- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 25, 2000

Attorney General Janet Reno yesterday vigorously denied that anyone doctored the photographs of a smiling Elian Gonzalez that have been released since federal agents snatched the 6-year-old Cuban shipwreck survivor from his Miami relatives and reunited him with his father.
The photos have been challenged by the Miami relatives as being phony, manipulated in some way to superimpose an old photo of a smiling Elian with his father. They charged that his hair was longer in the new photo than it had been when he was seized from their Miami home early on Saturday and taken to Andrews Air Force Base where his father awaited him.
However, Miss Reno denied the photo had been altered. In an interview on the NBC "Today" show, she said she had "no doubt whatsoever" the photo was authentic.
Access to Andrews Air Force Base, where Elian, his father, stepmother and half-brother are staying, has been tightly controlled since the boy arrived. Requests by the media, including The Washington Times, that they be allowed to take photos of Elian and his father have been denied.
Gregory Craig, attorney for Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, has made available a handful of reunion photos all taken at Andrews Air Force Base each showing Elian in smiling and friendly poses with the father he had not seen for five months.
The photos are part of an ongoing effort to negate the impact of "the photograph" a searing Associated Press image flashed around the world showing a helmeted Border Patrol agent pushing an automatic rifle toward a terrified Elian during the predawn raid in which the boy was seized.
Mr. Craig, a Washington attorney who represented President Clinton during the impeachment hearings, has said a decision on when the boy could be photographed would be made by his father.
Yesterday, military escorts were used to guide a dozen reporters onto the base, although they were kept away from where Elian and his family are staying. The reporters accompanied Mr. Clinton to New York City. The escorts checked and double-checked identification, and ushered the reporters to a parking lot, from where they were allowed to drive in a caravan to the terminal to board the president's plane.
On Saturday, the Gonzalez family posed for private pictures, one of which received nearly equal billing on Sunday with that of the photo of the federal agent and Elian. That photo, of Elian with his father, stepmother and half-brother, was taken by a federal agent with a throwaway camera belonging to Mr. Gonzalez. A photo of Elian and his 6-month-old half-brother was taken by the father.
New photos released on Easter showed Elian walking arm in arm with his father, playing soccer, having a lunch of black beans and rice, sitting on his father's lap and smiling with his father, half-brother and stepmother on a bench.
Fred Sweets, the AP's assistant bureau chief for photos, said the first two photos were delivered to the media after they had been developed at a one-hour photo shop at a Washington-area drug store. He said he examined the negatives from those photos and believed they were authentic.
Mr. Sweets said the Easter photos were part of an undeveloped roll of film hand-carried by Mr. Craig to the Associated Press bureau in Washington. He said that film, also from a disposable camera, was developed in the AP's photo lab and that after examining the negatives, he determined they were "authentic."
Marisleysis Gonzalez charged that the photo showing a smiling Elian with his arm around his father could not have been taken after the boy had been snatched from her Miami home because his hair had recently been cut and the photograph showed Elian with longer hair.
"That is not Elian. Look how short the hair looks when he was taken out of the house and look how long the hair is in the picture that they show today," she said at a press conference, referring to a photo of young Elian as he was being snatched during a raid early Saturday at her Miami home.
Miss Gonzalez is the 21-year-old daughter of Lazaro Gonzalez who served as Elian's surrogate mother during the five months he was in the custody of her father.
Alan Zlotky, director of photography for The Washington Times, said for photos of Elian to have been altered, the original images would have had to have been scanned into a computer and digitally manipulated using a computer software program.
He said that after the image had been changed by the computer, it would have to have been reprinted or put on a computer disk and then distributed to the media. He said it would be difficult to accomplish in a short period of time and would require significant computer expertise.
U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner Doris M. Meissner, who visited with Elian at Andrews, said that while she did not see the photo taken, she also was sure it was genuine. She was asked during an interview on CBS about charges by the Miami relatives the boy's hair appeared to be longer in the picture with his father than in the one of him when he was taken from their home.
"Well, his hair looks pretty short to me. However, I did not see that photo taken. I was standing outside of the house, and I was with people who had the camera that took that photo. I am sure it's an authentic photo, but I can't tell you that I saw it taken," she said.
Mr. Craig also has denied any photos had been altered, and Joan Brown Campbell of the National Council of Churches, a friend of Juan Miguel Gonzalez who was present when father and son were reunited, criticized those making the accusations.
"He had his arms around his father," she said. "There was real affection there that cannot be manufactured."

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