Let Him Rot

December 30, 1993|By JAMES J. KILPATRICK

President Clinton is said to be studying the matter of Jonathan Pollard -- whether to commute the spy's life sentence, or to let the fellow rot in jail. I would let him rot. A review of the record persuades me that Pollard was fairly judged and justly sentenced.

What is a just sentence? The first rule, it is said, is to make the punishment fit the crime. There is more to it than that. The sentence must also fit the criminal. What was the magnitude of his crime? What was his motive? Was his act deliberate or was it spontaneous? Is he remorseful or is he stoic?

All these considerations were present in the Pollard case. To refresh your memory:

Jonathan Pollard was a civilian intelligence research specialist with the U.S. Navy. In June 1984 he began funneling highly classified material to Israel's equivalent of the CIA. In November 1985, the FBI put him under arrest. During the initial

interrogation, Pollard telephoned his wife. Using the code word ''cactus,'' he instructed her to remove a suitcase filled with top-secret documents and to alert his Israeli handlers. As Pollard stalled for time, the handlers flew the coop. The FBI belatedly arrested Mrs. Pollard as an accomplice in espionage.

The case never came to full-blown trial. Over a period of several months, Pollard's lawyers worked out a plea bargain with the Justice Department. Pollard would cooperate with the government by describing his entire operation. In return, the government would agree to keep three promises: It would not ask for a life sentence; the government would acknowledge Pollard's helpful cooperation, and the government would confine its presentation to the facts.

One string was attached: Anne Henderson Pollard also would have to plead guilty to a lesser charge, or the whole deal was off. Jonathan agreed, and on June 4, 1986, the parties appeared before U.S. District Judge Aubrey E. Robinson Jr. He accepted the plea. Nine months elapsed in pre-sentence investigations. Then Judge Robinson called Pollard into court and gave him life behind bars.

It seems evident, looking back, that federal prosecutors had developed an understandable animus toward the recalcitrant defendant. To this day, Pollard has not shed one teardrop of remorse or regret. He believed the U.S. government had been disloyal to his beloved Israel by not sharing certain secrets with its ally. He alone would put things right. And oh, yes, Israel would pay him $50,000 along the way.

The government kept its first promise. Prosecutors never asked for a life sentence, but they did dwell at length on the magnitude of Pollard's crime. They introduced a statement from Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger cataloging the ''substantial and irrevocable'' damage that Pollard had done.

Indeed, said Mr. Weinberger, he could not conceive of greater harm to national security. Pollard's punishment ''should reflect the perfidy of his actions, the magnitude of the treason committed, and the needs of national security.'' In point of fact, it wasn't ''treason,'' which consists only of giving aid and comfort to our ''enemies,'' but prosecutors made certain that Judge Robinson understood that Pollard had not engaged in petit larceny.

The government similarly kept its second promise. Pollard's cooperation had been of ''considerable value.'' That was the beginning and end of that.

The third promise went by the boards. Prosecutors did not confine their presentation to the facts. They described Pollard as ''contemptuous,'' as unworthy of trust, as ''traitorous, arrogant and deceitful.'' Pollard was ''addicted to the high lifestyle funded by his espionage activities.''

Pollard's defenders say the life sentence is out of line with lesser sentences imposed on other spies. No matter. Sentences are individual, not historical. Possibly the punishment may have a deterrent effect on others who would steal top-secret material. No one can say.

If President Clinton grants clemency, the commutation will have more to do with politics than with justice. In Pollard's case, as I see it, justice has been quite well served.

James J. Kilpatrick is a syndicated columnist.

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