- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 29, 2000

When it comes to psychiatry, watch who you call an "expert." The Elian Gonzalez cause celebre has provided psychiatrists a high-profile, drama-filled opportunity to showcase their so-called evaluative skills. Elian has seen much trauma. His mother and stepfather drowned after their U.S.-bound boat, which left from Cuba, capsized near the Miami shore. The boy survived the boat accident and gripped an inner-tube for two days and nights. The day before Easter, armed Immigration and Naturalization Service troops raided the Miami home in which he was living and pointed a submachine gun at Elian and one of the fisherman who had previously rescued the boy at sea, who had him in his arms. They then snatched the boy by force to return him to his father.

Shortly after the raid, Dr. Paulina F. Kernberg of Cornell University Medical College met and evaluated Elian. INS Commissioner Doris Meissner said that Dr. Kernberg brought toy soldiers to the visit. "She said that Elian played very readily with the soldiers," and "evinced no negative reaction," Mrs. Meissner said on NBC's "Today" show.

To a lay person, this certainly sounds like so much psychobabble. It is questionable how much the "toy soldiers" looked like the storm trooper-like agents who raided the Gonzalez home last Saturday. The toy soldiers seem as ridiculous as the Play-Doh that Elian was given to allegedly soothe his nerves after the raid. What will be next? Pokemon cards to console him for the loss of legal representation?

Dr. Kernberg has also disputed that Marisleysis Gonzalez, who had been caring for Elian for the past five months before the raid, had become a kind of surrogate mother to Elian. "In my observations of Elian, there were indications that his cousin Marisleysis Gonzalez may be an idealized love rather than a maternal figure," she said. The psychiatrist also recommended that Elian not be permitted to meet with the relatives who had been caring for him, citing their angry, agitated state of mind. She added, on the other hand, that Elian had a wonderful relationship with his father. Elian exhibited "a sense of well-being and happiness with his father" and brightened whenever he made eye contact with him, she said.

Of course, the psychiatrists' findings that the raid didn't shake up Elian too badly (as evidenced by his playing with toy soldiers), that Elian should be kept away from his Miami relatives and that his relationship with his father is great seem suspiciously convenient for the INS and the U.S. government, which has maintained that the boy has no right to petition for U.S. asylum. And Dr. Kernberg gleaned all these insights after spending just two-and-a-half hours with Elian. What if she had found something else, one wonders. Would we have heard about it at all?

Another "expert" hired by the Justice Department to evaluate Elian is neither a psychiatrist nor a psychologist, and has never even met the boy. He, too, came up with a conclusion very convenient for Attorney General Janet Reno. Dr. Irwin Redlener, president of community pediatrics at Children's Hospital at Montefiore in New York, said Elian was in a "state of imminent danger to his physical and emotional well-being" in a home he considered to be "psychologically abusive."

Dr. Redlener happens to have headed a group of prominent physicians who endorsed Mr. Clinton's 1992 campaign. He was also a member of first lady's secret health care task force. Presumably, the Justice Department could have found a more objective expert with a psychiatric background to opine on Elian. Even that would be irresponsible without having met the boy.

That consideration, however, apparently won't stop the experts. Dr. Jose de la Gandarra, president of the Cuban American Psychiatric Association and Dr. Jose Carro, president of Cuban Pediatricians in Exile, said in a letter to President Clinton and Miss Reno that, "Every moment that Elian remains forcibly separated from his adoptive family represents further emotional abuse."

None of these doctors have treated Elian. So much for the behavioral "sciences."

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