WASHINGTON (JTA) — Congressional Democrats and Republicans are joining forces for the first time in more than a decade in an effort to secure Jonathan Pollard’s release.
A bipartisan letter is circulating in the U.S. House of Representatives soliciting signatures on a letter to President Obama asking him to commute Pollard’s sentence to time served. The “Dear Colleague” letter is signed by veteran House members Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.).
“What Mr. Pollard did was wrong. He broke the law and deserved to be punished for his crime,” the letter to Obama reads. “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.”
The letter comes as Israeli President Shimon Peres visits the United States, where he is scheduled to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Obama on Wednesday. Peres said he would raise clemency for Pollard, a civilian U.S. Navy analyst who was sentenced to life in 1987 for spying for Israel, when he meets Obama prior to receiving the honor.
“I will speak one on one with the president about Pollard,” Peres told reporters after arriving Monday ahead of the Medal of Freedom ceremony on Wednesday. “The Israeli president also has the power of clemency — I understand all the problems associated with clemency. Clemency is not an extension of the judicial process, it includes considerations beyond and outside this area, and I’ll explain this to the president. I expect that I will explain my position, beyond that I can’t say — I don’t know what his considerations are. I intend on focusing on the humanitarian aspect.”
Efforts to persuade Obama to extend clemency to Pollard have intensified in recent months. Pollard is said to be in poor physical condition.
Numerous American leaders, who served in both Republican and Democratic administrations, have called for a commutation of Pollard’s sentence.
Meanwhile, a former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. cited Pollard’s imprisonment in accusing America of hypocrisy for condemning her country’s 33-year prison sentence for a Pakistani citizen who helped the CIA find Osama bin Laden.
“How can the country that is holding Jonathan Pollard in prison for close to 30 years claim that we do not have the right to judge a spy in our own country as we see fit?” Maleeha Lodhi, the former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., said during an interview over the weekend with CBS. “The country that put Jonathan Pollard away for spying for its close ally, Israel, should understand that other countries, too, punish those who spy for an erstwhile ally.”