Apr. 3, 2014

Releasing Pollard Is Clutching at Straws

Convicted spy could be Obama’s carrot on Middle East peace talks.

Recent reporting indicates the Obama administration is considering releasing convicted spy Jonathan Pollard from federal prison, supposedly to sweeten the pot for Israel in the never-ending soap opera of the Middle East peace talks. Pollard was convicted and sentenced to life in 1987 after pleading guilty to selling Israel a trove of classified information, and will be eligible for parole in November 2015. Israel has requested his release for years, as have numerous prominent members of the American Jewish community, pro-Israel groups, and more than a few misguided fans who view Pollard as some kind of martyr. At least we can rest easy with Barack Obama’s assurance that “my first obligation is to observe the law here in the United States.”

This isn’t the first time Pollard has been a potential bargaining chip in the Middle East peace talks. Bill Clinton’s brief consideration of clemency during the 1998 Wye River meetings led to a public stare-down with four retired directors of naval intelligence, in which several previously unknown facts of Pollard’s case were presented to refute the various claims that he deserved to be released.

The four wrote an open letter to The Washington Post (paid archive) in order to dispense with the notion that Pollard was an “Israeli patriot.” They noted, “Pollard pleaded guilty and therefore was never publicly tried. Thus, the American people never came to know that he offered classified information to three other countries before working for the Israelis and that he offered his services to a fourth country while he was spying for Israel.” That episode also led to then-CIA Director George Tenet threatening to resign if Pollard was released.

So why is Pollard again being considered for release now? Because John “Botox” Kerry is desperate for anything that can be dressed up and called a success. In this case, the “success” would be merely keeping the Israelis at the negotiating table, which might reasonably be called defining success down. Thoughtful observers might ask how Pollard’s release would do anything to resolve one of the most intractable disputes in the world; or whether it is appropriate to manipulate the levers of justice over one individual, even if it could do something useful; and most especially, whether Pollard “deserves” to be released at all. We would prefer that Pollard make his case to the parole board next November, and that the members of that board rule without regard to negotiations between foreign powers.

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