President George W. Bush has hardly enjoyed a term of office free of gaffes. He has engaged the U.S. in two wars, neither of which had clear goals or have reached successful conclusions. The economy is in a shambles, the U.S. is as dependent as ever on fossil fuels, the environment has been shoved to a dark, dusty corner of the national agenda, and the list goes on.
His attempts in the past year to try to cobble together a “peace agreement” and shove it down Israel’s throat in exchange for unrequited concessions from the Jewish State has been a colossal failure. So far, the only decent thing I have observed him do in the eight years since his circus-like election to office has been to keep to his chair with his mouth shut during Israel’s recent foray into Gaza.
But Bush’s presidency need not be a total loss. Twenty-four years ago, a gross miscarriage of justice occurred in the United States, and in the ensuing decades it has accumulated layers upon layers of intrigue, perfidy, and deception. I refer here to the incarceration of Jonathan Pollard.
Those unfamiliar with the case can inform themselves by visiting the “Justice for Jonathan Pollard” website. (The facts page is a good place to start to get the backstory.) Here are a few of the details included in the facts page to acquaint the uninformed:
Jonathan Pollard was a civilian American Naval intelligence analyst. In the mid 1980’s (circa 1983-1984), Pollard discovered that information vital to Israel’s security was being deliberately withheld by certain elements within the U.S. national security establishment. Israel was legally entitled to this vital security information according to a 1983 Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries. The information being withheld from Israel included Syrian, Iraqi, Libyan and Iranian nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare capabilities – being developed for use against Israel. It also included information on ballistic missile development by these countries and information on planned terrorist attacks against Israeli civilian targets.
Concerned about the risk to innocent lives of withholding this information from Israel, Pollard sought legal means to transfer this information to Israel. His appeals to his superiors and attempts to change the policy of withholding this information met with no success. When all other means had been exhausted, Pollard transferred this information personally
Pollard was not a mercenary, but an ideologue, a fact borne out after nine months of polygraphing by the FBI. He cooperated fully with the plea agreement which was proposed in lieu of a lengthy trial. Yet despite the fact that he was never indicted for harming the United States, never indicted for compromising codes, agents, or war plans, never charged with treason (legally, treason is a charge that is only applicable when one spies for an enemy state in time of war), and was indicted on only one count of passing classified information to an ally, without intent to harm the United States, Pollard was given a life sentence with the recommendation that he never be paroled.
Since Pollard’s sentencing, the United States has in every way imaginable violated the plea agreement and every promise of good faith. They have misrepresented Pollard as a traitor (see definition of treason in previous paragraph), refused to let Pollard’s legal team review all of the documentation against him (despite the fact that Pollard’s lawyers have been given Top Secret security clearance to enable them to review all documents relevant to his case), and made Pollard’s case a political football (a la Charlie Brown and Lucy) in the U.S.’s relations with Israel, including the peace process with the Palestinians. Every promise of his release has been broken, and the unjust extremity of his sentence (life for a crime which, when perpetrated for the benefit of an enemy state, carries a sentence of 2-4 years) has been denied by the American justice community.
I’ve done some reading of Pollard’s critics online. The New Yorker and PBS’s NOVA both have stinging critiques of him as a person and as a professional. Whether what they say is true or not, I don’t know. I also don’t know how accurately he is represented by the Israeli or American religious Jewish community which are the main advocates for his release. What I do know is that according to the facts of the case, he agreed to a plea bargain and cooperated fully with it, and the U.S. did not. It promised him justice, and it did not deliver. No flaws on Pollard’s part, either character or professional, can excuse his treatment at the hands of the American justice community. An American spying for Iran, one of the greatest nuclear threats to world right now, was recently sentenced to 15 months. Pollard just passed the 24th anniversary of his imprisonment.
If you care about the administration of justice in the United States, if you believe that passing information to allies is a less severe crime than spying for an enemy state, and if you believe that wrongs perpetrated by governments should be righted, consider doing what you can to correct this one. Perhaps a widespread appeal at this time can sway a president concerned for his legacy.