Last week we learned that John McCain has joined the ranks of those calling for the release of Jonathan Pollard. Pollard, you will recall, was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 for espionage – specifically for passing tens of thousands, “possibly over a million” U.S. classified documents to the Israelis, many of them related to the military activities of Arab states.
In a February 15, 1987 article for the Washington Post, Wolf Blitzer set out a partial list of the secret materials Pollard stole and passed on to his Israel handlers. The list reads eerily like a prologue to the past twenty-five years of American foreign policy: it includes American reconnaissance of the PLO, information about Iraqi and Syrian chemical warfare facilities, details of Soviet arms shipments to Syria and Lebanon, and reports on what was then Pakistan’s fledging nuclear weapons program. “What Pollard did,” wrote Blitzer at the time, “was to make virtually the entire U.S. intelligence-gathering apparatus available to Israel.” The Israelis found the intelligence Pollard provided “breathtaking”; Caspar Weinberger at the time called it “treason,” noting that once in Israeli hands the same information could pass easily to the Soviets.
According to the terms of his sentence, Pollard will be eligible for parole in 2015. But that is not soon enough for many American politicians, who range from Barney Frank to Anthony Weiner to Henry Kissinger, and now, McCain, who has done an “about face” on the matter: until recently he was adamantly opposed to Pollard’s release, telling the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations that Pollard had “betrayed our nation.”
The argument for clemency usually takes a few forms: Pollard is ill (where have we heard that one before?). Freeing Pollard now will be a goodwill gesture toward the Israelis, and will help the Obama administration advance Middle East peace talks: but exactly how is unclear. Lawrence Korb, former Assistant Secretary of Defense under Ronald Reagan, recently decried Pollard’s “harsh sentence” in an Op Ed for the conservative Jerusalem Post, claiming “whatever facts [Pollard] might know would have little effect on national security.”
Can’t the same be said for the classified information released on Wikileaks, and linked by the U.S. government, via Adrian Lamo, to Bradley Manning?
John McCain called Cablegate “an incredible breach of national security.” But in the moment of candor that just cost him his job, P.J. Crowley admitted that “from a State Department perspective, we’re not really embarrassed by what came out. A British colleague observed that his opinion of US diplomacy went up as a result of reading the cables.” So while Crowley thinks “Manning is in the right place” – why, and based on what evidence, he does not say — neither he nor anyone at the Pentagon will say that Wikileaks has harmed national security.
So it strikes me as curious that our leaders are eagerly lining up to advocate for the release of a convicted spy, but are unable to summon the courage to ask for the humane treatment of an Army private who has not even had his day in court.