The call for the release of Israeli convicted spy Jonathan Pollard is gaining momentum: Now adding his name to the list of supporters is Bernard Nussbaum, who served as the White House legal counsel for President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1994.
Nussbaum — along with Philip Heymann, who was deputy Attorney General at the time — was in charge of dealing with the requests to release Pollard during the first Clinton administration. At the time, both high-powered attorneys thought Pollard should remain in prison.
But now both have made clear they believe circumstances have changed.
Heymann, in a letter to President Obama dated January 25, wrote that “Pollard’s conviction was justified but his sentence was entirely out of line with others engaging in similar behavior and it was made less-than-legitimate by a treacherous recommendation of the then-Secretary of Defense.”
This “treacherous” letter, widely known as the Weinberger declaration, is a lengthy classified statement provided to the court by the former Secretary of Defense. According to press reports, the document details the damage done by Pollard to U.S. interests. The Weinberger declaration is viewed as the main reason for rejecting a proposed plea bargain and sentencing Pollard to life in prison.
Heymann declined to comment on his letter or on his depiction of the Weinberger document as “treacherous.”
Nussbaum’s letter, which was sent to the White House on January 28, was not yet made public. According to a copy provided to the Forward, however, Nussbaum states that he fully shares Heymann’s view of the case. “I too believe that Jonathan Pollard has been appropriately punished for his conduct and that a failure at this time to commute his sentence would not serve the course of justice,” the former White House counsel wrote.
Asked by the Forward about the reason for penning the letter now, Nussbaum said: “The points Heymann raises in his letter represent my views too, and since others have expressed their views now, it seemed appropriate for me to do so as well.”
The two former Clinton officials adding their voices to the call for the release of Pollard help the movement strengthen its credentials on the side of the Democratic establishment. Recently, several key former Republican administration officials also expressed their support for the release of Pollard. The voices of former Secretary of State George Shultz and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey are seen by activists for the Pollard case as providing President Obama with the hawkish credentials he might need — should he ever decide on clemency for Pollard.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, was the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
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