Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Forgotten US prisoner

Concerning the 150-year jail sentence for Bernard Madoff, I can understand perfectly well that the entire American system intends to send out a stark message to all would-be designers of Ponzi schemes: "Here's a real-life demonstration of what you'll get." That's the well-documented interpretation of harsh punishment viewed as a dissuasive factor. It's a concept that doesn't apply at all in the case of crimes of passion, blood and sex, and probably little in the arena of bank robberies, but it surely carries weight in the case of criminal projects demanding calm calculation... such as white-collar affairs of the Madoff kind.

When I heard of Madoff's sentence, I thought immediately of a gentle US prisoner, 54-year-old Jonathan Pollard, indicted on a charge of passing classified information to an ally, Israel, without intent to harm the USA. He was motivated, not at all by Madoff-like financial greed, but solely by his ideological admiration for the modern nation that symbolizes the land of Pollard's Jewish ancestors. Contrary to what is often stated, Pollard was never condemned for treason, nor for any other crime, for the simple reason that he was never, at any moment, tried before a US court! As the consequence of a plea agreement—honored by Pollard but not by the American Government—he has been rotting in a US jail now for nearly a quarter of a century. [Click the photo to access Pollard's official website, or Google with his name.]

I first heard of Pollard's sad case long ago, during my initial encounters with the legendary Holy Land: a wonderful experience that I shall always treasure. There's a whole chapter about him in this fine book on Israeli espionage. His case inspired a fascinating French movie, Les Patriotes, by director Éric Rochant.

A silly idea has sprung into my mind. It's totally unrealistic, but I would like to insert it here into my blog. One of the high-profile victims of Madoff, from both an institutional and a personal viewpoint, was the 80-year-old intellectual Elie Wiesel, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 as a "messenger to mankind" through "his own personal experience of total humiliation and of the utter contempt for humanity shown in Hitler's death camps" as well as his "practical work in the cause of peace". Elie Wiesel has no doubt heard of Madoff's sentence, and thought of what it means for a man to receive such a punishment. My silly idea is simple. Maybe Elie Wiesel might use the Madoff event as a pretext for thinking also about the Pollard predicament, which is a blatant case of a forgotten prisoner. Maybe Elie Wiesel could use his weight to talk to both Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu about the case of Jonathan Pollard.

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