- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 25, 2000

We have all seen the pictures. The notorious image of raw terror in a child and a fisherman at gunpoint, captured on film by a bold and lucky AP photographer while his hapless NBC counterpart, kicked and Maced by federal agents, languished on the floor. Then there is Happy Elian, those all-smiles snapshots that seem to come to us periodically "courtesy Greg Craig," the lawyer President Clinton and Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, share. Before Americans can reconcile these two polar images, there are countless questions that must be answered. For starters:

Does the end justify the means? "The bottom line is that it was successful," said Doris Meissner, INS Commissioner, to CBS's "Face the Nation," by way of explaining the government's outrageous, pre-dawn invasion of the Gonzalez home. Americans must face the terrible fact that such a sentiment reverberates with more echoes of dictatorship than democracy. Ms. Meissner, of course, is the same official, who, three hours after the child's pre-dawn seizure, tried to assuage concerns for a scared little boy with news that Play-Doh had been provided on the aircraft that spirited him away from Miami. "The squeezing of Play-Doh is the best thing that you can do for a child who might be experiencing stress," she said. The mind boggles.

"We do not believe he has a right to apply for asylum," she said, adding, chillingly, "His father speaks for him."

Why is that chilling? As Jose Garcia-Pedrosa, one of the Miami family's lawyers, pointed out in response, Ms. Meissner has effectively endorsed the government's effort "to eliminate somebody's right to an appeal by a commando raid." After all, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, loving father though he may be, opposes his son's pending plea for asylum, a plea which the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has deemed worthy of a hearing. That means that Mr. Gonzalez and his son stand in legal opposition.

Meanwhile, who speaks for the father?

The answer, of course, is the increasingly ubiquitous Mr. Craig. One of the most disturbing aspects of this story to emerge is the as-yet-unplumbed powers of Mr. Craig. Aaron Podhurst, a long-time friend of Janet Reno's who was on the phone negotiating with her up until the raid began, says that it was Mr. Craig not Miss Reno as Bill Clinton likes to say who had veto-power over the whole deal, a factor that was unbeknownst to Mr. Podhurst and the other intermediaries working the phones that night. Why?

Did the U.S. government even want a peaceful solution?

Despite the charges that the Miami family, in Miss Reno's words, continuously "moved the goal posts," it looks more and more like it was the U.S. government that wouldn't play ball. Last week, a group of concerned and prominent Miami citizens, including the above-mentioned Mr. Podhurst, jumped into the negotiation process to make a deal. Consider the oddity of Mr. Craig's reaction to this development, as reported by the New York Times: "Word of renewed negotiations was not greeted warmly in Washington," the paper reported. " 'It had a huge adverse impact on Juan Miguel's confidence in [Miss Reno],' " Mr. Craig said of the new round of discussions laid out by Miss Reno. Why? Wouldn't that "loving father," as they say, hang on for a peaceful solution to avoid the trauma of a nighttime raid?

There is compelling evidence that a solution was in fact at hand. Mr. Podhurst, Carlos M. de la Cruz, chairman of the board of trustees at the University of Miami and of Eagle Brands, as well as the Miami family's lead lawyer Kendall Coffey, have all attested to this. "I believe a deal was within minutes, or an hour away," Mr. Podhurst told NBC on Monday.

Still more questions abound, not least of which being, "Who will protect Elian's legal rights in his pending asylum case?" The harder questions pertain to the perilous fate of the rule of law in our nation, questions that Americans must not be too cynical to ask. What is behind the Clinton administration's obvious obsession with sending this boy back to Cuba before his case is aired in court? Does Fidel Castro have some hold over the president?

Why are members of the Cuban Interests Section permitted inside a U.S. Air Force facility to do who knows what to Elian? And why is the media so supinely content to let this story be managed by the government, "courtesy Greg Craig?" It makes you wonder whatever happened to that old New Left mantra, "Question Authority."

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