- The Washington Times - Friday, April 21, 2000

Janet Reno huddled with her Justice Department lawyers yesterday over how to continue mangling the rights of Elian Gonzalez, but what she really wants is to find Elian's inner tube.

Miss Reno's bottom, like that of her chief deputy, the tough-talking Eric Holder, will glow in the dark for days following the blistering applied by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Miss Reno will need the inner tube. (Mr. Holder can sit on her lap).

Rarely has a federal court shown such contempt for the work of government lawyers, treating with disdain not only the Justice Department arguments, but the adducing of the facts.

Justice Department lawyers are notoriously arrogant, often mistaking the power and might of the government with its platoons of cops and agents with guns and tanks for muscle of their own. But they forgot their place when they suggested that the appeals court did not even have jurisdiction, that government lawyers have enough wisdom to make the rules without the hindrance of the law. Judges, who are equipped with abundant arrogance of their own, do not like to be accused of a lack of omnipotence.

The language of the decision of the appeals court panel a Reagan appointee, a Bush appointee, and a black appointee of Bill Clinton is a model of restraint. But occasionally, the judges could not restrain a note of sarcasm.

"This case is mainly about … the proper exercise of executive discretion," the court said, as if lecturing a particularly thick first-year law student. "Among other things, we must ultimately decide what Congress meant when it said: 'Any alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States … irrespective of such alien's status, may apply for asylum … .' "

Not only does Elian have a right to apply for asylum, the court said, with a bow toward the dimbulbs at the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), "it appears that he did so." Indeed, the court noted that Elian himself signed the petition, prepared by his uncle, with a 6-year-old's childish scrawl. The court heard what Bill Clinton and Janet Reno and the tone-deaf ciphers at the Justice Department and the INS could not hear or would not hear, the trusting cry of a child to hold on to a precious life in the land of the free that his mother died to give to him.

Elian's relatives in Miami have been battered and smeared in much of the media for their tenacity and determination in Elian's behalf. Against the threat of Janet Reno's tanks and phosphorescent shells and platoons of trigger-happy federal agents, the Miami relatives have fought with all they have at hand, the presence of friends, the prayer vigils, a video and most of all, their own grit. They have been accused of "politicizing" Elian, but the villains of the piece are not Elian's relatives, but Bill Clinton and Janet Reno, who want to keep the chronology of this miserable episode as fuzzy as possible.

When Elian was plucked from his inner tube in the Atlantic, the INS at Miss Reno's direction granted "parole" and said the matter of permanent custody would be determined by a state family court, as the law provides. There was no controversy. Elian was just another exile from Fidel Castro's wretched misery.

But Fidel likes nothing better than to taunt the United States, and to make sport of American presidents, for which he has a genuine talent. In the vernacular of American politics, "he seen his opportunity and he took it." Within days, he had ginned up an international incident, and back in Washington, where Bill Clinton yearns to exchange ambassadors with Cuba as part of the legacy he is desperately trying to manufacture, Elian was transformed from an innocent little boy cast upon America to a pawn in a political exercise between two corrupt and opportunistic politicians.

The president, staying out of the public exercise, told Janet Reno to satisfy Fidel, and he knew that the attorney general ill, confused and desperate to accumulate pension benefits through next Jan. 20 would continue to do whatever she was told to do. She always has. This enables Bill Clinton, now widely regarded even by his old friends as a failure as a man, to give lectures about who is "fit" as a father, and Janet Reno, a spinster with no firsthand knowledge of children, to pose as an earnest advocate for them.

She hired psychiatrists to diagnose Elian from a distance, perhaps using Ouija boards, and pronounce him in need of rescue. No one can forget that the last time Janet Reno "rescued" children, her agents fried a lot of them in a federal fire. The feds now threaten to seize Elian, which would be stunningly indecent. But this gang of moral rabble is capable of anything.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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