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Jewish World Review April 24, 2000 /19 Nissan, 5760

Nat Hentoff

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Elian's human rights -- THE SATURDAY SWATT TEAM RAID at 5 am to drag out a 6 year old boy reveals how Clinton and Reno define the "best interest of the child."

When next I speak to a high-school class about the nature of fundamental individual freedoms, we will talk about the bright line between the rights of Elian's father and the boy's future.

The philosopher Hans Jonas emphasizes the need to "respect the right of each human life to find its own way and be a surprise to itself."

Once in America, no one -- except for someone who has committed a crime in his country of origin -- should be sent back to a country from which he will not be free to leave. Not all prisoners are behind bars, a fact that has escaped the liberals and conservatives who are locked into the absolutism of family values in this case.

I wonder if Rep. Charles Rangel, Thomas Friedman and other advocates of the bonds of blood have ever spoken, as I have, to any of the invisible men condemned to Castro's gulags for advocating democracy. Some of them had loving fathers.

Years ago, I was in a room with the magnetic Che Guevara, who professed not to understand English. But he ignored the interpreter when I asked him "Can you ever envision free elections in Cuba?"

Guevara laughed derisively, and said, in Spanish, "Here?" And he kept laughing. He was prophetic.

Yet I hear both academics and lay folk assure us that, in time, Castro will be gone and democracy will come to Cuba. And Elian, long since reunited with his father and still renowned, will perhaps run for high office in that liberated country.

These seers are willing to bet this boy's future life on a loving father and the speculation that a nation long conditioned -- under Batista and Castro -- to authoritarian rule will surely insist on constitutional democracy once Castro is interred. And, perhaps, as happened to Lenin's statues, Castro's Ozymandian relics will be toppled.

But look at another country whose people, for generations, have learned to be careful of certain things they say in public. Consider the new chief autocrat of Russia, a cold-hearted graduate of the KGB. And remember who finished a respectable second in that election -- the leader of the hardly obsolete Communist Party.

I note that many family-values Americans have been calling in to talk-show radio stations, speaking to television cameras in the halls of the Capitol, and writing columns lecturing Cuban-Americans in Miami for their extremism on behalf of a boy's right to grow up as unfettered as they themselves have in this country.

Complacent in their own freedom, they have urged that Elian be returned to his roots. They do not mention that once back home he will be included in a "Student Cumulative Dossier" -- a file kept by his teachers of not only his academic record, but also his political and religious development.

However much his Cuban father loves him, his son -- in mind and soul, if not body -- belongs, after all, to the Cuban state.

Katie Couric, NBC's prominent political scientist, speaks sardonically of those who do not want our illustrious attorney general to send Elian to a place without the right to dissent. They must, she said, "be talking about Miami."

Bubba's brigades
Some of those people in Miami who appall Couric with their zeal have experienced -- as she has not -- what Pascal Fontaine describes in the section on Cuba in "The Black Book of Communism" (Harvard University Press):

"To control the population, the Direccion Special del Ministerio del Interior (DSMI) recruits chivatos (informers) by the thousand. The DSMI works in three different fields: One section keeps a file on every Cuban citizen; another keeps track of public opinion; the third, in charge of the `ideological line,' keeps an eye on the church and its various congregations through infiltration."

The U.S. clergy who have so ardently supported the blood rights of Elian's father have not mentioned a report in the April 10 issue of Editor & Publisher about the press freedoms that readers and writers enjoy in Cuba:

"A favorite tactic is placing reporters under house arrest to prevent them from covering events that could prove embarrassing to the government. Upwards of two dozen journalist were subjected to that treatment in the past six months."

Che Guevara's laughter reverberates as I listen to the passionate indictments of those of us who are so cruel as to not understand the heartfelt wisdom of Janet Reno: "The law is very clear. A child who's lost his mother belongs with the sole surviving parent."

Even when the ultimate parent is Big Brother? On April 18, the United Nations Human Rights Commission condemned Cuba for its "continued violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms."

But now the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that, despite Clinton and Reno, Elian will finally have his due-process day in court, and may yet live in freedom.

The SWATT team raid, however, has resulted in custody being given to the father by the Justice Dept. That may annul what the 11th Circuit planned to decide.

JWR contributor Nat Hentoff is a First Amendment authority and author of numerous books. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


04/17/00: Crime's down, but arrests keep rising
04/10/00: Teacher brings Constitution to life
04/03/00: The Americans who keep disappearing
03/27/00: The censoring of feminist history
03/20/00: Should there be a chaplain in Congress?
03/13/00: Big labor, big China, spinning Gore
03/03/00: The ACLU violates its principles --- yet again!
02/28/00: Still two nations?
02/11/00: You bet we should disbar Bubba
01/31/00: Where was Jesse?
01/24/00: Is suing church for sexual harassment an entanglement?
01/18/00: Will Miranda make it?
01/11/00: ACLU: Guilty until presumed innocent?
01/03/00: Liberty lion should be Man of Century
12/28/99: Drug tests that tear families apart
12/20/99: Get ready for decisive ruling on school vouchers for religious schools
12/13/99: Guess who is taking the lead in anti-slavery movement? Hint: It ain't Rev. Jesse
12/06/99: When we refuse to buy the 'otherly-challenged' excuse
11/29/99: Expelling 'Huck Finn'
11/22/99: Pleading the First
11/16/99: Goal of diversity needs rethinking?
11/08/99: Prosecution in darkness
11/02/99: The accuracy that's owed to readers
10/26/99: Disappeared Americans
10/18/99: The blue wall of silence
10/11/99: Bill Bradley's speech tax
10/04/99: 'Technicalities' that keep us free
09/27/99: Our 'Americanism'-ignorant generation
09/20/99: ACLU better clean up its act
09/13/99: A professor of infanticide at Princeton
09/07/99: The Big Apple's Rotten Policing
08/23/99: Lawyerly ethics
08/16/99: To Get a Supreme Court Seat
08/02/99: What are the poor people doing tonight?
07/26/99: Lady Hillary and the press

© 2000, NEA