Congressional letter urges Obama to release spy Jonathan Pollard

A letter by 39 Democratic Congressmen adressed to President Barack Obama is urging clemency for Jonathan Pollard, a former US intelligence analyst who was convicted of spying for Israel and sentenced to life in jail in 1987. In comments at a press conference late Thursday, Rep. Barney Frank said he had initiated the letter, in coordination with a broad array of Jewish groups, out of humanitarian concerns for Pollard, but also as a spur in the peace process. "My own hope is that if the president were to do this it would contribute to the political climate within the democracy of Israel to enhance the peace process," Frank said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has in the past said that releasing Pollard would help secure support for concessions in peace talks with the Palestinians. In 1995, Israel granted Pollard, who was born in Texas in 1954, citizenship.

The letter's emphasis is on what it claims is the disproportionate length of Pollard's sentence. "We believe that there has been a great disparity from the standpoint of justice between the amount of time Mr. Pollard has served and the time that has been served – or not served at all – by many others who were found guilty of similar activity on behalf of nations that, like Israel, are not adversarial to us. It is indisputable in our view that the nearly twenty-five years that Mr. Pollard has served stands as a sufficient time from the standpoint of either punishment or deterrence," the letter states. "Such an exercise of the clemency power would not in any way imply doubt about his guilt, nor cast any aspersions on the process by which he was convicted," it continues.

Frank said he had tried hard to solicit Republican signatories, but was turned down.

Among the Jewish groups backing the effort were the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, National Council of Young Israel, B'nai B'rith International, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the Zionist Organization of America, Agudath Israel of America and the Rabbinic Council of America. Also supporting the effort were several Reagan administration officials who were at the center of Pollard's prosecution.

Earlier this week, Israel's former Attorney-General Elyakim Rubinstein said mistakes had been made by both sides in the case of Pollard and that Israel's government should push the United States to free him. Rubinstein did not go into detail. Rubinstein was the most senior official at the Israeli Embassy in Washington when Pollard tried to seek asylum there.

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