Eight former high-level US officials penned a strongly worded letter to President Barack Obama Thursday denouncing a decision to deny Israeli-American spy Jonathan Pollard parole in August, and charging the administration with basing the rejection on a “patently false” claim.
The document slams the “unjust denial” of the request, the first Pollard had made after nearly 30 years behind bars, and voices its “strongest objections” to the “deeply flawed” legal decision.
The signatories — who include former CIA director Amb. R. James Woolsey, and Lawrence J. Korb, former assistant US secretary of defense — maintain they “are fully familiar with the Pollard file and with its classified contents.”
Other signatories include two former chairs of the Senate Intelligence Committee, a former US National Security Adviser, a former White House counsel, and a homeland security adviser.
Pollard’s request was denied on August 4, but news of it only broke on Wednesday.
US officials at the hearing said letting him go would “constitute contempt for the severity of the offense and promote a lack of respect for the law,” according to a Hebrew-language statement from the Campaign for the Release of Jonathan Pollard, an activist group.
“The Parole Commission decision document mischaracterizes Mr. Pollard’s actions and makes a patently false claim upon which it bases its denial of parole,” the letter from the formal officials said.
A former US naval analyst, Pollard was found guilty of passing sensitive documents to Israel, and sentenced to a life term in prison. On Friday, he’ll mark his 30th year in prison.
In Israel, he remains a cause celebre, and there have been repeated efforts throughout the past twenty years to secure his release.
The American intelligence and defense community has for years dug in its heels over keeping Pollard imprisoned, even as calls for his release have grown in worldwide Jewish communities and mainstream Israeli politics.
A statement from the Campaign for the Release of Jonathan Pollard released Wednesday charged the Obama administration of seeking to quash the spy’s chances of being freed for political reasons.
The letter from the formal officials echoed that claim.
“The Commission’s allegation that Mr. Pollard’s espionage ‘was the greatest compromise of US security to that date’ is false; and not supported by any evidence in the public record or the classified file. Yet it was this fiction that the Parole Commission cited to deny parole,” it stated.
The assessment of the severity of Pollard’s spying was based on a “stale, largely discredited, 28-year-old classified memorandum written by former Secretary of Defense, Casper Weinberger,” which he later backtracked on, it said, citing a 2002 interview in which Weinberger conceded that the Pollard affair was “a very minor matter but made very important.”
The ex-officials said that the parole board ignored all evidence in Pollard’s favor, his high score on a test measuring “suitability for release,” his age, his family situation, poor health, and wife’s cancer.
They denounced the “grossly disproportionate” treatment of Pollard, and said his “unconditional release (let alone his release on parole, which does not address the disproportionality of his sentence) is long overdue.”
“It is clear that his sentence is far more severe than others in the US convicted of the same offense,” the letter maintained.
The eight former senior officials called on Obama to pardon the incarcerated spy.
“Denying a man his freedom based on a claim of damage that is patently false while ignoring exculpatory documentary evidence and hiding behind a veil of secret evidence is neither fair nor just, and it simply is not the American way.”
Pollard, being held at a federal prison in Butner, North Carolina, turned to the parole board for a first time in April, but canceled his hearing at the last minute amid reports that his release could be secured as part of a political deal to salvage US-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
In January, Israeli president Shimon Peres was given a petition signed by 106 out of 120 MKs calling for Pollard’s release, to be passed on to US President Barack Obama. The same petition was later given to a group of MKs to present as well to Obama.
Joshua Davidovich and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.