Convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard poses no threat to the U.S. and should be granted clemency, House Armed Services Committee member Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) wrote in a letter to President Barack Obama recently. The letter was sent a little over a week after President Shimon Peres made a personally appeal to the U.S. president to commute Pollard's sentence.
"If Mr. Pollard were released today he would pose no threat to national security, and any intelligence that he once possessed is undoubtedly irrelevant 27 years later," Andrews wrote. "The length of this sentence is unprecedented, as the median sentence for passing classified intelligence to an ally is between two and four years ... Mr. Pollard has served even longer than many who have been convicted of spying for enemies of the United States."
Andrews has logged many years in Congress and has been privy to classified material relevant to Pollard's case as part of his work in the prestigious Armed Services Committee. Analysts believe that such an official and explicit plea for clemency by an influential congressman could carry significant weight. Administration officials have repeatedly said that Obama's position on Pollard has not changed.
Andrews also sent a copy of the letter to Attorney-General Eric Holder. The letter emphasizes that Pollard has served more than 26 years of his life sentence, imposed after he confessed to sharing classified information with Israel. Pollard may be eligible for parole in 2015.
Effi Lahav, who heads the Committee to Free Pollard, told Israel Hayom that he was "encouraged by the developments over the past several days," but also sounded a cautionary note, saying, "It is abundantly clear to all of us that a positive answer [from Obama] that would save Jonathan requires persistent, powerful and timely efforts on the part of the president of the state [of Israel]. We hope to continue working with the [Israeli] president to ensure that we do not miss the opportunity, God forbid."
Pollard, who was a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy, was sentenced to life in prison as part of a plea bargain, after FBI agents uncovered his activity in 1985. Successive U.S. presidents have turned down Israeli requests for clemency and have vowed that Pollard will serve out his sentence. During Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's first term in office, in 1998, he asked President Bill Clinton to pardon Pollard. Clinton reportedly refused the request after then-CIA director George Tenet threatened to resign over the issue.
The recent campaign to release Pollard took off after Obama announced his decision to award Peres the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian distinction in the U.S. Some Pollard supporters went so far as to ask Peres to forego the medal so long as Pollard's sentence was not commuted. Several bereaved families also met with Peres and asked him to work for Pollard's release.
In April, Peres sent a personal letter to Obama in April. At the time, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told Israel Hayom that U.S. officials were convinced Pollard was not working alone when he spied for Israel and would therefore make a release conditional on Israel acknowledging this claim, which Ayalon called "baseless."
On June 13, a few hours before Peres met Obama in the Oval Office ahead of the much-anticipated medal presentation ceremony, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters that the president's position on clemency to the Israeli spy had not changed "and will not change today," essentially pre-empting Peres' personal plea.
Last October, Vice President Joe Biden told the New York Times that he had nipped a presidential pardon in the bud. “President Obama was considering clemency, but I told him, ‘Over my dead body are we going to let him out before his time.’ If it were up to me, he would stay in jail for life,” Biden said.