Over at Commentary’s Contentions blog, a usually insightful place, we have this nonsense: Alana Goodman believes that President Obama has no incentive for pardoning Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard because of his left-wing base. Jennifer Rubin, the new Right Turn columnist for the Washington Post, also notes the efforts on Pollard’s behalf and seems to approve them. She too sees nothing in it for President Obama. I am normally never very far from Jennifer Rubin’s views but both she and Ms. Goodman are wrong. The President has every incentive to release Pollard, but he should not do so.
First, a little back ground. Jonathan Pollard wormed his way into American naval intelligence and then provided classified information to the Israelis as one of their paid agents. He accepted money for his spying. He was caught in 1987 and he and his wife were going to be tried for their crimes. Instead they accepted a plea agreement. His wife received five years and was released early for health and other reasons. The prosecution was incensed by an interview Pollard gave presentencing to the media and violated, in my opinion, the spirit if not the letter of that agreement. But it can also be argued Pollard breached in his disclosures while awaiting sentencing. The Court did not accept the prosecutor’s plea agreement and sentenced Pollard to life in prison. One of the reasons for doing so was that Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger entered evidence against him.
It appears from news reports that Pollard never sought parole. In fact, he has behaved oddly and erratically for years. This article in fact lays out the story very well. I have no idea why Pollard’s lawyer did not file an appeal. Because it was a pre-sentencing guideline case, Pollard can apply for parole, but instead he is seeking a pardon. Prime Minister Netanyahu has asked for his release.
President Obama can commute Pollard’s sentence at no cost to himself. He would not have to pardon Pollard but merely commute the sentence to the time already served. Pollard would immediately leave the country for Israel and not be heard from again. Any knowledge of American secrets he has are well over twenty years old. President Obama could do this during the election year not only to garnish some support in specific areas but also in exchange for some visible concession from the Netanyahu government. He could show leniency to a discrete constituency, and also show concessions from Israel to please another portion of his base. He would lose support only among national security sticklers and those folks are not going to be voting Obama in 2012.
He should not do so, in any case. Jonathan Pollard spied for a foreign power. That it is an ally makes no difference. Many used this defense in supplying the Soviets with secret information during World War II. It is not the spy’s decision who to tell secrets to, but the government. He was sentenced by a respected judge who had all the evidence before him. Pollard has made clear his true allegiance is to Israel. A greater propaganda gift to the Arab world and the enemies of both this country and Israel than Jonathan Pollard can not be imagined. American Jews subject to “dual loyalty” jibes have in Pollard a pure example for the “anti-Zionist” crowd. Lenient treatment would immediately be used to show a double standard with many Arab spies and malefactors. Do we want new requests of pardon for those who performed crimes for the Palestinian cause?
At bottom only the harshest penalties, carried out to the letter, deter and punish the crime of an American intelligence officer turning his coat. America, in the age of Wikileaks, can not send a message of leniency. America would weaken any in terroram effect its laws now have. It is also the case that neither Israel, nor American Jews would be served by such an early and unjustified release. Pollard made his choices. He should not be freed from the consequences of those choices. Such special treatment would at a stroke dismay the intelligence community, anger and provide ammunition to Arab and Moslem enemies of this country, inflame anti-Israelis in this country and weaken Americans in the eyes of all potential spies.
I think Ms. Goodman is wrong that Obama will not pardon Pollard, and that Ms. Rubin’s hope is justified, but I hope the former turns out to be right.