Why is this man still in jail? Why was this man forced to spend seven years in solitary? Why is he still confined, languishing, festering in jail for a total of twenty five years?
Solitary confinement is the most barbaric of punishments. Few people can withstand this form of torture without becoming very ill, both physically and mentally.
Am I talking about the Soviet Gulag? Or about some hell-hole in Afghanistan or Iran?
Last year, The New Yorker ran a piece about solitary confinement. The article concludes that this punishment amounts to torture, that it can even induce “acute psychosis with hallucinations.” The article describes the cases of two political prisoners or prisoners-of-war: AP’s Middle East correspondent, Terry Anderson, who was put into solitary by Hezbollah in Lebanon for six years. Anderson “felt himself disintegrating”; his mind went blank; he had hallucinations; he started to become “neurotically possessive about his little space”; he felt his brain was “grinding down.” He also describes Senator John McCain who said that “solitary confinement crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more than any other form of mistreatment. And he said that even though he had his arms broken and was subjected to other forms of torture.”
Clearly, the New Yorker’s man, Atul Gawande, opposes this practice.
He does mention the cases of two unnamed inmates: one was convicted of felony-murder and spent five years in isolation. After a few months he began talking to himself, pacing back and forth, having panic attacks, and hallucinating. After a year he was hearing voices on the television who were talking to him. In another case, Gawande describes another American man in solitary whose initial crime was armed robbery and aggravated battery but who then “misbehaved” at a medium security prison for which he was was put in solitary or in isolation for almost fourteen years. This man stopped showering and began throwing his feces around his cell. He became psychotic.
Even he was released after he served his sentence of fifteen years.
Gawande does not mention the man I have in mind, a man whose living head is on a pike in the public square for all to see—a message, a warning to us all—a man who killed no one.
I am talking about Jonathan Pollard.
What crime did he commit? Did he spy against America for the Soviets or for the Chinese communists? Did he do so for money, sex, or for ideological reasons? American Navy Seaman, Michael Walker, operated a Soviet spy ring; he was arrested in 1980, pleaded guilty, was sentenced to 25 years and released after 15.
CIA Agent David Barnett sold the Soviets the names of thirty American undercover agents. He was arrested in the mid-1980s, sentenced to only 18 years, and paroled after only ten years. In 2001, John Walker Lindh, who joined the Taliban and received training as a terrorist in Pakistan, was captured and sentenced to 21 years. Kedar Helmy, an Egyptian-born American, transmitted classified materials to Egypt used in a joint weapons program with Iraq to vastly increase the range of ballistic missiles, including Scud missiles, which were later fired on U.S. troops during the Persian Gulf War.” In 2010, Chinese-American engineer Dongfan “Greg” Chung operated as a spy for China against America for thirty years. He received a 15 year sentence.
What is “different” about Pollard? Unlike Walker, Barnett, Lindh, Helmy, and Chung, Pollard is the only Jew. The others are Christians or Muslims or atheists.