WASHINGTON – Jonathan Pollard (search), given a life sentence for selling military secrets to Israel, appeared in public for the first time in 16 years Tuesday as his lawyers tried to help him win early release.
Pollard looked heavier and grayer than the man who stood in the same courthouse and admitted espionage in 1987. The bearded Pollard wore a yarmulke and a green shirt stamped "Arlington County Jail."
He nodded hello to his wife in the courtroom's front row, and then sat with hands folded and did not speak as his lawyers argued the government should be forced to turn over secret files that could help his request for clemency.
"Jonathan Pollard is sitting here in court today. He asks only for justice and a fair sentencing, as guaranteed by our Constitution," attorney Jacques Semmelman said. "He has not had that."
Jewish religious leaders and other supporters filled several rows of the courtroom. Pollard's 89-year-old father, from whom he is estranged, sat separately in the back row.
Government lawyers argued that another judge was right to reject Pollard's claims and he should not be allowed to press the case further.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan did not immediately rule on Pollard's requests.
Pollard, 49, was a civilian intelligence analyst for the Navy when he copied and gave to his Israeli handlers enough classified documents to fill a walk-in closet. He was not paid when his spying began in 1984, but acknowledged that Israel later began paying him a few thousand dollars a month.
Pollard was caught in November 1985 and arrested after unsuccessfully seeking refuge at the Israeli embassy. Pollard initially denied he worked for Israel but later acknowledged it. He claims prosecutors reneged on a promise to seek a lesser sentence in return for his cooperation.
His case has been a sticking point in U.S.-Israeli relations. The Israeli government, which granted Pollard citizenship, repeatedly has pressed for his release.
A 1998 U.S.-brokered peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians nearly foundered when then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (search) reportedly linked his agreement to the deal with clemency for Pollard.
Then-President Clinton said he had promised only to review the case. During deliberations on clemency, CIA Director George Tenet (search) had told Clinton he would quit if Pollard were freed.
Pollard's case was reviewed by federal officials in 2000 but he was left off the list of those granted clemency just before Clinton left office.
The Israeli government has continued to press the issue with the Bush administration.
Pollard's appeal centers on whether his two previous lawyers did all they could to help him avoid or appeal his life sentence, and whether his new lawyers should be able to see five classified documents that may have helped sway the judge who sentenced Pollard.
Among those documents is a declaration from then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger (search) outlining the security damage from Pollard.
Pollard's new lawyers say they need to see the items to rebut government arguments against any new appeal or against a request for clemency.
"It's time to end this use of secret evidence against him," Esther Pollard said outside the courthouse Tuesday. She married Pollard after he went to prison. His first wife, Anne, was convicted with him and later released.
A federal appeals court long ago upheld Pollard's guilty plea and life sentence. Pollard also lost an earlier round of challenges filed by his latest team of lawyers. Tuesday's hearing was an attempt to resurrect those claims.
Another of Pollard's lawyers, Eliot Lauer, said "government falsehood, government concealment" have crippled their efforts to see the sealed documents.
At least 25 government employees were granted access to the documents in the 1990s, when Pollard was pressing his earlier clemency petition, attorney Eliot Lauer said. If the government found the documents relevant to clemency, his lawyers should be able to see them, too, Lauer said.
"In order to make an effective clemency petition ... we need to have access," Lauer said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Pelak said Pollard "has simply not showed any need to know" what is in the documents.