Wednesday, December 24th, 2008
Adam Dickter in New York
President Bush’s second wave of pardons as he packs his bags included a man who paid a price for sticking his neck out for Israel. No, not Jonathan Pollard.
A quarter-century after the death of Charlie Winters, a civilian who helped the fledgling Jewish state acquire military aircraft in violation of a U.S. Middle East arms embargo, Bush pardoned him at the behest of his family and several other petitioners, including Steven Spielberg and several members of Congress.
But Winters’ illegal actions can’t be compared to those of Pollard, who betrayed his country by selling data to the Israelis that the intelligence community insists endangered the lives of operatives in the field. Successive presidents over the past 25 years have resisted calls by Pollard activists to let him go, notwithstanding the fact that he has served more time than many people who gave data to hostile countries. But supporters who feel that he has served enough time for his crime are still hopeful.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Rabbi Pesach Lerner of the National Council of Young Israel, a longtime Pollard activist who has set up a Web site, FreePollardNow, urging people to call the White House in the remaining weeks.
To those who say Pollard is his own worst enemy, having equivocated on his own culpability for his crime, Rabbi Lerner says “he has been remorseful, in print and verbally, to government officials for years. Anyone who wants to say he doesn’t feel bad about what he did is just coming up with an excuse. I have known him for 15 years. He was a young guy put in a difficult situation who had to make an immediate decision and he made the wrong one.”
In lieu of a commutation by Bush, Lerner would not speculate on Pollard’s prospects for freedom during the Obama administration. “I’m still hoping and praying the president will let him out,” he said.