Most of you probably have never heard of Jonathan Pollard, the American who has been languishing in prison since November 21, 1985, almost 22 years.
Pollard was a civilian Naval analyst who discovered information critical to Israel’s security was being withheld from Israel, even though Israel was legally entitled to it. This information included dangerous war capabilities being developed by Israel’s enemies, as well as plans for terrorist attacks.
Pollard, knowing that lives were at risk, did all he could to have the flow of information restored, but with no success. As a result, he decided to pass the information to Israel directly, and was later caught.
Pollard had no trial but instead entered into a plea agreement with the U.S. government. In exchange for pleading guilty and fully cooperating, Pollard was assured he would not receive a life sentence. In perhaps the most brazen violation of an agreement in U.S. legal history, the government broke its promise and gave him a life sentence anyway, and a recommendation that he never be paroled!
The Big Lies
Two of the biggest lies you hear about this case are:
a) Pollard spied for money
b) Pollard was a traitor
The facts are this: Pollard spied to save lives; not for money. He actually went into debt to cover his expenses! Even the sentencing judge recognized money was not the motivation behind Pollard’s actions, and did not fine him as is usually done for mercenaries.
As for the traitor lable: remember the first rule of information development: define your terms carefully. Treason is clearly defined in American law as giving aid and comfort to an enemy; to an enemy, not a friend, and last I checked, Israel and the U.S. were allies. That’s why Pollard was never charged with treason but instead with one count of passing information to an ally.
A Grossly Disproportionate Sentence
What Pollard did was wrong, and he readily admits that. But the bottom line is this: the average sentence for Pollard’s crime is two to four years and he will soon be entering the twenty-third year of a life sentence with no end in sight.
What is particularly unfair is that there are many people, who, unlike Pollard, are real traitors who gave critical information to enemy states, who received lighter sentences! By any objective measure, Pollard’s life sentence is one of the greatest miscarriages in U.S. judicial history.
When Pollard was captured in 1985, I was 19 and starting my second year of college. Around that time, I saw an interview of Pollard on 60 Minutes, and thought it was a tragic case, but that there was nothing that I could do about it. Little did I know that our paths would cross years later.
Fast forward to 1995: Jean Chretien was into the second year of his first term. Bill Clinton was in the White House. Windows 95 had been released, and the Internet was just taking off. I was working for an educational organization doing assorted computer work and managing databases. And out of the blue, I was invited to attend a local Jewish discussion group, where Esther Pollard, Jonathan Pollard’s wife (who lived in Toronto), was speaking. Her sister was actually a friend of my wife.
I remember Esther’s presentation as if it were yesterday – it was absolutely riveting. I was shocked beyond belief that such a thing could happen in a democracy. After the presentation, Esther’s sister introduced me to Esther.
I asked Esther, very naively, if any organization or group had set up a website for her. I later learned that all of the groups you think would have been helping (religious and human rights groups, as well as the Israeli government) had, in fact, done nothing, and in most cases, actually hindered all efforts to get justice. This was the beginning of my “education” on the case.
The Truth is Launched
I offered Esther my help, and she told me I was one of two people who might be able to help out and that she would contact me later if needed. The other person fell though, so, in 1995, we launched the Justice for Jonathan Pollard website, and the rest is history.
What started out as a handful of items has grown into an enormous encyclopedia of news articles, legal documents, letters, photographs, audio and video files and political cartoons. There are thousands of pages of material, and it would take months to read it all.
As my information development and technical skills improved, so did the website. In fact, it’s because of the website that my skills have improved! When you are dealing with a man’s life, you can’t afford to make mistakes. The information has to be clear and easily understood.
Paying it Forward
Looking back over the last twelve years, I’m truly amazed to be involved in this effort, and am very proud and privileged that I’m helping in some way. All information developers, indeed all workers no matter what their profession, need to find a cause outside of work and apply their talents to it.
There are so many groups and charities that need your help with their information; with their websites, newsletters, emails and so on. Find something that you are passionate about and offer your services. It’s great experience, you may get to try things you normally wouldn’t because you are doing it for free, and most importantly, it’s the right thing to do.
We are where we are today because of the help and support others gave us. The best way to pay this back is to “pay it forward” and help others. Who knows? You may even save a life.