Jonathan Pollard
Jonathan PollardIsrael news photomontage

In a sharp letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal, former CIA director James Woolsey called for the release of Jonathan Pollard from prison. Responding to an op-ed in the WSJ from a few days earlier that criticized the recent pronouncements by top U.S. administration officials and politician to free Pollard – some of whom were working for the government when he was arrested nearly three decades ago – Woolsey said that “I recommended against clemency for Jonathan Pollard early in the first Clinton administration when I was director of Central Intelligence, but now, nearly two decades later, I support his release.”

The main reason for his change of heart, Woolsey said was “the passage of time. When I recommended against clemency, Pollard had been in prison less than a decade. Today he has been incarcerated for over a quarter of a century under his life sentence.” Woolsey cited several examples of individuals who had been convicted of spying for numerous regimes - Saudi Arabia, Ghana, Ecuador, Egypt, the Philippines and South Korea – all of whom had served or were serving sentences of less than ten years. “One especially damaging Greek-American spy, Steven Lalas, received a 14-year sentence, just over half of what Pollard has already served,” Woolsey wrote.

Pollard has cooperated with the government on just about everything, and has even promised not to write a book about his life, so as not to be seen as having “profited” from the experience by selling books. In addition, wrote Woolsey, he “has many times expressed remorse for what he did.”

But the closing paragraph of Woolsey's letter is likely to stir up the most controversy – and perhaps even cause a great deal of discomfort to American Jews, many of whom have attempted to avoid public discussion of Pollard's actions and heritage during the years he has been in prison. “For those hung up for some reason on the fact that [Pollard] is an American Jew,” wrote Woolsey, “pretend he's a Greek- or Korean- or Filipino-American and free him.”

A second letter to the WSJ voicing support for Pollard's release cites an opinion from Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Williams, who in 1992 wrote that denying Pollard a retrial in 1991 when he asked for one was "a fundamental miscarriage of justice.” At the time, Williams wrote that “he would have ordered that Pollard's sentence be vacated,” the letter said.

It should be noted that the original editorial Woolsey and others were responding to was called “the Mendacious Movement to Free a Convicted Spy :Pretending that Jonathan Pollard is a martyr makes a mockery of Israel,” and was written by Martin Peretz, the Jewish owner of the liberal New Republic magazine.