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JERUSALEM – Convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard has petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court to grant him special prisoner status, which he had been previously denied, and to investigate years of abuse and torture he says he suffered in American imprisonment, details of which have shocked many here.
Pollard is demanding Israel’s highest court recognize him as a Prisoner of Zion, a status that affords him and his family certain legal rights, including financial benefits, and that obligates the Jewish state to do everything in its power to seek his release.
Several former Prisoners of Zion in the past, including Soviet Refusnik and former Israeli minister Natan Sharansky, requested Israel grant Pollard the special status, but those petitions were denied.
Pollard, who was convicted in 1985 of one count of passing classified information to an ally, Israel, and sentenced to life in spite of a plea agreement that was to spare the Israeli agent a life sentence, is taking a more proactive approach.
The legal appeal, filed in Hebrew and obtained by WND, includes graphic descriptions of abuse Pollard says he suffered in U.S. jails.
“A unique aspect of this case which testifies to its anti-Semitic nature includes the use of cruel and unusual punishment,” states the brief.
Pollard relates conditions surrounding the first prison to which he was transferred, during cold winter months: “The petitioner [Pollard] was thrown into an unheated dungeon cell in the basement of the prison. His clothes and his glasses were taken away. He remained naked and without glasses for the 5 weeks [he was at the prison]. In his cell, he was given no bedding, no blankets, just a hard metal slab to sleep on … .”
Pollard says he was subject to torture treatments in which he was repeatedly chained to an iron chair, bolted to the floor of a shower stall and blasted with torrents of ice water for long periods of time.
“The petitioner recalls that the water was so cold, that it felt like it was burning his skin. The petitioner further recalls that it took all of his strength to will himself to stay alive.”
Pollard was then transferred to a facility for the criminally insane, even though he was not a patient. There, he says he was electrocuted with a cattle prod, and repeatedly singled out to be physically abused and publicly humiliated, as the only prisoner to be subject to “painful anal exams in a public visiting room.” The petition states Pollard was held naked, in solitary confinement in a 9-x-6 foot cell for the duration of his incarceration at the facility – over a year.
Pollard explains guards at the prison facility “sought to break [him] by zapping him with a cattle prod as a ‘warning.’ The electrical voltage of a cattle prod is intended for a large animal, not for a human being. The petitioner collapsed on the floor, lost control of his bladder, was unable to speak or to move. His body convulsed in unstoppable contractions, causing him to shiver and shake for hours on end. He suffered severe physical repercussions for months afterwards. To this day it is not known if permanent damage was done.”
Pollard was later transferred to USP Marion, termed by many the harshest prison in the federal system, where, upon arrival, Pollard says, “a guard put a loaded shotgun to the petitioner’s head, cocked the trigger, and ordered him to turn around and face the outside. When he did so, the guard intoned: ‘Now have a good long look. This is the last time you will ever see the outside. When they take you out of here it will be in a wooden box, feet first.'”
He was held in Marion for seven years in solitary confinement in a small dungeon cell, where Pollard says he was repeatedly told he would die in the facility – a theme he says permeated his incarceration. He also says he was subject to anti-Semitic humiliation.
In one scenario, which was witnessed and retold to the Israeli media by a prominent Jewish leader who came to visit Pollard, “a guard tore the petitioner’s yarmulke (Jewish skull cap) off his head and threw it to the ground. When the petitioner bent over to retrieve it, he was attacked by the guard who slammed him up against a wall. As the petitioner was trying to recover his balance, the guard grabbed the petitioner’s testicles and crushed them; the petitioner doubled over in pain, unable to defend himself. The guard continued to mock the petitioner, asking him if he still wants his yarmulke. The incident was reported to the prison authorities; the guard was not punished. It was also reported in Israel’s press and to the Israeli government, but again there was no protest.”
Pollard lists another instance of abuse he says he suffered at Marion in which he was sprayed with chemicals: “The petitioner was held in a sealed underground cell, with no windows and no way to escape the poison chemicals that were pumped into his cell (ostensibly to kill cockroaches.) The petitioner’s throat swelled up from the chemicals; he could not breathe. He began to choke. He vomited. His eyes swelled shut. He began shaking and was in great pain. His head began to throb. He lost consciousness. Before he passed out, he pleaded with the guards to remove him from his cell but they refused. The petitioner suffered from severe headaches, nausea and dizziness for weeks after this episode. It is not clear if there has been permanent damage to his respiratory system.”
Pollard includes descriptions of episodes of severe sensory deprivation that he says he was subjected to for prolonged periods of time.
The appeal concludes that the extensive and repeated episodes of abuse Pollard allegedly suffered have damaged his health and resulted in numerous medical conditions that require specific medication and intervention which Pollard says is currently being denied.
“The petitioner has been diagnosed with growths in his sinus cavities. These growths have never been biopsied and it is unknown if they are malignant or benign. As a result he suffers from dizziness, nausea and severe sinus headaches as well as difficulty in breathing. The petitioner also suffers from high blood pressure, migraine headaches, chronic arthritis, glaucoma, diabetes, back problems, constant respiratory infections and a number of other health problems. … The petitioner is not able to receive treatment from the appropriate medical specialists.”
Esther Pollard, Jonathan’s wife, told WND, “Many of the episodes of cruel and unusual punishment to which my husband has been subjected to over the years have previously been publicly disclosed, but unfortunately received little attention. Even when government officials were apprised, there was little response. Until the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal in Iraq was exposed, conventional wisdom was that the U.S. did not torture or abuse prisoners. Now all this has changed, and finally people are waking up to the reality of how badly Jonathan has been abused, for so very long.”
Esther Pollard says the petition is part of what she calls a “three-staged approach to compel the government of Israel to do what it is legally and morally obligated to do, but which it has been ducking.”
“Jonathan’s previous petitions to the High Court resulted in the government of Israel first recognizing him in 1995 nationally, as a citizen; and then in 1998, recognizing him militarily, as an agent who served the security services of the state under the auspices of the Ministry of Defense. The current petition completes the circle by forcing the government of Israel to recognize him morally, as a Prisoner of Zion,” said Pollard.
“Jonathan meets or exceeds all criteria according to Israeli law for Prisoner of Zion status. … Once Jonathan has official recognition, Israel can no longer turn a blind eye to America’s judicial misconduct in the case, or their physical mistreatment of my husband.”
She said the petition also asks Israel to “investigate the United States’ violation of Pollard’s plea agreement and his unprecedented life-sentence.”
Pollard’s sentence is considered by many to be disproportionate to the crime for which he was convicted – he is the only person in the history of the United States to receive a life sentence for spying for an ally. The median sentence for this particular offense is two to four years.
The verdict was largely thought to have been driven by a last-minute secret memorandum from Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, in which he accused Pollard of treason – a crime for which he was never indicted – and claimed Pollard harmed America’s national security.
But even Weinberger now says the sentence may be about something else.
Weinberger said in a recent interview that the Pollard issue “is a very minor matter, but made very important. … It was made far bigger than its actual importance.”
Pollard previously told WND the information he passed to Israel forewarned the Jewish state about the buildup of unconventional weapons of war in neighboring Arab countries, including the buildup of arms by Saddam Hussein for use against Israel.
In an interview last month with Caroline Glick, a Jerusalem Post columnist, former CIA director James Woolsey said it may be time to commute Pollard’s sentence.
“Pollard,” Woolsey said, “may not have been a prime candidate for commutation, but twenty years is a very long time. At a certain point, it is time to ask if enough is enough. … There is an obligation to have a different approach to spies for friendly countries.”
Some have claimed information Pollard passed to Israel may have been leaked to enemy countries, which could have penetrated Israel’s security establishment. But Glick says Woolsey told her claims that information Pollard gave Israel were leaked to other countries such as China or the Soviet Union are not true.
Pollard’s description of physical abuse as the hands of the American prison system has set off a flurry of fiery rhetoric here.
Israeli Knesset member Gila Fiklenstein said, “I am shocked and outraged. The U.S. is supposed to be an ally. This kind of treatment reminds me of the evil regimes of Old Europe.”
Azzam Azzam, who was released this year from a maximum security Egyptian prison where he served after being accused of spying for Israel, said, “Compared to what Pollard went through, my own abuse was nothing.”
Human-rights activist and former Israeli Prisoner of Zion Ida Nudel said Pollard’s case “reminds me of descriptions of abuse from the worst totalitarian governments in the world.”
Many have also been commenting on the Internet. On Ynet, a new website for Israel’s Yediot Aharonot newspaper, reader Linda Rivera writes, “U.S. owes Pollard, Israel, and every Jew and every American an apology for their evil Jew-hating abuse of Jonathan.”