Tuesday, November 10, 2015

10-Nov-15: Intervention, selective mercy and the president

Convicted of dealing in crack cocaine, this freshly-freed prisoner received
a charming letter personally written by President Obama
[Image Source: New York Times, October 1, 2015]
It doesn't bear directly on terrorism which is our normal focus here but the discussion about Jonathan Pollard being paroled from US prison after serving a full and unabridged thirty year term is raising issues that, unfortunately, are familiar to us from past unpleasant encounters with Washington spokespersons. And from exposure to sanctimonious political double-talk.

A Washington Post article published yesterday ["Obama will not intervene to allow Jonathan Pollard to leave for Israel", Karen DeYoung, November 9, 2015] deals with how there are going to be restrictions on Pollard's freedom for a considerable time even after he walks out of his cell:
...Pollard must remain in the United States, under supervision, for five years. His supporters here and in Israel have suggested that Obama could use his executive power to waive that condition and allow Pollard to leave the country... [But] “President Obama has not intervened in the judicial process here in the United States, and that’s been his consistent approach,” Rhodes said. “With respect to the case of Jonathan Pollard, he’s made clear that he wants there to be fair treatment under the law, as there should be with any individual.” Obama, Rhodes said, “respects how important this issue is to many Israelis.” But the president’s non-intervention approach has not changed, he said. [Washington Post]
Should Obama change his long-standing and unvarying policy of "non-intervention" when it comes to Pollard? As it turns out, that's not so much the question.

A Jerusalem Post piece by Gil Hoffman said a few days ago ["White House closes door on Pollard aliya", Jerusalem Post, November 7, 2015] that Pollard, who is expected to be paroled on November 30, is then going to be subject to a ban not only on leaving the US for the next five years but also on giving interviews. Free he may be, but the freedom to speak in public will be forbidden to him. And since he's out on parole, the price of breaching the parole conditions is self-explanatory and high. 
Intervening in justice system by '
commuting many more sentences in July 2015 [Image Source]

President Obama who maintains a strict non-intervention stance on such matters, could - but we are assured is not going to - change it for Pollard. Yet as the Jerusalem Post's Hoffman points out
Obama has commuted sentences of 89 people during his presidency, more than any American president since Lyndon B. Johnson. He has granted full pardons to another 64 people. Most of the convicts who received clemency from Obama were drug dealers and thieves. When he has announced commutations, he has said that the sentence of the convicts did not fit their crime. Obama is expected to announce more commutations later this month in honor of the Thanksgiving holiday... [Jerusalem Post]
We did some quick checking of our own. Previous instances of President Obama's "non-intervention" interventions include these:
In connection with those March 2015 presidential interventions, note this:
"Neil Eggleston, the White House counsel... said Tuesday's commutations underscore Obama's "commitment to using all the tools at his disposal to bring greater fairness and equity to our justice system." ...Eggleston noted that Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, had commuted 11 sentences during his two terms.... [The Associated Press, March 31, 2015]  
Then four months ago
President Obama on Monday commuted the sentences of 46 drug offenders, more than double the number of commutations he granted earlier this year, as part of his effort to reform the criminal justice system. In a Facebook video posted Monday, the president said the 46 prisoners had served sentences disproportionate to their crimes... [Washington Post, July 13, 2015]
The beneficiaries of that latest intervention are named and described in this Washington Post backgrounder. The list shows most of them were imprisoned for distributing or dealing in cocaine and/or crack cocaine. Deaths of Americans from cocaine and crack cocaine use are significant - in the multiple thousands each year and rising: a February 2015 paper published by the US National Institute on Drug Abuse says the death toll from cocaine abuse in the US rose by 29% between 2001 and 2013. Crack cocaine is a drug so pervasive that (as the New York Times noted) even Washington’s mayor, Marion S. Barry Jr., was caught smoking it. The problem is vast and especially impactful on people under the age of 18.

Did any Americans die as a result of what Pollard did in the 1980's? If yes, the evidence has been kept very quiet. A reasonable view suggests the answer is no. So what are friends of Israel to make of the ongoing signs that, while the president declares a commitment to reform, fairness and equity in the justice systemaspects of Jonathan Pollard's case are, and have long been, handled in a disproportionate, opaque and discriminatory way?

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