With a little more than a year until convicted spy Jonathan Pollard is eligible for parole, a group of 10 prominent legal scholars has sent a letter to President Barack Obama arguing for Pollard’s early release.
The group of nine scholars and professors at top universities, led by Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz and Irwin Cotler, a former Canadian justice minister, sent the letter on June 20 outlining why the president should release Pollard, a former American intelligence analyst who was given a life sentence in 1987 for selling classified information to Israel.
The letter calls for the commutation of Jonathan Pollard’s sentence to time served. “Commutation is more than warranted if the ends of justice are to be served, the rule of law respected and simple humanity secured,” they wrote, stating 10 arguments, both legal and humanitarian, why Pollard’s punishment is unjust.
“The sentence is immorally excessive,” Dershowitz said in a subsequent phone interview.
Pollard pled guilty to espionage in a bargain with the prosecution to avoid receiving a life sentence.
U.S. District Court Judge Aubrey Robinson sentenced him to life anyway after being presented with a “damage-assessment memorandum” by then Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger.
Pollard sentence “is a violation of a plea bargain,” Dershowitz said, adding that “it’s important that the president know the facts, or that whoever is giving the recommendation knows the facts. So we wrote it basically as a mini-legal brief, and moral brief, so that the president or his surrogates can know the 10 reasons basically why legality, morality and just ordinary decency requires that he be released immediately.”
Shortly after the letter was delivered to the White House, outgoing Israeli President Shimon Peres, on a visit to the White House, presented the president with what he later called an “offer” about Pollard. Obama said he would direct the attorney general to study Pollard’s case.
Dershowitz said the public has been misled that Pollard committed treason, which is punishable by a life sentence or the death penalty under U.S. law. According to Dershowitz, the aiding of an ally, as in Pollard’s case, does not carry a life sentence and in cases where spies from other nations have been caught and tried by the U.S., the maximum sentence has been six-to-eight years, of which actual jail time averages between two and four years.
Dershowitz also pointed to the misinformation provided by the government and high-ranking intelligence officials, many of them Jewish, to scapegoat Pollard.
“Secretary Weinberger, who hated Israel with a passion largely because of his own Jewish heritage which he was embarrassed about and despised, allowed personal vendetta to get in the way and he committed perjury in his affidavit,” said Dershowitz.
Another high-level official who called for and remained committed to Pollard receiving a life sentence was Adm. Sumner Shapiro, then-director of the Office of Naval Intelligence.
Attempts by supporters and Israeli government officials to ask for presidential clemency date back to President Bill Clinton but have so far failed due to opposition from U.S. officials.
Dershowitz said that Jews in high government positions have long been sensitive to accusations of having dual loyalty to the U.S. and Israel. This caused Jewish officials to lean “over backwards to try to prove their patriotism.”
Other justifications against Pollard’s release include accusations that he sold secrets to apartheid-era South Africa. Dershowitz called it a “false and racist” charge intended to sway the trial judge, who was African American.
At the time of Pollard’s sentencing in 1987, federal law required parole eligibility for those serving life sentences after 30 years with good behavior. Now 59, Pollard is eligible for parole on Nov. 21, 2015. But, as Dershowitz said, Pollard’s release is not guaranteed.