Jonathan Pollard was sentenced to life in prison for handing over U.S. military and intelligence secrets to Israel. Five years ago, when he was released after serving 30 years, many believed that meant he would be cut some slack. But he was not. He was released with parole restrictions – which finally ended last week – that prohibited him from traveling to Israel.
As most readers know, the life sentence itself was unprecedented for someone charged with passing classified information to an ally of the United States, a crime that ordinarily draws a sentence of 2 to 4 years. He was not charged with spying or treason.
And the life sentence was also a violation of a plea bargain struck between Pollard and prosecutors; the sentencing judge unilaterally decided to rely on a secret memorandum written by then Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger who argued that Pollard had caused more damage to American national security than any American spy in U.S. history.
Weinberger’s thesis, though, has been discredited over the years by statements from elected officials who reviewed classified portions of the prosecutors’ case file and revelations that the damage Pollard was said to have caused was likely caused by Aldrich Ames. (Ames was a high CIA official who was charged with treason for giving critical defense secrets to an enemy of the U.S. and also sentenced to life imprisonment.)
From the get-go, the Pollard case was a travesty, which was compounded by the no-travel-to-Israel condition of his parole. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason in play. It is hard to fathom why the U.S. government thought that travel by Pollard posed any risk to the United States after his having been locked up in federal prison for 30 years.
Indeed, we were baffled by the statement issued last Friday by the U.S. Parole Commission, the arm of the Justice Department that supervises the release of federal prisoners, announcing its decision not to extend the travel restrictions it had placed on Pollard five years earlier:
After a review of Mr. Pollard’s case, the U.S. Parole Commission has found there is no evidence to conclude that he is likely to violate the law. Thus, in accordance with the statute, the commission has ordered that, as of today, his parole supervision is terminated and he is no longer subject to the conditions of his parole.
At the time of his arrest, Pollard had been a civilian employee of the U.S. Navy, which was the only way he had access to the documents he turned over to Israel. Surely that access ended upon his arrest. Nor could there have been any reasonable fear that Pollard could disclose critical secrets he had committed to memory. Not only is it inconceivable that 1980s secret national security information would be relevant in 2015, but can anyone believe he still retained the information in any meaningful way after 30 years?
The post-incarceration parole phase of the Pollard saga only confirms our belief that people in high places harboring anti-Israel animus materially drove the unprecedented harsh treatment he received. Indeed, Weinberger – a notorious critic of the Jewish state – reportedly was beside himself over the fact that Israel was able to obtain information he had ordered kept from it.
Sadly, Pollard’s legal odyssey seems less about the illegal acts he committed and more about for whom he committed them. But equal justice under the law should be important to all of us.
At all events, Jonathan Pollard has more than paid his debt to society and we wish him well.