ€¦that President Obama will act with mercy and grant Mr. Pollard long-overdue clemency.”
We second that prayer. It is time to let Jonathan Pollard go free.