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Authorities Release Photos of Elian Gonzalez's Reunion With Father

Aired April 22, 2000 - 1:20 p.m. ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: This picture just released to us by the U.S. government, a picture of the Elian Gonzalez reunited with his father, Juan Miguel, and his father's second wife and the baby, their six-month-old baby. This reunion we presume took place sometime after 9:30 this morning, after Elian's plane arrived from Miami bringing him up north to see his father from the place in Miami where he had been staying for almost five months with the relatives.

We are told -- we've had several different sources giving us information about the reunion. The attorney for the father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez -- now here's a picture of Elian with his stepbrother, his young stepbrother, who I think is about six months old -- and I don't have the stepbrother's name with me just now, I hope can I get that in just a moment.

Elian -- these pictures are very different from those of -- that we saw earlier in the morning when Elian being taken from the home of his Miami relatives. He looked frightened. In one of those pictures he was crying. But here you see several hours later with his father, the father. These are the first pictures we have seen of young Elian with his father. The young half-brother, is named Hijanni (ph). And there with Elian's stepmother and his father, Juan Miguel.

The reunion was described by the attorney Greg Craig, the attorney for the father, as one -- he said just shortly after he, Elian, and his father had been reunited, he said that the boy had a wide smile on his face, that they were physical contact with one another. He saw none of the evidence of trauma or fear on the boy -- or in the boy that had been shown a few hours earlier. In fact, Gregory Craig said that the boy seemed to be totally at ease, he was laughing with his father.

We are told these pictures were taken by U.S. Marshals, presumably all at Andrews Air Force Base, because that's where Juan Miguel Gonzalez and his son and wife and his other son have been for the last, what, four, four and a half hours since Elian arrived in the Washington area.

And now we want to take you -- to back up on this story a little bit, having do with the decisions that went into the removal of Elian from the home of his relatives. We are told that aides are saying that the attorney general ordered the agents to remove the boy as a last resort. There had been weeks of talks that had been going on with Elian's Miami relatives. The Justice Department says that those talks failed to resolve the custody battle. After Elian was seized, the attorney general explained her decision, and CNN's Pierre Thomas joins us from the Justice Department, where he is now with more -- Pierre.

PIERRE THOMAS, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Judy, again we are told that the decision was a very difficult one for the attorney general. She consulted her top aides. Asked what she should do, they all told her that they should go forward.

Now the deputy attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder, we talked to him earlier today, and he made clear that there was concern about the safety of law enforcement officials and Elian Gonzalez.


ERIC HOLDER, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: The American people will understand that we had information that there were weapons in the house. I don't know if that's true or not. We have to do a debriefing of the agents. But given that fact, we had to make sure that our agents, when they went in there, were able to protect themselves and make sure that they could get Elian out in a away that was most protective of him, as well.

We didn't go in there with an intention to intimidate anybody. We used -- we had a female agent to bring him out who spoke Spanish. We tried to be as sensitive as we possibly could, understanding that this was ultimately a law enforcement operation.


THOMAS: They tell us that the whole operation was over in about three minutes, in and out of the house. But clearly those images that are coming from the home, the picture of the boy and the weapons, are ones that the law enforcement officials will have to answer questions about -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Pierre Thomas at the Justice Department, thanks -- Gene,

GENE RANDALL, CNN ANCHOR: And we have some pictures shot by the Associated Press this morning of Elian Gonzalez's removal from the home of his great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez, in Miami, Florida, in the Little Havana section. And this is a picture which has stirred so much controversy, one of the federal agents brandishing a weapon as he tries to wrest control of the boy from one of the fishermen who rescued him five months ago off Florida.

And here now is the picture of the boy with his father after they have been reunited. This is at Andrews Air Force Base, and we are told by a witness to the reunion he was all smiles. He was very happy, he was affectionate towards his father. Once again, the scene was Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington after the boy's flight Florida earlier this morning -- Judy. WOODRUFF: President Clinton is praising the attorney general, Janet Reno, and her handling of the Elian Gonzalez case. Mr. Clinton gave a brief statement to reporters at the White House this morning.

CNN's Kelly Wallace has more on that -- Kelly.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, the message from the White House is that the president and the attorney general were certainly hoping this early-morning raid could have been avoided. The White House says every effort was made to try and bring about a voluntary transfer of custody, but the president said when all efforts failed it was the right thing to do to uphold the law and to reunite the boy with his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez.

Now in his statement earlier this morning outside of the White House, Mr. Clinton said he knows this case is difficult for so many people. But in his eyes, he believes this case is about a 6-year old boy who lost his mother on a journey from Cuba to Florida and a boy who belongs with his father.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This was, in the end, about a little boy who lost his mother and has not seen his father in more than five months. I hope with time and support, Elian and his father will have the opportunity to be a strong family again.


WALLACE: And there is more -- there is more criticism coming in, though, of the administration's handling of this case. Senate Majority Trent Lott issued a statement this morning, saying the use of this type of force clearly was not justified. Negotiations were ongoing. He said when he saw what was happening and saw the pictures on TV, his first thought was that this is something that only happens in Fidel Castro's communist Cuba.

We also received a statement earlier from House Majority Whip Tom Delay also criticizing the administration. This has been a politically charged case from the beginning, so it is no surprise that some criticism is coming in.

We have not received any reaction from the White House about this criticism, but the White House is steadfastly saying that it tried everything possible, the attorney general and the INS, to try and bring out a voluntary transfer. And when that was not possible, today's raid was the only other solution.

Kelly Wallace, CNN, reporting live from the White House.

RANDALL: Today's events in Miami raise a number of legal questions. For one, now that father and son are reunited, what are they permitted to do next?

WOODRUFF: And for some perspective on the many legal issues surrounding this case, we turn to our CNN legal analysts Roger Cossack and Greta Van Susteren.

Greta, to you first. The family Miami is saying that the government and effect was way out of bounds, that they had no right to come in and take this boy as they did.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Wrong. The government certainly had a right to go in and get that child. The way they did it may be offensive to many, but in terms of whether it was legal, whether it was lawful, the government certainly had right to do it.

ROGER COSSACK, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, there's no good way to do this. You know, there's no -- apparently there no way to just sort of knock on the door and say, hi, we're here. Let's all get together, folks. Hand me the child. I have to take him back to the father. What you saw was a planned raid, an INS raid. It's scary. These things are scary, but they're certainly within their legal rights.

VAN SUSTEREN: And I can understand, you know, why the family would say that. It must be terrorizing to have the police come battering in -- or the law enforcement come battering in your house with guns drawn in essentially the middle of night -- 5:00's the middle of the night for me, but maybe not for others. But, you know, the government had the right to do it.

RANDALL: Greta, look at this picture. Is this at least a public relations failure? Not this one but the previous picture of the agent with the arm drawn.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, it may be, Gene, because we keep putting it up on the screen. But it depends how you measure the success of this operation. If you measure the success of the operation in that the law was carried out and nobody was hurt, then you might have a different view. But if we put that picture up and it looks like the gun is pointed at the child, we're terrorizing the child, look, there's no easy, pretty way to do this. It would have been better to negotiate this, much better. This is an ugly picture. Yes, this is bad P.R.

COSSACK: I -- Go ahead.

WOODRUFF: I want to ask you both about, you know, where the process is? You know, we've been told that Juan Miguel Gonzalez, Elian, his son, are going to stay in the United States. They're are not going back to Cuba until the appeals process is exhausted. What exactly is that process from here on out?

COSSACK: Well that's a good question, because what's going to happen on May 11th is that the 11th Circuit -- May 20th, I believe, is that the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal will then have its hearing, and then presumably and hopefully they'll have a decision written within the next few weeks. That decision could give Elian Gonzalez the right to apply for asylum to the INS, and then the INS makes that decision. And they would have to find that he, as a 6-year-old, is in great chance of being persecuted if he goes back to his country. I think he's very difficult -- Elian Gonzalez has a very difficult way to go to make out that kind of argument. Theoretically, if it goes away -- if it goes against the family, the family could appeal to the Supreme Court. This could go on for a while.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know what? The funny thing is that when Roger says, you know, that it starts with the hearing and we don't know when the decision -- I think that's what upsets so many people with our judicial system in the country. And Roger and I always talk about it. He always refers to it as my rant. But, you know, this is moving very slowly for very important matters. And the court does have the power to expedite. There are ways to speed it up, but unfortunately justice moves very slowly in this country for people who are, you know, greatly affected by it.

WOODRUFF: And for that reason, we've been told that there are arrangements made for the Gonzalez -- for Juan Miguel Gonzalez, Elian Gonzalez, to stay near Washington -- they're not telling us where yet -- for this indefinite period. And they acknowledge -- we talked to Greg Craig, Juan Miguel Gonzalez' attorney, earlier. He acknowledged this could be a long time.

COSSACK: This could be a long period of time. If you play out all of the various kinds of appeals that could go on by the family, if in fact they're dissatisfied, an appeal to the Supreme Court. And, Greta, you know they take off during the summer. I mean...

VAN SUSTEREN: That's my favorite, the three months they get off in the summer.

COSSACK: Greta wants that job, I think, to get those three months.

VAN SUSTEREN: That's right, I want those three months.

But you know what's sort of interesting, Roger, is that by virtue of the fact that it drags out, there is one sort of little advantage to the family in Miami, is that maybe along -- maybe the father will say, hey, this isn't such a bad place after all, the United States. Maybe I'll want to stay and stay here with my son. So there's some sort of advantage. Maybe he'll like it better here.

RANDALL: Let's presume, however, that the father does intend to go back to Cuba. What is the darkest side of the situation? Is it a hypothetical situation in that the Florida family members string this out for two years, and all of a sudden they say, well the boy is 8 now. He can speak for himself. He's no longer 6.

COSSACK: Well, you know, there is that problem. And the longer that he is here -- and I think that's what Greta was perhaps talking about, too, and the notion that perhaps the father will change his opinion, too. You stretch it out for two years, and then he says, hey, but they've already made that argument. They said, look, you know, the child's been with us for four months. You know, how can you take him away from us now? And it's almost a little bit like the Menendez brothers saying, look, we're orphans. Don't hurt us. VAN SUSTEREN: You know, one of the interesting aspects of this case is that we always look at it through our own eyes. And the people who have lived in Cuba, who came over here under very unfortunate circumstances, see Cuba very differently than people who haven't been there. And so there's a lot of emotion in this case. I mean, if you've been the -- if you've been the victim of persecution, you're going to fight hard for this. And so some people may not understand, you know, the passion of some people involved in this case.

WOODRUFF: We've been looking at picture released just literally minutes ago by the government, pictures taken by U.S. marshals at Andrews Air Force Base, first pictures released of Elian Gonzalez with his father, Juan Miguel, and with his little half brother Hijanni (ph).

I want to ask you both again about the precedent -- and this is what, part of what's in the air -- the precedent for a 6-year old -- I mean, there was a point where we saw that video of young Elian Gonzalez saying to a video, into a video camera, Daddy, I want -- I don't want to go back to Cuba. You may go, but, you know, you should stay, in effect, in the United States. What precedent is there for a young -- a 6-year old saying I don't want to go back to this country where I may be living in political persecution?

COSSACK: I don't think that there is precedent for a 6-year old. You know, traditionally across the law, all boundaries of the law, we don't allow 6-year-olds to make decisions. We make their parents make decisions for them. Now we know about this case a few years ago where there was a young Russian boy, but he was 16. I just don't see any precedent in any part of the law for saying a 6-year-old can make a decision, a knowing decision, a good decision, about his future or her future.

VAN SUSTEREN: And I think when judges talk to 6-year-olds or when lawyers do, you sort of try to read through that, because my guess is that we could probably do a video very different tonight. I mean, you know, this is a 6-year-old child. And when you examine the statements of a 6-year-old, when a 6-year-old is given a voice in any type of hearing at all, you have to sort of read through what may be something that's a little bit manufactured and what's real.

RANDALL: And speaking of public relations disasters, not very many people had very much good to say about that video of the boy saying I don't want to about back to Cuba.

COSSACK: Well that, you know, certainly was a public relations disaster. I mean, as a parent when -- you look with a certain amount of appallingness, if you will, of a little boy wagging his finger at his father.

RANDALL: Roger, I'm told that we have to go to a break, so we'll back in just a moment.

Stay with us.



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