After 17 years, Pollard should be set free

Six years ago, we wrote that "Jonathan Pollard should be walking the streets of Jerusalem as a free man." Despite countless appeals, Pollard remains incarcerated in a federal prison in North Carolina, the only American ever given a life sentence for spying for an ally, Israel.

Enough. It is time for Pollard to be allowed to immigrate to Israel, which granted him citizenship in 1996.

Yes, he behaved badly. Yes, he deserved to be punished. But spying for an ally does not merit a life sentence. And arrogance is not a federal crime.

Pollard does not come across as a pleasant personality in Edwin Black's Page One article. His grandstanding efforts and his letters reveal an overwhelming hubris — which alienated prosecutors, the sentencing judge and his own attorneys.

"It was a classic case of how not to behave," a senior member of the prosecution team said.

But the tactical mistakes made by Pollard's attorneys and Pollard himself, disclosed by Black, are only contributing factors to his life sentence. The other issue is the government's justification, which has always been: "If you only knew how severe the damage was."

Yet the government has never disclosed its case, claiming secrecy, and officials in their interviews with Black fail to make a strong justification for a life sentence.

Caspar Weinberger, who was secretary of defense at the time, had pressed for Pollard's life imprisonment, saying, he couldn't "conceive of a greater harm to national security."

Yet in an interview with Black last month, when asked why he didn't include the Pollard affair in his recently published memoir, Weinberger called "the Pollard matter…comparatively minor."

Pollard's life sentence, by contrast, is no minor matter, and it's hard to believe that the damage he may have done by disclosing secrets to Israel in the 1980s could continue to undermine U.S. interests in 2002.

Pollard appears to have repented, admitting, "I really screwed up." He deserves to be pardoned. Seventeen years is long enough.