Monday, June 11, 2012

The Meaning of the Medal of Freedom

The Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian award that exists in the United States. It is bestowed by the President in a ceremony of honor and respect. The award was created in 1945 and was more recently is called the Presidential Medal of Freedom. It can be given to anyone - including someone who is not a citizen of the United States. 

In two days, President Shimon Peres will receive the Medal of Freedom from President Barack Hussein Obama. Peres has already taken one noble stand in telling Obama that he is accepting the medal on behalf of the entire State of Israel.
I have come here as the representative of the whole of the State of Israel to say thank you for the great friendship that America has demonstrated towards Israel.
Medal of Freedom - named for the fact that there are few things Americans (and Israelis) value more than their freedom. It is an honor - bestowed on a noble person, someone who acts bravely to protect the interests of their country, world peace, humanity.

According to a 1983 Memorandum of Understanding signed between Israel and the United States, Israel was entitled to vital information related to its security. The United States was breaking that agreement, withholding strategic information that Israel should have been given. A man, an American, and yes, a Jew found out and went to his superiors. He asked why Israel was not being given this information and, according to sources, was told, ."Jews get nervous talking about poison gas; they don't need to know." Yes, Jews do get nervous about poison gas...call us crazy but even this rather human tendency does not justify the fact that Israel had a right to know, and the US had an obligation to honor its agreement.

When he could not find another way, Jonathan Pollard leaked this information to Israel...yes, he turned over secret US documents to an ally. What vital information was contained in these papers? Well, sources say it included information about Syrian, Iraqi, Libyan and Iranian nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare capabilities .being developed for use against Israel. It also included information on ballistic missile development by these countries and information on planned terrorist attacks against Israeli civilian targets.

American government officials caught on and Pollard was arrested in 1985. But here is where it gets tricky...Pollard never had a trial. He was never charged or indicted with most of the charges people think he has been convicted of doing. Before it came to a trial, Pollard was encouraged by both the Israeli government and the US government to accept a plea bargain that would save the embarrassing details from coming to the surface - that the Americans had broken an important agreement with an important ally; that Israel had spied on a valued ally.

Since he was never given a trial, Pollard was never found guilty - rather, he pleaded guilty to one charge. No, not treason, not harming the United States. He was never charged with compromising codes, agents or war plans. The ONE charge that he pleaded guilty to was one count of passing classified information to an ally, without intent to harm the United States. That is ALL.

After Jonathan Pollard admitted guilt for this minor charge - the US broke the plea bargain agreement and sentenced him to life in prison with no opportunity for parole. He was not released even for a few hours to attend the funeral of his father; he remains isolated in prison.

No one in the history of the United States has ever received a life sentence for passing classified information to an ally - not before...or after Jonathan Pollard. The median sentence for this offense is two to four years. Jonathan Pollard has served more than 26 years.

It is time for Jonathan Pollard to be free. Whatever crimes he committed, he did so out of a deep love of Israel and the knowledge that he was only passing to Israel what it should have been given in the first place. He has served his time and what might once have been considered justice has now become injustice.

On Wednesday, Shimon Peres will receive the Medal of Freedom - I urge him to thank President Obama and the United States and then, on Thursday, to go visit Jonathan Pollard and give the Medal of Freedom to him. Freedom is nothing if it is at the expense of others; justice for some is not enough. Israel cannot accept such an honor from the United States so long as the US continues to hold Jonathan Pollard in captivity.

Jonathan Pollard has repeatedly expressed his remorse publicly and in private letters to the President and others. He has made it clear that he regrets breaking the law, and wishes he could have found a legal way to act upon his concerns for Israel. If he were freed, after more than 26 years in jail, he would be on the next plane to Israel, to live out his life here.

If the Medal of Freedom is to mean anything - it must come with action. The US should release Pollard now; he can fly back on the plane with Shimon Peres and end an ugly and dishonorable chapter in US history...or, Peres should go to the prison where Jonathan is being held and give him the Medal of Freedom. Israel can only accept it and all it means, when Jonathan comes home. We'll have it here - when Jonathan brings it home.

We released 1,027 terrorists for Gilad Shalit; we can give up one medal and perhaps embarrass the US government just a little for another man captured and held in darkness for so many years. Gilad's captivity has ended; he's back in the sunshine of Israel. Jonathan Pollard deserves no less.

7 comments:

OJ said...

No offense meant, Mrs. Stern, but you really are turning an undeserving man into a hero.

You also repeat a complete untruth.

I'm not interested in repeating all the negative things I have heard about this man, but you smear America's name, especially when you repeat the falsehood that he did not have a trial.

Perfect America may not be, but Pollard has no claim against the country. (and neither does Israel)

The entire blame for Pollard's incarceration rests upon Israel.

Anonymous said...

It is really harmful to Jews in the Diaspora that some Israelis have elevated this man to hero status. He represents every anti-Semitic stereotype that we have to deal with: disloyal to his country, willing to do anything for money, morally self-righteous, convinced of his own intellectual superiority. Please, please, shut up about this man. He is not a prisoner of war. He is an American traitor and he is where he deserves to be.

Ira Weissman said...

The legal definition of a treason (ie, acts perpetrated by a traitor) is spying for an enemy nation during wartime. Jonathan Pollard is not a traitor, and he did not commit treason. The longest punishment in history given to someone caught spying in the US for a friendly nation is something like 2 years. JP's punishment is grossly disproportionate - this is the claim of those who fight for his rights.

True JP supporters, including JP himself, admit that what he did was wrong. That's besides the point. The point is that he was not given his basic right to a fair trial as an American citizen, and his punishment is cruel and unusual when compared to others who were punished for the same crime (but conveniently for them, they were not spying for "that shitty little country.")

T.Rakei said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
T.Rakei said...

OJ, I have no doubt you've heard much that is negative about Jonathan Pollard. Because of the plea bargain, he never had the chance to answer the more colorful accusations, but you may have heard there were other spies lurking in the same establishment at the time-- Walker, Aldrich Ames-- and it was convenient to blame Pollard for the security breaches they later turned out to be committing. Moreover, there are standard smears used against the declared enemies of the intelligence offices, involving for example money (but Pollard never seemed to be throwing around unusual sums) and drugs (but Wolf Blitzer, after originally mentioning a freak-out in his book about Pollard, seems to have had to delete the passage from the paperback edition). To say that Pollard did have a trial may or may not be technically true, but there was never a chance for an open courtroom discussion of anything that might render the sentence he's served anything less than cruel and unusual in the context of his offense.

AliasJoe said...

The Pollard case is very interesting. At the heart of it is some controversy as to weather he spied purely for money or in the interests of his Jewish heritage. Paula is correct that he did not have a trial, but he did have his day in court and he chose to accept a plea agreement in order to aid his wife and to shield both governments from public scrutiny.

He has, I believe, served more time than any other spy and according to the Federal Corrections Bureau, he is eligible (and scheduled) for release in 2015.

I, being an American Christian, have mixed feelings about it. If he really felt Israel was being cheated/harmed by American actions, I would have supported his blowing the whistle on the Intelligence community. I might even understand him passing classified documents in order to protect Israel's existence. It "appears", however, that he did it for the money, not for loyalty.

In either case, he served his time. Set him free and (since he's renounced his American citizenship) put him on a plane to Israel.

We, Americans, have a strange prison system. Young men selling drugs and convicted for multiple offenses can serve life sentences, but convicted murders serve an average of 7 years before they are released... how does that make any sense?

E. Yellin said...

Annonymous wrote
It is really harmful to Jews in the Diaspora that some Israelis have elevated this man to hero status.

So - living in the Diaspora is harmful to Jews?
Wonderful.
Perhaps it will encourage Jews from the Diaspora to move to Israel.

You see - in Israel, almost everyone recognizes that the whole affair was an injustice (some recognize it as merely a major injustice). Had he been spying for Iran or China, he would have been released at least 10 years ago.
He was never tried for treason, never found guilty of treason.


OJ wrote
you smear America's name, especially when you repeat the falsehood that he did not have a trial.

In the Winter/Spring 2011 issue of the Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies, former FBI and navy lawyer M.E. Bowman, top legal adviser to navy intelligence at the time, and with intimate knowledge of the Pollard case, asserting "Because the case never went to trial, it is difficult for outside observers to understand the potential impact and complexity of the Pollard betrayal.

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