Why is this man still in jail? Why was this man forced to spend seven years in solitary? Why is still confined, languishing, festering in jail for a total of twenty five years?
Solitary confinement is the most barbaric of punishments. Few people can withstand this form of torture without becoming very ill, both physically and mentally.
Am I talking about the Soviet Gulag? Or about some hell-hole in Afghanistan or Iran?
Last year, The New Yorker ran a piece about solitary confinement. The article concludes that this punishment amounts to torture, that it can even induce “acute psychosis with hallucinations.” The article describes the cases of two political prisoners or prisoners-of-war: AP’s Middle East correspondent, Terry Anderson, who was put into solitary by Hezbollah in Lebanon for six years. Anderson “felt himself disintegrating”; his mind went blank; he had hallucinations; he started to become “neurotically possessive about his little space”; he felt his brain was “grinding down.” He also describes Senator John McCain who said that “solitary confinement crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more than any other form of mistreatment. And he said that even though he had his arms broken and was subjected to other forms of torture.”
Clearly, the New Yorker’s man, Atul Gawande, opposes this practice.
He does mention the cases of two unnamed inmates: one was convicted of felony-murder and spent five years in isolation. After a few months he began talking to himself, pacing back and forth, having panic attacks, and hallucinating. After a year he was hearing voices on the television who were talking to him. In another case, Gawande describes another American man in solitary whose initial crime was armed robbery and aggravated battery but who then “misbehaved” at a medium security prison for which he was was put in solitary or in isolation for almost fourteen years. This man stopped showering and began throwing his feces around his cell. He became psychotic.
Even he was released after he served his sentence of fifteen years.
Gawande does not mention the man I have in mind, a man whose living head is on a pike in the public square for all to see—a message, a warning to us all—a man who killed no one.
I am talking about Jonathan Pollard.
What crime did he commit? Did he spy against American for the Soviets or for the Chinese communists? Did he do so for money, sex, or for ideological reasons? American Navy Seaman, Michael Walker, operated a Soviet spy ring; he was arrested in 1980, pled guilty, was sentenced to 25 years and released after 15 years.
CIA Agent David Barnett sold the Soviets the names of thirty American undercover agents. He was arrested in the mid-1980s, sentenced to only eighteen years, and paroled after only ten years. In 2001, John Walker Lindh, who joined the Taliban and received training as a terrorist in Pakistan, was captured and sentenced to 21 years. In the Abdul Kedar Helmy, an Egyptian-born American, transmitted classified materials to Egypt used in a joint weapons program with Iraq to vastly increase the range of ballistic missiles, including Scud missiles, which were later fired on U.S. troops during the Persian Gulf War.” In 2010, Chinese-American engineer Dongfan “Greg” Chung operated as a spy for China against America for thirty years. He received a 15 year sentence.
What is “different” about Pollard? Unlike Walker, Barnett, Lindh, Helmy, and Chung, Pollard is the only Jew. The others are Christians or Muslims or atheists.
What else is different? Pollard is the only one who shared secrets with an American ally with whom America was not and is not now at war. Pollard shared information with Israel.
What else is “different” about Pollard? There is one more thing. Like the Rosenbergs, Pollard was the proving grounds, the scapegoat, for another man, also a Jew, but a Jew who did not like being mistreated as a Jew, as a Jew who wanted to prove how tough the was or how hard he was ready to be on another Jew and on the Jewish state.
The Rosenbergs, (who were guilty), had their Jewish judge who chose to have them electrocuted. Pollard, poor Pollard, had Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger whose paternal grandparents were Jews and whose father was a Jewish lawyer. When Caspar was a boy, he was taunted for supposedly being Jewish. His mother was a Christian and he was raised as a Christian. When he visited Yad Vashem, the Memorial to the Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust, he said loudly: “I am not a Jew.” He said this in response to the guard who told him that “he, too, would have been murdered in the Holocaust.”
Weinberger submitted a forty page affidavit in which he insisted that Pollard should be harshly sentenced. (In later years, he said that “the Pollard matter was comparatively minor.” Weinberger is now dead and no doubt roasting in Hell.
One wonders: What did he have over CIA head George Tenet (who threatened to resign when President Clinton suggested pardoning Pollard)?
What did Weinberger have over President Bush’s Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, both of whom went along with Weinberger’s revenge?
Where are all the anti-torture activists on Pollard? How can it be that our most prominent American political prisoner has never made it onto their honor roll of causes with which to browbeat America?
Yesterday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formally asked President Obama to pardon Jonathan Pollard, at long last. I and all true believers in democracy stand with him in this matter.
Update: Based on a recent article by Leo Rennert which critique’s yesterdays’ coverage of the Pollard case in The New York Times, “ it is now clear that Pollard, in failing health, has been the victim of a CIA cover-up of a massive intelligence failure, with the agency blaming Pollard for the damage caused by a real “mole” inside the CIA who passed to Moscow the names of more than a dozen U.S. informants in the Soviet Union — namely Aldrich Ames, the head of CIA’s Soviet-Eastern Europe division, who fingered Pollard to keep the CIA from discovering his own treachery.. The CIA did not discover Ames’ role until well after Pollard was behind bars and it still isn’t willing to acknowledge its mistake in blaming Pollard for Ames’s crimes.”
Phyllis Chesler, Ph.D. is emerita professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies at City University of New York. Well known author of fifteen books, including Women and Madness (Doubleday, 1972), The Death of Feminism: What's Next in the Struggle for Women's Freedom (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005) and most recently, The New Anti-Semitism, she is the co-founder of the Association for Women in Psychology and the National Women's Health Network. Prof. Chesler is often on international media and is a frequent contributor to INN as well as FOX News, Middle East Quarterly and others.