Op-Ed: Jonathan Pollard, Absurdities of US Justice

Barring some names and dates, this article could have been written today, but it was actually written during the Clinton administration.
Published: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 12:31 PM


September 3, 1996

Almost everyone is well acquainted with the case of Jonathan Pollard, the U.S. naval intelligence officer who was sentenced to life in prison for transferring classified information to Israel about Arab military forces. Now in the eleventh year of his sentence, Pollard has already served more than twice as long as anyone else convicted of a comparable crime.

On July 26, 1996, President Clinton declined Pollard's third request for clemency, arguing that the prisoner is today a threat to America's national security. This argument, together with the other reasons given for refusal of Pollard's petition for commutation namely, "the enormity of his crime" and "his lack of remorse" flies in the face of all pertinent facts.

But to understand the truest perversion of justice associated with this case, one has to compare Pollard's treatment for trying to save Israel from catastrophic war to President Clinton's treatment of Yasser Arafat, a leading terrorist murderer of both American and Israeli citizens.

While Pollard endured five years in isolation at the tough Marion Prison in Illinois, and before that, incarceration in a hospital for the criminally insane in Springfield, Missouri, PLO Chairman Arafat was being feted at the White House as a "champion of peace." Even more ironically, the celebration of terrorist Arafat by the White House followed Israel's lead in the matter, an incomprehensible inversion of justice by the previous two Labor prime ministers which may even be resumed by current Likud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Under authoritative international law, which is part of the law of United States, neither the president of the United States nor a prime minister of Israel has any authority to pardon a known perpetrator of terrorist crimes. Rather, these leaders are under a distinct and unyielding obligation to bring all such criminals to prosecution. These facts notwithstanding, leaders of Israel and of the United States still refuse to bring Yasser Arafat to trial in their respective countries and, at the same time, effectively pardon this patron of monstrous crimes against humanity by immunizing him from arrest and by embracing him (literally) in public ceremonies.

If this were not odd enough, Arafat, on August 31, 1996, released 72 Islamic militants in an effort to pressure and punish Israel, a release of those terrorists who had been detained for the horrible bombings of civilians in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem last February and March.

Tell me, President Clinton and Prime Minister Netanyahu, where is justice for Leon Klinghoffer, thrown in his wheelchair from the deck of the cruise ship Achille Lauro, or for the scores of Jewish children murdered this year on the eve of the Purim holiday while shopping for costumes? How would you feel, Mr. President and Mr. Prime Minister, if the killers of your children were released from detention only months after their so called "arrest," and if the Arab terrorist responsible for this release (not to mention responsible for dozens of previous terrorist crimes) were then acknowledged by world leaders as a senior statesman and as a "partner in peace?" Would it impact your feelings that Yasser Arafat was a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, or would it not be apparent that the prize itself had become defiled, an inconceivable abomination of justice beside which Pollard's crime must pale altogether?

Jonathan Pollard was guilty of a serious crime, and it was just that he be arrested and punished. But the politically-determined excessiveness of his sentence has already become a stain on American justice, especially when it is compared to sentencing in similar cases of spying for friendly countries in U.S. courts and to ongoing U.S. Government policies of justice in matters involving Yasser Arafat and egregious terrorist criminality.

Today, Jonathan Pollard is fully remorseful for his wrongdoings, and accepts that these crimes - however well intentioned and understandable - warranted punishment. Yet it is hardly just that he should be denied parole or pardon at the same time that his country treats other American spies with substantially less severity and accords the world's leading terrorist substantial deference and independence.

Jonathan Pollard violated U.S. law and deserved punishment. But it is wrong, unimaginably wrong, that his illegal efforts to save Israel from destruction (a goal of U.S. foreign policy) should lead to a lifetime of imprisonment while the criminal efforts of one who actively seeks Israel's annihilation now produce only gala receptions in Washington and Jerusalem. For the moment, the absurdities of Clinton Justice, reinforced from Jerusalem, are triumphant in this ironic matter, but there is still ample opportunity for the triumph at real justice.

By recognizing that Pollard has now served adequate prison time for his crime, President Clinton could commute the sentence to time served and proceed to deal with a far more urgent instance of criminality: the past and future terrorist murders authorized by Yasser Arafat.