After 30 Years, Jonathan Pollard Released From American Prison

Convicted spy's lawyers appeal 'onerous and oppressive' conditions of parole; Netanyahu: 'I have dreamt of this day, Jonathan is finally reunited with his family.'

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First image of Jonathan Pollard after his release from U.S. prison after 30 years. Seen here pictured with his wife Ester. November 20, 2015.
First image of Jonathan Pollard after his release from U.S. prison after 30 years. Seen here pictured with his wife Ester. November 20, 2015.Credit: Courtesy

Jonathan Pollard, who was sentenced to life in prison for spying against the United States on Israel’s behalf, was released on parole Friday, after 30 years in prison.

Pollard's wife, Esther, told activists who have been campaigning for the spy's release that he left the Butner Federal Correctional Complex in North Carolina, where he spent the last 22 years of his sentence. The couple then traveled to New York, where they are expected to live.

Pollard's lawyers said the conditions of his parole are unreasonable and illegal and should be vacated by a federal court. According to Pollard's lawyers, he will be required to wear an electronic bracelet so his movements can be monitored at all times. Also, his computers and those of any employer who hires him will be subjected to "unfettered monitoring and inspection."

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

The lawyers called the conditions "onerous and oppressive" in a statement announcing their legal challenge in a federal court in New York on Friday.

"There is no basis whatsoever to treat Mr. Pollard in that manner, and doing so is vindictive and cruel, as well as unlawful," lawyers Eliot Lauer and Jacques Semmelman said.

His lawyers filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court in New York against the U.S. Parole Commission and the U.S. Probation Office for the Southern District of New York. The petition claims that "unlawful parole conditions were imposed by the Parole Commission."

Jonathan Pollard: Blabbermouth, patriot, spy? A timeline of his life and crimes

In a statement released on Friday morning, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu conveyed warm wishes to Pollard, saying that "the people of Israel welcome [his] release."

"As someone who has raised the issue for many years with American presidents, I have dreamt of this day," Netanyahu said.

Anne Pollard, his ex-wife, said she has "been waiting for this day for 30 long years. It's unbelievable. It's an amazing moment." But she also criticized the Israeli government for failing to secure his early release. "Jonathan is free today only because of Jonathan," she said. "No one helped him. No government reduced his sentence by even one day."

Pollard, who also served time for her role in the espionage, also addressed the possibility of meeting him in the future. "We will have an opportunity to speak alone, without cameras," she said. "We will be able to have a private, amazing conversation for the first time in 30 years."

Pollard's first move will likely be to seek medical care, since he has serious health problems that have led his hospitalization in intensive care six times over the last few years, and his medical condition has recently worsened.

The Free Pollard campaign, which has been lobbying to secure his freedom for years, has decided not to hold any public rallies or other events to mark his release, and Pollard’s associates have asked Knesset members and other public figures in Israel not to fly to the United States to meet him when he is freed. After years in which repeated Israeli efforts to free him have failed and various American promises on the issue have been broken, activists who worked for his release fear the U.S. authorities might seize on such actions as an excuse to worsen the terms of his parole.

Netanyahu has instructed Israeli officials to keep low-key about Friday's release of Pollard, Education Minister Naftali Bennett said. Israeli officials are concerned that too warm a celebration over his release might hurt efforts to persuade the U.S. government to let him leave for Israel sooner.

Currently, the ban on his leaving the United States is set to last five years. But that term could be changed at a review hearing to be held in another two years. There is some concern that the authorities in the U.S. may extend that period.

The Free Pollard campaign has turned to several Jewish Congress members to ask President Barack Obama to ease the restrictions. But officials in the U.S. said that there is no planned change in his parole conditions.

Despite their decision to avoid any public shows of support, Pollard activists do want to ensure that he gets a warm welcome. Therefore, they have invited the public to send statements of support by email and created a special address to receive these messages. They will then be printed out and given to Pollard after his release.

Lawrence Korb, who served as assistant secretary of defense when Pollard was arrested, told Army Radio on Thursday that letting Pollard finally move to Israel would be the right thing to do. Pollard’s sentence should have been commuted long ago, in light of new information about the case, he argued, and former presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush erred by not doing so.

Korb said that many people exaggerated the importance of the information Pollard gave Israel and the damage it caused to the United States. Clinton, he noted, actually did want to commute Pollard’s sentence, but senior intelligence officials feared this would send the wrong message and then-CIA director George Tenet threatened to resign, so Clinton ultimately backed down.

Pollard was arrested on November 21, 1985 after the conclusion of an investigation into suspicion he was spying for Israel while serving as a U.S. naval intelligence analyst. He was convicted in 1987 to a life sentence for one count of espionage.

Because his crime occurred prior to November 1, 1987, he was eligible for parole after 30 years in prison.

Pollard is the only person in U.S. history to receive a life sentence for spying for an ally and the only American citizen convicted of such a crime to be sentenced to more than 10 years in prison.

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