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Pollard Deserves Commutation by Clinton

By Matt Neimark
Columnist

Eight years ago, Jonathan Pollard pleaded guilty to providing classified intelligence information to Israel. Since then, he has been serving a life imprisonment term for this offense. Unfortunately, even though Pollard is clearly guilty of the crime for which he is charged, there are circumstances concerning the handling of his trial which warrant a commutation of his sentence.

First of all, the recipient of the classified information, Israel, is an ally to the United States. While legally this does not lessen the severity of Pollard's transgression, it should have made it easier for him to have received a plea-bargain for pleading guilty to the offense.

Indeed, a written plea-bargain was offered to him by the government prosecutors. It stated that when arguing for sentencing, the prosecutors would "restrain its prosecutorial rhetoric" to the "facts and circumstances" of the crime. This meant that they would waive their right to promote any opinions on the morality of the crime or the severity of its damage. This is a significant limitation on the prosecution's ability to counteract the defense's ability to expound on any existing extenuating circumstances during the sentencing deliberations.

The plea-bargain also stated that the prosecutors would ``not recommend the maximum penalty of life imprisonment." The prosecutors also promised to state during the sentencing deliberations that Pollard's cooperation had been "of considerable value to the enforcement of the espionage laws."

All three of these promises in the plea-bargain were broken by the government prosecutors. During sentencing deliberations, they challenged Pollard's motives and desire to cooperate. They argued that such cooperation was so half-hearted and lacking as to warrant a maximum sentence. They even accused Pollard of treason, a crime clearly defined by the constitution as fighting for the enemies of one's country during wartime. It was so defined because colonial England could accuse anyone who disagreed with the King of treason and thereby execute them. The government prosecutors, in effect, falsely accused Pollard in order to secure the maximum punishment.

However, perhaps most unfair during Pollard's sentencing procedure was a letter sent to the sentencing judge from then secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger. Weinberger, known for his anti-Israel stance and policy, said that Pollard had done more damage to U.S. intelligence than any other person in history.

This sort of activity is, to say the least, highly inappropriate. It amounts to secret testimony which could not be rebutted or cross-examined by Pollard's attorneys. But it is also grossly unfair because damage assessments are to this day classified and the general public has no way of determining the truth of Weinberger's statement.

The fact remains that Pollard is the only person in U.S. history to have served as much prison time as he has already served for providing intelligence to ally. People who have gotten life sentences for espionage in the past gave intelligence to our enemies. He is a native American citizen who was not trained in espionage by the Israelis, but who provided intelligence to them because he felt that they needed it to protect themselves from hostile neighbors and because he felt that they were entitled under a treaty to information the United States was hiding.

Pollard did commit a wrong and did deserve to be punished, but that punishment has already been served. Commutation of his sentence by President Clinton would counter the injustices served to him during the Reagan administration and would also greatly improve relations between the United States and Israel.