A Palestinian airline bomber is released from US jail but Jonathan Pollard remains incarcerated

Ahead of President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel tomorrow, Israel is awash with petitions, posters and protests asking for the release of convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard. Even such diverse personalities as former Israeli captive Gilad Shalit and top model Bar Refaeli have signed the petition calling for Pollard’s release.

Politicians and dignitaries at the highest level from both countries, from Israeli President Shimon Peres to former US Assistant Secretary of State Lawrence Korb to former US Attorney-General Michael Mukasey to former CIA Director James Woolsey have asked the Administration to commute Pollard’s sentence to time served, if not to pardon him altogether, and release him from prison, but so far to no avail.

Signs welcoming Obama are covered with posters saying “Let my brother go!”

Barack Obama has said that there is no plan for the immediate release of Jonathan Pollard and he won’t commit to releasing him as yet:

U.S. President Barack Obama said in an interview broadcast on Israel’s Channel 2 Thursday that he has no plan for pardoning Jonathan Pollard soon.

“This is an individual who committed a very serious crime,” he told Channel 2‘s Yonit Levy. “He has been serving his time. There is a justice system that allows for periodic review and the way I as president function here is to try and make sure that I am following the basic rules of that review.

“I have no plans for releasing Jonathan Pollard immediately but what I am going to be doing is to make sure that he is accorded the same kinds of review as others. I recognize the emotions involved in this. One of the strengths of the Israeli people is that you think about your people wherever they are.

“As president my first obligation is to observe the law here in the US. I need to make sure that every individual is treated fairly and equally.”

Hmm. About that being treated fairly and equally: A Palestinian airline bomber is about to be released from prison in the US after serving 20 years:

Mohammed Rashed slipped a bomb beneath the jetliner seat cushion, set the timer and disembarked with his wife and child when the plane landed in Tokyo. The device exploded as Pan Am Flight 830 continued on to Honolulu, killing a Japanese teenager in a 1982 attack that investigators linked to a terrorist organization known for making sophisticated bombs.

It would be 20 years before the bomber — and one-time apprentice to Abu Ibrahim, currently featured on the FBI list of most wanted terrorists — would admit guilt in an American courtroom.

Now, credited for his cooperation against associates, Rashed will be released from federal prison within days after more than two decades in custody in Greece and the United States.

The release does more than spring loose a convicted terrorist. It also could deprive the government of a star witness in the event that Ibrahim, a Palestinian master bomb-maker who authorities say orchestrated the Pan Am attack and similar strikes around the world, is ever captured. A former top lieutenant, Rashed would be able to implicate Ibrahim as the architect of the attack and help establish his identity in case prosecutors ever had a chance to bring him to the U.S. to face justice. Once freed, it’s not clear that he would continue cooperating, though the Justice Department says it has enough other evidence for a conviction.


Rashed’s 2002 guilty plea required him to cough up information on other terror plots in exchange for a release date of March 20, 2013. The agreement also stipulated that Rashed, a Jordanian-born Palestinian from Bethlehem, would be deported to a country of his choice upon his release. His lawyer wouldn’t comment on Rashed’s plans. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons, which lists Rashed as 63 years old, also declined to comment.

The plea deal reflects the balancing of two government interests that are sometimes in conflict: securing lengthy prison sentences for dangerous felons while also incentivizing their cooperation against higher-value targets through the prospect of an early release. Though Ibrahim remains at large, Rashed’s cooperation has already been extensive by some accounts, including providing information about a 1986 airplane explosion that killed four Americans and a 1982 Berlin restaurant bombing that killed a child, former Assistant U.S. Attorney General David Kris wrote in a 2011 article for the Journal of National Security Law & Policy.


Roy Hawk, the Pan Am 830 pilot, said he’s never forgotten the carnage inside the plane. He was dismayed to learn of Rashed’s pending release.

“To tell you the truth, I never figured he’d be released,” Hawk said. “I just figured he’d be in prison the rest of his life, and that was it.”

I’m so sorry Captain Hawk. The problem is that Rashed only killed Americans. He wasn’t acting in defense of a US ally and passing over information that the US was supposed to have given to that ally in the first place.

That was Jonathan Pollard’s mistake too. Perhaps he should have blown up an airliner. Then he would already have been freed.  Instead he spied on the Arabs and Soviets (not on America as has been claimed) for Israel. And for that he is still languishing in a US maximum security prison under very inhumane conditions.

Shame on the US and shame on the double standards of their (in)justice system.

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6 Responses to A Palestinian airline bomber is released from US jail but Jonathan Pollard remains incarcerated

  1. cba says:

    And–it must be said–shame on Israel (at the very least, shame on his handler) for shutting the door of the embassy in his face as he was about to be arrested.

    • anneinpt says:

      You’re quite right. It was a national disgrace. And even more of a disgrace that it took until Netanyahu’s first term as PM for Pollard to be acknowledged as an Israeli spy at all.

      But ever since that time, the Americans have been no more forthcoming. Their treatment of Pollard is nothing short of inhuman if you read the link I gave at the bottom of my post. And the length of time he has served plus his current conditions smack of vindictiveness, and even anti-Semitism, when compared to the status of other spies on behalf of enemies, let alone those who spied for allies.

      • cba says:

        Two words: Casper Weinberger (sp?)

        • anneinpt says:

          That’s exactly what you commented on one of my previous Pollard threads. And your comment is still right.

          But things have changed in recent years. Just look at the list of Americans (not Israelis) who have asked for Pollard to be released. They are a Who’s Who of the American political and legal establishment. And yet they are rejected just as much as Israel’s requests are.

          Could the ghost of Caspar Weinberger still be haunting State?

  2. Reality says:

    I keep wondering why the past presidents & prime ministers of Israel didn’t push for his release until the public started screaming for Pollards release & then only when they saw that it made political sense. Why are they afraid? What will Jonathan Pollard say to all of us that they are scared of? & If so ,why doesn’t he speak out now anyway when his incarceration looks as if it’ll never end G-d forbid. We keep on being told to make concilliatory gestures towards the Palestinians, how come USA can’t make one? Only Israel seems to have to make these gestures -never any other country at war has made these”gestures” to their enemies.

    • anneinpt says:

      You raise some interesting points but I’m not sure I agree. I don’t think the Israelis are scared – or at least not any more – of what Pollard may reveal. Israeli politicians, from Peres to Bibi and on down – are all actively campaigning for his release.

      I think at the time Israel disowned him because they were highly embarrassed by the whole affair. I think there was also a bit of vagueness – perhaps deliberate – in Pollard’s actual status. He was never actively recruited to Mossad as far as I know. He simply volunteered his services, so Israel could deny he worked for them. I’m guessing that Israel reckoned he would get 2-3 years in jail for spying for an ally, and then he could make aliya.

      However as soon as the whole thing went pear-shaped, as soon as the Americans reneged on the plea bargain, and as soon as he was given that vindictively long sentence, longer than any murderer or airline bomber as we have seen, Israel should have gotten involved immediately. As it is, it took till Bibi first came to power in 1995 to recognize Pollard.

      It’s a disgrace all round, but I think the Americans have a harder case to answer than the Israelis now.

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