Why Obama Will Free Jonathan Pollard

The US Department of Justice has released new files about convicted spy Jonathan Pollard’s bid for presidential clemency.  Pollard was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 after passing more than a million highly classified documents to Israel while working as an intelligence analyst for the US Navy.  Documents in the Freedom of Information Act response (PDF) reference 32 pages of government agency deliberative communications and 37 pages of new communications between Pardon Attorney Ronald Rogers and Pollard’s legal team — all produced since July of 2011. While the contents have been withheld, their existence signals that the Pollard commutation request may be nearing a conclusion within the Obama administration.  June 18 could mark the culmination of a massive lobbying campaign for release.  Obama’s dismal record on Israeli accountability suggests Pollard will soon walk free.

Released documents reveal that the Rabbinical Assembly — claiming to represent "1.5 million Jews worldwide" — passed a formal resolution asking Obama to commute Pollard’s sentence.    Rabbi David Zwiebel of Agudath Israel of America and Moshe Kantor of the European Jewish Congress also urged Pollard’s release. Letters demanding release also continue to flood in from former and current members of the US Congress. Steve Symms, Matt Salmon, Alan Simpson, Robert Wexler, Barney Frank, and Gary Ackerman joined the ranks of fellow representatives already demanding release.  Moshe Kahalon, Israel’s Minister of Communications, gushed to Obama "I have no doubt that your decision to release Jonathan Pollard now as a humanitarian expression of justice and compassion will bring great relief to many, and will remove this impediment to the friendship between our nations." Former New York City Mayor David Dinkins is also now rooting for Pollard’s release. Upping the ante, Israeli President Shimon Peres has explicitly linked his receipt of a US Presidential Medal of Freedom during a special June 18 White House dinner to Pollard’s freedom gambit — channeling even more intense pressure on Obama to take action in a specific context, place and time.

The linkage to Obama’s reelection bid is obvious. Israel’s Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger brashly stated that releasing Pollard would be good for Obama’s reelection campaign. But what makes Pollard worth expending such formidable lobbying and political capital?  Why have Israel and its Western lobbying organizations made Pollard a key issue, almost on the same footing as massive US taxpayer-funded aid packages and confronting Iran?  The Israel lobby effort is trying to achieve much more than simply putting Congress and a sitting president through their paces. 

Pollard’s ongoing imprisonment has uniquely and singularly defied Israel’s doctrine of accountability.  Israel’s history is replete with demands that it should never be held accountable for any act committed anywhere — including in the US — that is perpetrated in the name of Israel’s national security.   Most public figures lobbying for Pollard’s release grudgingly admit that he committed heinous acts against the US.  But like the enforcers of other doctrines of infallibility, Pollard clemency lobbyists insist that acts to enhance Israeli security — as determined by Israel and Israel alone — are infallible. Clemency will serve this infallibility doctrine.  Pollard’s imprisonment has placed a damper on Israel’s widespread and constant recruitment of others to act audaciously — and often illegally — on the pretext of advancing its national security.  Freeing Pollard would unfetter Israel and its supporters during increasingly tense international times.

With the exception of releasing Pollard, the Obama administration has signaled agreement with Israel’s infallibility doctrine via proclamation and deed.  After the 2009 inauguration and shortly before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual Washington meeting, the administration short-circuited due process by tossing out the Rosen and Weissman espionage prosecution before it could be heard by an impartial jury.  The pair purloined national defense secrets they believed could be used to foment US military action against Iran.

Less widely known is that Israeli front company Telogy was caught in the summer of 2010 illegally shipping nuclear weapons components out of California to Israel.  When such crimes occurred in the past — such as in the case of MILCO smuggling nuclear triggers out of California to Israel — the US at least criminally investigated Israel’s US operatives even while carefully steering around the true masterminds such as Arnon Milchan and high Israeli intelligence officials.  In the case of Telogy, the Obama administration simply leaked tidbits of the export violations to friendly press, helpfully allowing Telogy to quickly roll up its illegal US operations.  Rather than raids, arrests, publicity and prosecutions, Israel’s only punishment for Telogy was a mild admonishment (PDF) issued by former weapons inspector David Albright from his perch at a think tank almost singularly devoted to analyzing Iran’s — but not Israel’s — nuclear program in the establishment news media.

The Obama Justice Department was presented with a golden opportunity to penetrate Israeli Aerospace Industries spying activities in the United States by flipping Stewart Nozette.  Nozette had quietly received $225,000 in "consulting fees" from IAI to vacuum up secrets from various US government agencies.  Instead of being doubled back on IAI, Nozette was brought down by an FBI employee posing as a Mossad agent in an elaborate FBI sting operation that hermetically sealed off Israel and Nozette’s Israeli handlers.  Although court documents clearly document Nozette admitting to passing US secrets to Israel, US Attorney Ron Machen issued public statements denying that any US secrets had been transferred to Israel, even as AIPAC ramped up its lobbying for more US taxpayer funding for IAI missile development.

Attorney General Eric Holder, ultimately responsible for such massive prosecutorial failures, long ago revealed his approval for releasing another top figure committing crimes in the name of Israel.  In the case of fugitive financier and likely Israeli intelligence asset Marc Rich, Holder signaled he was "neutral, leaning toward favorable" for a Rich pardon after being lobbied by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak while working under President Bill Clinton.

Fear of mass resignations in the intelligence community (and allegedly CIA Director George Tenant’s threats) and popular protests were the only obstacles thwarting President Bill Clinton pardoning Pollard alongside Rich. But that was before 9/11 turned America into a national security state. Today — inside and outside of government — Americans have grown accustomed to outrageous legal, ethical and moral crimes perpetrated by government in the name of national security. Outrageous public acts of government hypocrisy and deceit toward rule of law are now no longer reviled, but grudgingly expected. There will likely be little public outcry if Obama frees Israel’s top spy while simultaneously pinning a medal on the chest of the Middle East’s biggest (and so far only) nuclear arms proliferator