Nine scholars give 10 reasons for Jonathan Pollard’s release

A Hebrew sign in Israel reading “We want Pollard at home,” referring to jailed spy Jonathan Pollard. Credit: Tamar Hayardeni via Wikimedia Commons.
A Hebrew sign in Israel reading “We want Pollard at home,” referring to jailed spy Jonathan Pollard. Credit: Tamar Hayardeni via Wikimedia Commons.

By Dmitriy Shapiro/ Jewish Week

With a little more than a year until convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard is eligible for parole, a group of nine prominent legal scholars has sent a letter to President Barack Obama arguing for Pollard’s early release.

The group of scholars and professors at top universities—led by Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz and Irwin Cotler, a former Canadian justice minister—sent the letter on June 20, outlining 10 reasons for why they believe the president should release Pollard, a former U.S. intelligence analyst who in 1987 was given a life sentence in American prison for selling classified information to Israel.

The letter calls for the commutation of Jonathan Pollard’s sentence to time served.

“Commutation is more than warranted if the ends of justice are to be served, the rule of law respected and simple humanity secured,” write the scholars, who gave both legal and humanitarian arguments on why Pollard’s punishment is unjust.

“The sentence is immorally excessive,” Dershowitz told in subsequent phone interview.

Pollard had pled guilty to espionage in a bargain with the prosecution in order to avoid receiving a life sentence. But U.S. District Court Judge Aubrey Robinson sentenced him to life anyway after being presented with a “damage-assessment memorandum” by then Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger.

Pollard’s sentence “is a violation of a plea bargain,” Dershowitz said, adding that “it’s important that the president know the facts, or that whoever is giving the recommendation knows the facts. So we wrote it basically as a mini-legal brief, and moral brief, so that the president or his surrogates can know the 10 reasons—basically why legality, morality and just ordinary decency requires that he be released immediately.”

Shortly after the letter was delivered to Obama, outgoing Israeli President Shimon Peres, on a visit to the White House, presented the president with what he later called an “offer” regarding Pollard. Obama said he would direct the U.S. attorney general to study Pollard’s case.

Dershowitz said the public has been misled that that Pollard committed treason, which is punishable by a life sentence or the death penalty under U.S. law. According to Dershowitz, aiding a U.S. ally, as Pollard did, does not carry a life sentence—and in cases where spies from other nations have been caught and tried by the U.S., the maximum sentence has been six to eight years, of which actual jail time averages between two and four years.

Dershowitz also pointed to the misinformation provided by the government and high-ranking intelligence officials, many of them Jewish, to scapegoat Pollard.

“Secretary Weinberger, who hated Israel with a passion largely because of his own Jewish heritage which he was embarrassed about and despised, allowed personal vendetta to get in the way and he committed perjury in his affidavit,” said Dershowitz.

Another high-level official who called for Pollard to receive a life sentence was Admiral Sumner Shapiro, then director of the Office of Naval Intelligence.

Attempts by Pollard supporters and Israeli government officials to ask for presidential clemency, dating back to the presidency of Bill Clinton, have so far failed due to opposition from U.S. officials. Dershowitz said that Jews in high-ranking government positions have long been sensitive to accusations of having dual loyalty to the U.S. and Israel. This has caused Jewish officials to lean “over backwards to try to prove their patriotism,” he said.

Other arguments against Pollard’s release include accusations that he sold secrets to apartheid-era South Africa. Dershowitz called that a “false and racist” charge intended to sway the trial judge, who was African American.

At the time of Pollard’s sentencing in 1987, federal law required parole eligibility for those serving life sentences after 30 years, with good behavior. Now 59, Pollard is eligible for parole on Nov. 21, 2015. But Pollard’s release is not guaranteed, Dershowitz said.

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