- The Washington Times - Monday, May 1, 2000

Nobody is above the law in America except the current president of the United States, his attorney general, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and its private army. The case of Elian Gonzalez proves that Bill Clinton and his entourage believe that and act on their conviction. The armed invasion of the home of Elian's relatives in Miami by federal officers combat-ready with the deadliest of military rifles, the shocking abduction of the boy seen around the world, are so unconstitutional and cruel that they keep the hope alive that this time the courts and Congress will not allow the White House to get away with it.

In the name of decency to the boy, to all refugees who might need asylum, it is important for Americans to unravel the knot into which Mr. Clinton and his hapless attorney general have deliberately tied the story of Elian, his father and their relatives in America.

All along, these past five months since Elian Gonzalez was rescued from the waters where his mother drowned trying to escape from Cuba, the administration has tried to present the case as just a matter of returning him to his father. It certainly is that but not entirely. When, how and under what conditions should he be turned over to his father and brought back to Fidel Castro? These questions count too a lot.

This killer, Fidel Castro, who can charm foreigners dribble-mouthed, would be Elian's real custodian, as he is of all children in Cuba. Mr. Castro's laws dictate the children be trained to be obedient communists totally loyal to him and his regime and to know that the punishment for opposition can be jail, until they are old.

Now, all this was known to Elian's relatives in America. That is why Cubans flee Fidel Castro. That is why few Cuban-Americans can accept returning a child to Mr. Castro without a struggle.

And that is why they protested and demonstrated. So have other Hispanics, blacks, Jews, Catholics, almost every minority in the United States, with their voices, money, clout, votes. The Miami Cuban-Americans, with not much more than votes and voices, have the right and even duty to use both.

What they wanted was a hearing, or trial, at which Elian and his relatives might be heard. That was precisely what Clinton-Reno would not give them, month after month. The administration would like to make nice to Mr. Castro now as grease for making nicer later unless the outrage about Elian makes it impossible.

Vice President Al Gore came forward with an idea: Give Elian a permanent visa, which would provide the courts a chance to hear him, his father and their relatives. It would also offer the boy a haven if he were sent back to Cuba and years later longed for America's liberty.

Mr. Clinton wanted no part of it, so neither did Hillary Clinton; not in her village for children. The press generally treated Mr. Gore as a panderer only interested in Cuban votes. But on an important political and moral issue, he separated himself from the Clinton steamroller. For a vice president running for the incumbent president's job, that takes courage.

Facing a trial ordered by an appeals court that showed its distaste for Clintonian stonewalling in the case, the White House and Attorney General Janet Reno did what the president so often has done with one scandal or another make it far worse. Their troops gave the crowd outside the Gonzalez home a nice touch of pepper gas and then stormed in as if they were taking the Golan Heights. Miss Reno provided everything but black helicopters to help jubilant wacko militia gangs justify their hatred of America and shock foreigners open-mouthed.

What was the legal justifition for the assault? None. Professor Lawrence H. Tribe of Harvard, a liberal constitutional expert often mentioned as a Supreme Court candidate, writes that it is constitutonally "axiomotic that the executive branch has no unilateral authority to enter people's homes to forcibly remove innnocent individuals without taking the time to seek a warrant or other order from a judge or magistrate."

"No judge or neutral magistrate had isssued the type of warrant or other authority needed for the executive branch to break into the home to seize the child," Mr. Tribe stated in an op-ed article in the New York Times.

So the relatives are guilty of nothing. But knocking around in my head is the belief that officials of the governemnt cannot abuse their power to the point of illegally invading a private home, busting up the place and carrying off a guiltless child, at least not without paying a tough penalty. Can they?

A.M. Rosenthal is the former executive editor of the New York Times.

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