- The Washington Times - Monday, May 1, 2000

The day after the "Justice" Department SWAT team dragged Elian Gonzalez into a getaway car, Fidel Castro said the raid was "the right thing to do." So had Bill Clinton the day before. But why was there such a rush as Miami lawyer Aaron Podhurst, a friend of Janet Reno, was mediating, on the phone, between her and Elian's lawyers moments before the door was smashed open?

"I'm gravely disappointed," he told the Wall Street Journal, "that the government had to use force when I think we could have worked things out." In the Miami Herald, Mr. Podhurst described himself as having been "devastated" at this breach of trust. The first reason for Janet Reno's brutal application of her version of the rule of law was explained by Richard Nuccio on the Fox television network the day of the raid. A former point man on Cuban affairs at the State Department, he was Mr. Clinton's adviser on dealing with Mr. Castro.

Mr. Nuccio pointed out, as have others, that at first the INS decided that Elian's case should go to a state family court in Florida. But the State Department summarily reversed that ruling, ordering the INS to hold the boy.

The Clinton administration, as Mr. Nuccio notes, was reacting to a threatening speech in Havana by Ricardo Alarcon, head of the Cuban National Assembly. Mr. Alarcon, who is close to Mr. Castro, said that if the boy were not returned to Cuba, there would again be massive boat-lifts from Cuba to America.

Mr. Clinton well remembers the 1980 Mariel boat-lift, which brought 125,266 Cubans to the United States. Some of them were among the most remorseless criminals our law enforcement officers have ever had to deal with. Among them were Cubans held in an Arkansas detention center who rioted, thereby helping to give Mr. Clinton his only defeat in a gubernatorial election.

The president has not forgotten that rare rejection by the electorate. More to the immediate point, he fears that more waves of Cuban immigrants this summer might affect the November elections, thereby reducing his chances of bolstering his legacy by transferring the presidency to Al Gore, and perhaps having the Democratic Party take Congress.

Another reason for the SWAT team to terrorize Elian and the family, kick an NBC cameraman in the stomach and snatch the boy from the fisherman who rescued him from the sea has to do with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

That court had announced a hearing on the boy's claim of asylum filed by his great-uncle and also signed by him to be held May 11, only 19 days after the April 22 raid. What was the administration afraid of?

On April 19, when setting the date for the hearing, the court said that the application for asylum "presented a substantial case on the merits."

The day after the boy was snatched on April 22, the Justice Department rushed custody papers to Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, which he signed. It is the desire and hope of the Clinton administration that the Appeals Court moot the asylum case, dismissing it. Then Elian can be whisked back to Cuba so that his "re-education" can begin.

On April 18, the New York Times reported that Elian's father's family has been moved to a state-owned house that will also function as a school for Elian and "12 classmates, relatives, doctors and psychologists."

The boy, said a Cuban psychologist, needs time to "readjust." One book that Elian will certainly not be permitted to read, as he grows up a child of the state, is George Orwell's "1984."

Meanwhile, after being returned to his father by Janet Reno, Bill Clinton and the INS a move described by Fidel Castro on Cuban television as "doing the right thing" he will have been given preliminary re-education by his father and attendant Cuban officials. Mr. Clinton also said that Miss Reno had done "the right thing." By the time the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals holds the hearing, his father can tell the court that Elian has renounced his personally signed application for asylum.

A footnote to the Clinton-Reno interpretation of the rule of law was the attempt by Elian's father's attorney, Gregory Craig formerly on Mr. Clinton's impeachment team to get the heads of all the news networks to censor photographs of the raid. He sent that letter two days before the taking of the boy. Mr. Craig said that releasing the pictures would be "exploitative" of the child.

Mr. Craig's scorning of the First Amendment was intended to make a cover-up of the raid easier. Like Mr. Clinton, Miss Reno and Mr. Castro, Mr. Craig, of course, had the best interests of the child at heart.

Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights.

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