NEW YORK (Dec. 27)
Advocates for Jonathan Pollard are seizing upon President Bush’s pardon last week of former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger to urge a commutation of the life sentence the former U.S. Navy analyst is serving for passing secrets to Israel.
The initiative comes at a time when those who have long argued that Pollard was unjustly sentenced are gaining support from both the Jewish grass roots and mainstream Jewish communal organizations.
In recent weeks, the American Jewish Committee decided to ask Bush and President-elect Bill Clinton to review the case. And the board of the New York Jewish Community Relations Council voted to approve a letter asking for clemency.
In another show of support for Pollard, a congressman has reportedly become the first U.S. elected official to visit him at his prison in Marion, Ill.
The waning days of a presidential term are generally seen as the most opportune to time to appeal for clemency. In addition to Weinberger and five others involved in the Iran-Contra affair, Bush last week pardoned 18 others who had been convicted of federal crimes, ranging from the theft of 12 six-packs of beer to stealing a car.
“In the same spirit, I urge the president to commute the sentence of Jonathan Pollard, who has served seven years of a life sentence in solitary confinement,” Seymour Reich said in a statement issued over the weekend.
Reich, a past chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, will soon assume the presidency of the American Zionist Federation.
A formal request for clemency was filed with the Justice Department earlier this month by Pollard’s lawyer. In October, the Supreme Court decided not to hear an appeal by Pollard of a March decisicn by the U.S. Court of Appeals turning down a request for a new sentencing procedure.
But the connection between Weinberger’s pardon and possible clemency for Pollard runs deeper than timing.
Pollard and his supporters have long blamed the former defense secretary for Pollard’s sentence, which they charge is grossly disproportionate to those meted out to others convicted of espionage against the United States.
They cite a still-confidential presentation by Weinberger before the judge that sentenced Pollard in 1987. It was this presentation, say Pollard’s supporters, which led to the life sentence, in apparent contravention of government promises prior to Pollard’s plea bargain.
“He pleaded guilty in exchange for a plea bargaining deal that was supposed to have given him less than a life sentence,” Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency last week after visiting Pollard. “Then Caspar Weinberger and company undid the deal.”
Ackerman also said there exists the possibility that a letter from Weinberger arguing against parole is on file among the court papers that would be considered by a parole board.
While Pollard’s supporters have sometimes said that Pollard was sentenced to life without parole, he in fact comes up for parole in 1995, 10 years after his arrest outside the gates of the Israeli Embassy in Washington.
Weinberger is also accused by some of Pollard’s advocates as being anti-Israel and of tilting American policy toward the Arab states. It was such a tilt, Pollard has said, that led him to feel that information that America had promised to transfer to Israel was being held back.
In an example quoted in Wolf Blitzer’s book “Territory of Lies,” Pollard tells of reading a report of an impending terrorist attack against an Israeli outpost in southern Lebanon, and then learning that this intelligence information would not be forwarded to the Israelis because Weinberger wanted the Israelis “out of the security strip and increased casualties will probably increase the pressure upon them to evacuate the area.”
More recently, Pollard’s supporters have said that it was information he passed on to Israel that enabled the Jewish state to prepare against possible Iraqi chemical weapons attacks on the eve of the Persian Gulf War.
In the wake of the presidential pardons, Democrats in Congress have indicated their renewed intention to hold further hearings on aspects of the Iran-Contra affair and other alleged improprieties carried out by the Reagan and Bush administrations. Among those may be charges that the Bush administration covered up its efforts to arm Iraq.
Will these hearings touch on the Pollard sentencing?
“Yup,” said Rep. Ackerman. “I think there’s going to be a closer look at this soon. I think there’s an awful lot of tie-ins that look more than coincidental.”
As to Weinberger’s motivation in pressing for the maximum penalty against Pollard, the congressman said, “I think there’s a much deeper involvement there than I’m prepared to discuss right now.”