After 22 years, it's only right to free Jonathan Pollard
President Bush's visit to Israel this week, like all top-level US-Israel summits since the end of the first Gulf War, raises hopes that the United States will finally put an end to Jonathan Pollard's imprisonment.
"When can we stop punishing a man who broke the law to expose a massive, malignant and malicious arms buildup so that a beleaguered people could defend themselves from weapons of terror and mass destruction?" That is how Ted Olson, Mr. Bush's solicitor general between 2001 and 2004, summed up the Pollard affair nearly 14 years ago when he was Jonathan's counsel.
Jonathan, a former civilian naval intelligence officer, is now in the 23rd year of a life sentence for passing to Israel classified data about the weapons systems and capabilities of Iraq, Syria and other Arab states, including evidence of Iraq's development of chemical weapons. Just a few years before Jonathan's arrest in November of 1985, the US routinely shared such information with Israel. Ironically, this vital intelligence flow was severely curtailed following Israel's destruction of Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981.
OVER THE years, prominent Americans from across the political spectrum have decried the US government's conduct in the Pollard case.
In June of 1992, Pat Robertson, speaking of the Pollard case, declared: "Every time there is a miscarriage of justice in our system, it will eat like a cancer at the credibility of the rest of the system of justice we love in this country." Similarly, in a 1993 letter to President Clinton about the Pollard affair, Benjamin Hooks wrote, "As a lawyer and a minister, as well as a former judge and CEO of the NAACP, I have rarely encountered a case in which government arbitrariness was so clear-cut and inexcusable."
Jonathan has long ceased to be incarcerated for what he was charged with, conspiracy to disclose classified information to Israel with intent that it would be used to Israel's advantage. Jonathan was never accused of intending to, or even of having reason to believe that the information he transmitted to Israel could cause injury to America. Indeed, 22 years after Jonathan's arrest, no evidence has ever been presented of any damage caused to America by his actions, or any consequence that would even begin to justify his life sentence or his continued imprisonment.
Last year, former CIA director James Woolsey added his voice to those calling for Jonathan's release.
Even Caspar Weinberger, who delivered a scathing memorandum to the sentencing judge in the Pollard case (46 pages of which remain inexplicably classified) essentially acknowledged in a 2002 interview that his unsubstantiated and highly speculative damage assessment of Jonathan's actions was long on vitriol, but very short on facts. When asked why the Pollard case was not even mentioned in his memoirs. Weinberger responded, "The Pollard matter was comparatively minor. It was made far bigger than its actual importance."
The bona fides of those who still champion the continuation of the very life sentence the government promised in writing not to even seek, raise serious concerns. It is highly questionable whether they are driven simply, if at all, by disdain for espionage against America.
SPIES AS a class do not endear themselves to federal prosecutors and judges, the intelligence community or the American public. And yet, of the more than 20 Americans caught spying for friendly or neutral countries, both before and after Jonathan's arrest, none received a sentence even remotely close to life, the average sentence being between two and four years. These included cases of spies for supposed US allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, who were receiving very generous American foreign aid or military protection at the time they were spying on the United States.
Most recently, Ronald Montaperto, a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst who admitted passing classified intelligence to the Chinese during a 14-year period, was sentenced to three months in prison.
And of the more than 60 spies for US adversaries (mostly from the former Soviet Union and her satellites) during the past quarter-century, many of whom caused massive and demonstrable harm to the United States, barely a handful received life terms.
CIA agent David Barnett, who sold the Soviets the names of 30 American agents, was given an 18-year sentence and paroled after 10 years. Michael Walker, for many years a key figure in the Walker family Soviet spy ring, was sentenced to 25 years and released after serving 15. William Kampiles, a CIA officer who sold the Soviets the operating manual to the KH-11 satellite, America's eye in the sky, received a 40-year sentence and was released after 18 years.
Abdul Kedar Helmy, an Egyptian-born American, transmitted classified materials to Egypt that were used in a joint weapons program with Iraq to vastly increase the range of ballistic missiles, including Iraq's Scud missiles, which were later fired on US troops during Desert Storm. Helmy received a prison term of less than four years. John Paul Lindh, an American who joined the Taliban terrorists fighting the United States, received a 21-year sentence.
THUS THE message of those still opposed to Jonathan's release, even after 22 years in prison, is that we can wink at espionage on behalf of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and China. And we can limit the punishments of those who expose American agents, compromise America's most sophisticated electronic intelligence capabilities, advance the development of enemy weapons systems, and even fight alongside enemy combatants. But transmitting data about Arab states to Israel, America's closest ally in the Middle East, in order to warn her of existential threats is unforgivable. There is no honor in such pseudo-patriotism.
Whatever angry message those still opposed to Jonathan's release may want to send to Israel (putting aside the fact that America has spied on Israel before and after Jonathan's arrest) has already been more than amply delivered. And whatever harsh warning is being directed at supporters of Israel in the US government is being carried to a reprehensible extreme.
Indeed, given that Jonathan constitutes 100 percent of all Americans who have spied for Israel, but far less than 1% of all Americans convicted of espionage in the past 50 years, the very notion that such a warning is required, let alone appropriate, is shameful.
In 1994, Ted Olson wrote, "It might take some courage from President Clinton to do the right thing, but Pollard has been punished enough."
While President Bush has never shied away from doing what he thought was right, the passage of 14 more years has lessened opposition to Jonathan's long delayed release, even as it has made the inequities of his continued imprisonment ever more glaring.
Mr. President, please do the right thing and commute Jonathan's sentence to the 22 years already served.