Although it seems unlikely that US President Obama will be releasing Jonathan Pollard any time soon, the US President did say that Pollard will be given “the same kinds of review as all other prisoners.” While the overwhelming consensus in Israel is that Pollard should be released, it is understandable that many Americans do not share that sentiment. Nevertheless, many prominent Americans have been advocating for Pollard’s freedom.

Presented here is background information about the Pollard affair as well as some highlights from prominent Americans who do believe that Jonathan Pollard should be released.

Between 1983 and 1984, Jonathan Pollard, a civilian naval intelligence analyst, discovered classified information related to Iranian, Syrian, Libyan and Iraqi nuclear, biological and chemical warfare capabilities. Pollard claimed that this information was legally supposed to be passed onto Israel via the 1983 Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and Israel. Pollard said that when he questioned his superiors about the matter, they refused to pass the information onto Israel. Pollard therefore decided to act on his own and relayed the information to Israel.

In 1985, the US government discovered Pollard’s actions. At the request of both the Israeli and American governments, Pollard entered into plea bargain agreement. He cooperated fully with the prosecution and was never convicted of harming the United States, compromising American agents, or committing treason (which is legally defined as spying for an enemy state). Pollard was however charged with passing classified information to an allied country on one occasion.

Although the sentence for spying for an ally is often just several years, Pollard was given a life sentence without parole. For example, Abdul Khader Helmy, who spied for Egypt, only served four years in prison after passing on information that was then transferred on to Iraq to assist them with improving the accuracy of their ballistic missiles. Michael Schwartz who spied for Saudi Arabia never served a day in prison out of consideration for Saudi sensitivities. He was merely reprimanded and given a dishonorable discharge. There are many such examples.

Many prominent American leaders have come out recently in favor of releasing Jonathan Pollard. Former CIA director James Woolsey, upon mentioning that Pollard has expressed regret about what he did, that he has promised not to write a book about his experience, and that it was unfair that people who spied for other allied countries all served under ten years in prison, stated, “For those hung up for some reason on the fact that Pollard is an American Jew, pretend that he is a Greek or Korean or Philippino American and free him.” Similarly, former US Presidential Candidate John McCain, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former US Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger, and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey have also called for Jonathan Pollard to be released. Other prominent figures that support him getting released include Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, Benjamin Hooks of the NAACP, and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

In addition, Congressional Democrats and Republicans have joined forces for the first time in over a decade in order to secure the release of Jonathan Pollard. According to their petition, “Mr. Pollard has now served more than 25 years in prison, many of which in solitary confinement, for his actions. There is no doubt that he has paid a heavy price, and, from the standpoint of either punishment or deterrence, we believe he has been imprisoned long enough.” This letter was signed by 40 congressmen.

Additionally, 500 American religious leaders, both Jewish and Christian, have signed a petition stating, “Mr. Pollard is currently serving his 26th year of a life sentence, having been indicted on one count of passing classified information to an ally without intent to harm the United States. We certainly do not condone his crime, nor do we underestimate the gravity of the offense. But it is patently clear that the sentence was and remains terribly disproportionate – the average punishment is a 2-4 year prison term – and (as several federal judges have noted) constitutes a gross miscarriage of justice.”

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