Leading U.S. Scholars Urge Obama to Commute Pollard Sentence

The Israeli spy's prison term has been disproportionate and his sentence was legally unsound, eminent legal scholars say in letter to the president.

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Photo Jonathan Pollard.
Jonathan Pollard during an interview at the Federal Correction Institution in Butner, North Carolina, May 15, 1998.Credit: AP

An eminent group of North American legal scholars on Tuesday called on President Barack Obama to commute the sentence of convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard to time served – which would mean his immediate release.

"Such commutation is more than warranted if the ends of justice are to be served, the rule of law respected and simple humanity secured,” the scholars wrote to the president.

The signatories to the letter included Alan Dershowitz, Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and former Canadian Minister of Justice and Attorney General Irwin Cotler.

Pollard, a citizen of the United States, received a life sentence in 1987 for passing classified information to Israel while working as a civilian intelligence analyst. He was granted Israeli citizenship in 1995.

In the letter, the legal experts stipulated 10 considerations which, they wrote, should guide the president in his exercise of executive clemency in the Pollard case.

Pollard, they wrote, is now serving his twenty-ninth year of an "unprecedented life sentence" for a crime that is normally punished by "six to eight years, with actual jail time before release averaging two to four years." That punishment is “excessive, grossly disproportionate, unfair and unjust.”

The life sentence, the letter continues, was "a breach of the plea bargain, wherein the prosecution had agreed not to seek life imprisonment in return for Pollard’s guilty plea." That breach was described as a “complete and gross miscarriage of justice," by Appeal Court Judge Stephen F. Williams.

In addition, the scholars wrote, the life sentence itself was "secured as a result of the submission - after the plea bargain and in violation of it - of a prejudicial ex parte affidavit to the sentencing judge."

Pollard, they stressed was not only "excessively and disproportionately punished" for the crime he committed, but "effectively punished and maligned for the crime of treason," which he never committed and for which he was never charged or convicted.

According to the signatories of the letter, the person guilty of "having compromised U.S. security and American lives in Eastern Europe," an allegation levelled against Pollard, was in fact the head of the CIA’s Soviet/Eastern Europe Division Aldridge Ames, who, they said, was also "the original source of the false allegations against Pollard."

Finally, the letter said that "virtually everyone who was in a high position of government – and dealt with the ramifications of what Pollard did at the time – now supports his release." In that regard, they mention former secretary of state George Shultz and former FBI and CIA director William Webster.

“It is precisely for standing injustices like this – and where the justice system has failed – that the U.S. Constitution has vested in the President the power of executive clemency," the letter concluded." We urge you to exercise this power in the pursuit of justice, the rule of law and simple humanity.”

The other signatories of the letter were professors Charles J. Ogletree, Philip B. Heymann, Gabriella Blum, Frank Michelman, Mary Ann Glendon, Nadine Stroessen, Monroe Freedman, and Suzanne Last Stone.

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