Overjoyed and Angry at Jonathan Pollard's Coming Release

Happy, furious and unbearably sad.

Tags: Jonathan Pol
Prof. Phyllis Chesler

OpEds Prof. Phyllis Chesler
Prof. Phyllis Chesler
Joan Roth

And so, at long last, after thirty years, seven of which he spent in solitary confinement—the most barbaric of punishments—Jonathan Pollard will be pardoned and may live to breathe the air of freedom.

I am overjoyed, apprehensive, enormously sad, relieved, and angry.   

Pollard’s cell door will not swing open until November and, unless President Obama decrees otherwise, he may not be allowed to make aliya to Israel for five years, lest he be given a hero’s (or a martyr’s) welcome.

Although I did not become an activist on his behalf, Pollard’s fate has haunted me for more than twenty years.Though he had teams of dedicated but incompetent lawyers, and dedicated and highly competent lawyers, and the support of compassionate rabbis, Pollard’s cause did not become fashionable for a very long time.

Many American Jews thought that he “deserved what he got,” since his actions had, they believed, endangered them. Pollard was the poster child for the dual loyalty accusation that has haunted Jews who simply want to fit in, to lead safe and prosperous lives in America.

Many American non-Jews in the State Department and the CIA hanged Pollard for the considerable crimes of others. In fact, Pollard was the “fall guy” for a real Master Spy, none other than Aldrich Ames. According to former White House correspondent, Leo Rennert:

“It is now clear that Pollard…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 [as of 2010]willing to acknowledge its mistake in blaming Pollard for Ames's crimes.”

On the eve of Pollard’s probable release, let us remember, in brief, his story.

What terrible crime did he commit? Did he spy against America for one of America’s enemies? The Soviets during the Cold War, the Chinese communists? Did he spy for an Islamist government or for a terrorist paramilitary group? 

American Navy Seaman, Michael Walker, operated a Soviet spy ring; he was arrested in 1980, pleaded guilty, was sentenced to 25 years and released after 15.

CIA Agent David Barnett sold the Soviets the names of thirty American undercover agents. He was arrested in the mid-1980s, sentenced to only 18 years, and paroled after only ten years.

In 1989, Abdelkedar Helmy, an Egyptian-born American rocket expert, and NASA employee, tried to smuggle sophisticated weapons technology to Egypt. These ballistic missiles, including Scud missiles, were subsequently fired on U.S. troops during the Persian war. Helmy did so for one million dollars. Caught, he pled guilty and agreed to cooperate. He was jailed but after several re-sentencing hearings, his sentence remains unclear.

Nouredinne  Malki pretended to be from Lebanon, the persecuted son of a Muslim father and a Christian mother, and on this basis allegedly sought and received asylum in America, naturalized citizenship, and a job as an Arabic translator for the Army. He received top secret clearance and was working in Iraq where he took bribes from various Sunni sheikhs and passed classified information on to “insurgents” in Iraq who were battling American forces; he also had conversations with members of Al Qaeda and kept their documents on his computer. He was caught, tried and, in 2008, re-sentenced to nine or ten years. (This information is contradictory).

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, Helmy, Malki, and Chung, Pollard is the only Jew.

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-only, information about Israeli security-only that America was supposed to share with its ally but allegedly did not do so.

Jonathan Pollard was held in solitary for seven years and has been held captive for thirty years.

Pollard has absolutely no blood on his hands. Pollard passed secrets to an American ally, not to a terrorist group with which America was or is now at war.

Where were 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?

Solitary confinement is the most barbaric of punishments. Few people can withstand this form of torture without becoming very ill, both physically and mentally.

In 2009, The New Yorker ran a piece about solitary confinement. The article concluded 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.”

Pollard’s story is so upsetting not only because of the injustice and cruelty of his confinement but also because this is a saga about America’s official and continuing anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.
Once, early in the century, I was talking to Natan Sharansky when he was Israel’s Minister for Anti-Semitism and the Diaspora. Natan was going to visit Pollard in prison. Apparently, seven years in solitary, heartbreaking betrayals, and a series of major illnesses had not rendered Pollard an “easy” case interviewee. Gently, I reminded Natan that Pollard was our Jewish-head-on-a-pike for all to see—it mattered not if torture had made him “difficult.” Immediately, our prisoner of conscience, our Zionist hero, agreed with me and promised to redouble his efforts on Pollard’s behalf. I have no doubt he did so as did many a noble American who argued Pollard’s case for all these years.