NEW YORK (AP) — The US administration said Friday it has no intention of changing the terms of parole for convicted spy for Israel Jonathan Pollard, who was released from prison Friday after 30 years behind bars.
Pollard was given a life sentence in 1987 for providing large amounts of classified US government information to Israel. He was granted parole over the summer, and served three decades behind bars, despite continuous lobbying by successive Israeli governments from across the political spectrum.
Pollard’s lawyers immediately went to court Friday to challenge parole conditions that would let the government track his movements and monitor his computer use. The pre-dawn release from a federal prison in Butner, North Carolina, gave Pollard his long-sought freedom, but the legal and diplomatic wrangling that has defined the case continued.
Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said Friday, however, that the US president does “not have any plans to alter the terms of his parole.”
Speaking to reporters as he traveled with Obama to Malaysia, Rhodes said that the prospect of Pollard being allowed to move to Israel “is something that Prime Minister Netanyahu has regularly raised” in discussions with the US.
“Obviously, the one thing at issue is the requirement that he remains in the United States,” Rhodes said, according to Fox News.
Pollard’s supporters, who have long maintained that he was punished excessively for actions taken on behalf of an American ally, are pressing Obama’s administration to permit him to move immediately to Israel despite parole requirements that he remain in the US for at least five years. Those supporters include Netanyahu, who on Friday applauded Pollard’s freedom.
“The people of Israel welcome the release of Jonathan Pollard,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “As someone who raised Jonathan’s case for years with successive American presidents, I had long hoped this day would come.”
Hours after he was driven away from the prison, the 61-year-old Pollard checked in with probation officers at a federal courthouse in New York City, then emerged into a throng of journalists. He wore loose-fitting khakis, a blue yarmulke and a slight smile.
“I can’t comment on anything today,” the Navy intelligence analyst said, his wife, Esther, on his arm. One of his lawyers and a US marshal, grasping Pollard firmly by the arm, escorted him through the crowd of jostling photographers to a car. The only time he appeared to react to the journalists is when one apparently called him “Yonatan,” the Hebrew pronunciation of his name.
Within hours of his release, Pollard’s attorneys filed court papers in New York challenging his “onerous and oppressive” parole conditions.
Those include a requirement that he wear a GPS ankle bracelet and submit to inspections of his computer at his home or at his job, which his lawyers said will be in the finance department of a New York investment firm.
Pollard’s lawyers complained that wearing a GPS monitor would be harmful to his health because he has severe diabetes and chronic swelling in his legs and ankles. They said the computer monitoring is unnecessary because he no longer possesses any useful classified information.
This was among the highest-profile spy sagas in modern American history, a case that became a diplomatic sticking point. Supporters praised Pollard for aiding an ally, while critics called him a traitor to his country.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that the crime merited a life sentence, given the amount of damage that Mr. Pollard did to the United States government,” said Joseph diGenova, who prosecuted the case as US attorney in Washington. “I would have been perfectly pleased if he had spent the rest of his life in jail.”
Seymour Reich, a former president of B’nai Brith who visited Pollard twice in prison, said that while he believes Pollard broke the law and deserved to be punished, his sentence was overly harsh. Like other supporters, he said Pollard was “double-crossed” into thinking he would receive leniency in exchange for a guilty plea.
US officials have said Pollard, over a series of months and for a salary, provided intelligence summaries and huge quantities of classified documents on the capabilities and programs of Israel’s enemies. He pleaded guilty in 1986 to conspiracy to commit espionage.
Israel initially claimed that Pollard was part of a rogue operation but acknowledged him in the 1990s as an agent and granted him citizenship.
Although he has said his guilty plea was coerced, he has also expressed regret for his actions, telling The Associated Press in a 1998 interview that he did not consider himself a hero.
“There is nothing good that came as a result of my actions,” he said. “I tried to serve two countries at the same time. That does not work.”
Last year, the US dangled the prospect of freeing Pollard early as part of a package of incentives to keep Israel at the negotiating table during talks with the Palestinians. But the talks fell apart, and Pollard remained in prison.
The decision to grant him parole came amid a public disagreement between the US and Israel over a nuclear deal with Iran. But US officials have said the decision to let Pollard out on parole had nothing to do with that deal and was not meant as a concession to Israel.
The Times of Israel staff contributed to this report
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