Before I deal with the parallels between the two prisoners mentioned in the headline I feel it ought to be pointed out that there is something inordinately topsy-turvy about the American deal with Iran to disarm its nuclear program. (I mention America and not the P5+1 allies who co-signed on the deal, because these awkward little details appear to be solely America’s doing. After all it turns out that America has been negotiating in secret with Iran for months before the deal was signed).
The topsy-turviness that I mention above strikes me because on the face of it, Iran is the side who should have been more keen to sign on the deal. They were the ones suffering devastating economic sanctions and diplomatic boycotts. They were the buyers in this deal, so to speak. The Americans were the sellers, the ones with the upper hand. So it should have been the Iranians who were offering something, anything, to tempt the Americans and their Western allies to ease off the sanctions. It was the Iranians who should have offered to cease their nuclear weapons program. It was Iran who should have offered to release American prisoners being held illegally and unjustifiably in their prisons.
Instead we have seen the incomprehensible disappearance of any American demands of Iran, and conversely we have witnessed the Americans more or less begging the Iranians to sign the deal. They have appeared more desperate to get the deal signed at all than to be concerned about the contents of the deal, to the extent that the US released a priceless bargaining chip, a top Iranian scientist without demanding any quid pro quo in the form of the release of American citizens imprisoned in Iran. It is true that Iran released several Americans over the past couple of years but there is a great deal of anger and incomprehension at Obama’s negotiating team for neglecting to request the release of 3 remaining Americans. From the linked article:
In the most dramatic of those releases, the US in April released a top Iranian scientist, Mojtaba Atarodi, who had been arrested in 2011 for attempting to acquire equipment that could be used for Iran’s military-nuclear programs.
American and Iranian officials have been meeting secretly in Oman on and off for years, according to a respected Israeli intelligence analyst, Ronen Solomon. And in the past three years as a consequence of those talks, Iran released three American prisoners, all via Oman, and the US responded in kind. Then, most critically, in April, when the back channel was reactivated in advance of the Geneva P5+1 meetings, the US released a fourth Iranian prisoner, high-ranking Iranian scientist Atarodi, who was arrested in California on charges that remain sealed but relate to his attempt to acquire what are known as dual-use technologies, or equipment that could be used for Iran’s military-nuclear programs. Iran has not reciprocated for that latest release.
[…] Detailing what he termed the “unwritten prisoner exchange deals” agreed over the years in Oman by the US and Iran, Solomon told The Times of Israel that “It’s clear what the Iranians got” with the release of top scientist Atarodi in April. “What’s unclear is what the US got.”
Solomon, who compiled a profile of Atarodi, believes that the scientist, prior to his arrest, played an important role in Iran’s missile and nuclear programs. Atarodi, he said, has co-authored more than 30 technical articles, mostly related to micro-electric engineering and, in 2011, won the Khwarizmi award for the design of a microchip receiver for digital photos. “That same technology,” he said, “can be used for missile guidance and the analysis of nuclear tests.”
“There is no doubt in my mind that Atarodi came to the US at the behest of the logistics wing of the IRGC [the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps],” Solomon said.
There are currently three US nationals — Levinson, Saeed Abedini, and Amir Hekmati — still believed to be held in Iran.
The interim deal in Geneva did not include any reference to prisoner dealings. Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, told CNN, “you’ve got to decide how much you’re going to try to accomplish, and just tackling all the dimensions of the nuclear agreement is ambition enough.” A spokeswoman for the National Security Council added that the “talks focused exclusively on nuclear issues.”
The omission prompted the chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, Jay Sekulow, who is representing Pastor Saeed Abedini’s wife Naghmeh, to charge Obama and US Secretary of State John Kerry with turning their backs on an American citizen. On the center’s website, he called the decision “outrageous and a betrayal” and said it sends the message that “Americans are expendable.”
If Americans are expendable for the Obama Administration, how much more so is an American who spied for Israel, once a close ally of the US but now treated as almost an enemy.
The story of Jonathan Pollard, for those not in the know, can be read at his website here (and I posted about him here). The Americans’ shabby and shameful treatment of Pollard is well-documented, and may very well be the result of a malicious cover-up of American incompetence (from that 2nd link):
Based on a recent article by Leo Rennert which critique’s coverage of the Pollard case in The New York Times, “ it is now clear that Pollard, in failing health, has been the victim of a CIA cover-up of a massive intelligence failure, with the agency blaming Pollard for the damage caused by a real “mole” inside the CIA who passed to Moscow the names of more than a dozen U.S. informants in the Soviet Union — namely Aldrich Ames, the head of CIA’s Soviet-Eastern Europe division, who fingered Pollard to keep the CIA from discovering his own treachery.. The CIA did not discover Ames’ role until well after Pollard was behind bars and it still isn’t willing to acknowledge its mistake in blaming Pollard for Ames’s crimes.”
UPDATE: In fact it was Aldrich Ames himself wrote the damage assessment report on Pollard (h/t asd2mom aka the blogger Liberty’s Spirit in the comments below).
And yet Jonathan Pollard is still languishing in a top security American jail for the crime of spying for Israel (an ally) way beyond anything that was ever decreed for spies on behalf of enemy regimes. Pollard is now entering his 29th year in jail.
Pollard, a civilian US Navy intelligence analyst who spied for Israel, was sentenced to life in prison in 1987, despite a plea bargain in which he admitted his guilt. Several Israeli leaders and an increasing number of US political figures from both parties have made requests that the United States pardon Pollard.
As noted in the above paragraph, Pollard’s imprisonment has now become something of a cause celebre, not to say an embarrassment, for the Americans. Even the former CIA director himself, James Woolsey, has called on the Administration to release Pollard:
In a two-minute video, recorded on Monday at a conference in Manhattan in which Woolsey took part, Woolsey said: “If you look at other allies of the United States, such as South Korea and the Philippines, where we have caught spies, the sentence that they had has been light, not like Pollard’s; it’s been about six or seven years. What I said in The Wall Street Journal essentially was that if anybody is hung up over the fact that he’s an American Jew or that he’s Israeli, just pretend that he’s a South Korean and set him free.”
In response to a question from the cameraman about what may or may not have happened during the administration of former US president Bill Clinton, under whom Woolsey was CIA director, he said, “At the beginning… they asked us all – top-level people who dealt with defense and foreign policy, including me – and I opposed clemency at that point. He’d been in prison about seven or eight years, and I went through the material that he took, and it is very serious, it was very sensitive. So I did not support clemency that time around. But the next time it came up, several years later, I was asked what I thought, and what I said is essentially what I’ve said ever since.”
[…] He’s been in prison a long time now, and the only people who are in prison that long are people like [convicted CIA spy Aldrich] Ames and [convicted FBI spy Robert] Hanssen who got people killed, and Pollard didn’t do that.”
Kol hakavod to Mr. Woolsey for having the courage to admit that Jonathan Pollard has been abused by a glaring miscarriage of justice. But will Obama and his bumbling, incompetent and malign State Department take his advice and release Pollard?
Don’t stake your bets on it. After all, he didn’t spy for Iran.