Jonathan Pollard's Sentence

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Saturday, January 2, 1993; 12:00 AM

FREE JONATHAN Pollard now, say the Israeli government and the many Americans conducting a renewed campaign in behalf of the former U.S. naval intelligence analyst who was convicted in 1987 of spying for Israel and sentenced to life. And certainly a case can be made that a prison term ending when he becomes eligible for parole in 1997 would be plenty long enough.

But earlier commutation? Despite suggestions by Pollard campaigners, there is no showing of injustice. The sentence was heavier than other espionage sentences, but each case is different, and this one was particularly strong. Nor is there a claim that, in prison, the prisoner has somehow been transformed. He is depicted as one who acted in conscience to spare Israel a second Holocaust after discovering that the United States had broken its word to deliver critical intelligence information. That must be set against the arrangements he made to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars for passing immense quantities of secret materials.

His supporters make much of the fact that the prosecution, for his cooperation, promised not to seek a life sentence. But the sentencing judge was never bound by that promise. Much is also made of the fact that then-secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger was extremely hard on the confessed spy, accusing him -- no court ever did -- of "treason." But the judge, not the defense secretary, handed down the sentence.

No innocent, Jonathan Pollard was a practiced intelligence analyst who knew the seriousness of his offense. He knew he could not control whether Israel would keep the information or how Israel might apply it and that it could give Israel options that might or might not be in the American interest. That he was spying not for an enemy but for a friend does not so much lighten his breach of trust as underline its grossness.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin asked President Clinton to commute the Pollard sentence; the president has asked the Justice Department to advise him. The onset of peace talks is being offered as a clinching new-era reason why Mr. Clinton should let the spy Pollard go. But this case, which Israel still implausibly dismisses as a lower-level "rogue operation," is not so easily put behind.


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