The Obama administration is preparing to release convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard,according to U.S. officials, some of whom hope the move will smooth relations with Israel in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal, the Wall Street Journal reports today.
The WSJ report comes a week after Matzav.com first reported that the Justice Department is considering Pollard’s release.
Such a move would end a decadeslong fight over Mr. Pollard, who was arrested on charges of spying for Israel in 1985 and later sentenced to life in prison. The case has long been a source of tension between the U.S. and Israel, which has argued that a life sentence for spying on behalf of a close U.S. partner is too harsh. For decades, Israel has sought Mr. Pollard’s early release only to be rejected by the U.S.
Now, some U.S. officials are pushing for Mr. Pollard’s release in a matter of weeks. Others expect it could take months, possibly until his parole consideration date in November. Some U.S. officials strongly denied Friday there was any link between the Iran deal and Mr. Pollard’s prospective release, saying that any release decision would be made by the U.S. Parole Commission.
A White House spokesman referred questions to the Justice Department, where a spokesman declined to comment on a matter which may be before the Parole Commission.
Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has personally pressed for years to get the U.S. to release Mr. Pollard, who is currently serving time in a federal prison in Butner, N.C.
Mr. Pollard, 60 years old, was a civilian analyst with the U.S. Navy when he was arrested for passing secret documents to Israel. He eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life.
The mechanism or likely rationale for freeing Mr. Pollard couldn’t immediately be learned. The most likely scenario would be to free him when he first becomes eligible for parole in November, according to some U.S. officials.
Under sentencing laws at the time he was convicted, Mr. Pollard has to be considered for parole after 30 years. The Bureau of Prisons website currently lists his possible release date as Nov. 21, which is the date the federal parole commission is slated to consider whether to end his sentence.
A parole hearing for Mr. Pollard was held in early July. Mr. Pollard’s lawyer, Eliot Lauer, said he hasn’t heard from the parole commission “and I would expect that either I or my client would be the ones who would be notified.’’
To get out before November would require unusual intervention. In the federal prison system, often the easiest way to free an inmate early is to cite deteriorating health. Mr. Pollard’s supporters say he is suffering from a host of medical ailments that should qualify him for mercy.
The U.S. has considered releasing him before but always backed away from such a move, largely because of opposition from senior leaders at the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Justice Department.
It is possible such opposition could again scuttle any release, but it appears his chances at winning freedom are better now than they have ever been, U.S. officials said. Some U.S. officials have concluded he will be a free man before the year is over, the Journal reports.