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Larry King Live

Was the Government Right to Use Force to Reunite Elian With His Father?

Aired April 24, 2000 - 9:00 p.m. ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Did Elian Gonzalez have to be put through this to be reunited with his father? Among our guests, Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner Doris Meissner; in Seattle, Washington, House majority whip, Congressman Tom DeLay; in Washington, D.C., William Bennett, co-director of Empower America; and Seaside, California, former Clinton Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, then a panel. All next on LARRY KING LIVE.

It is all the rage. Different perspectives. One magazine says, "Papa." One magazine says, "Seizing Elian." We'll talk about that later when the media comes into focus. We begin with Doris Meissner, commissioner of INS. Are you going to be meeting tomorrow with Senator Lott and others over this? Is that true, Doris?


KING: Tell me what the meeting's about and its purpose.

MEISSNER: Well, as I understand it, Senator Lott has asked the attorney general and I, and the deputy attorney general to come up and meet with him, perhaps some of the other leadership -- I'm not sure -- to talk about the events of this weekend.

KING: Were you part of the decision-making process to go in and get the boy?


KING: And that came down to what and why?

MEISSNER: Well, this was an enforcement operation carried out by Immigration and Naturalization Service agents in Miami. Those agents are in the agency for which I'm responsible. The attorney general and I, as part of the Justice Department's responsibilities, have been working on this case for many months. We ultimately took this enforcement action this weekend because we finally, very reluctantly, reached the conclusion that it was no longer likely or possible to reach a cooperative solution between the Miami relatives and the father, Juan Miguel.

KING: There are those who are saying today -- and we'll hear later from some, I'm sure -- why didn't you have a court order to do this?

MEISSNER: Well, we have had authority to enforce the decision that I made in January from the time I made the decision in January. In January, I decided, based on very extensive review of the case, including interviews in Cuba with the family members and interviews here, that in this case the father, Juan Miguel, has the responsibility and the right to speak for his young child.

We announced that decision and asked the relatives in Miami to comply with the decision. They look -- wanted to appeal. We have worked with these issues from that time on. But at any point, we could have enforced the decision.

We have felt, however, that the best resolution in this case was a cooperative one. This is, after all, a family that's divided by Straits of Florida, but it is one family in Cuba and in the United States. And we wanted to create the conditions whereby they could cooperate in a transfer of this child to his father. That's what we've been striving to do.

KING: So no court said that you could not do this?

MEISSNER: No court said that we could not do this, and we went to a federal magistrate to get the search warrant that gave us the authority to actually enter the house.

KING: Why were no arrests made of any of the family members?


KING: If what they were doing was in violation of an order from INS?

MEISSNER: Well, what they were doing was in violation of the immigration laws. They had been out of compliance with the immigration law for more than a week. We did not arrest anybody because our objective here was to reunify Elian with his father. That's been the purpose of all of this, and we focused on the need to protect that child and keep that child safe and get him back to his father, and that's what we did. It was successful.

KING: In all honesty, Doris, why all the -- how much -- do we know how much money was spent in this whole operation, the past five, six months?

MEISSNER: I can't -- I do not know how much money has been spent.

KING: Are there lots of child cases involving Immigration where sometimes children say and sometimes they go back and sometimes parents are here involving other countries, divorce, et cetera?

MEISSNER: We do see children regularly. We have 2,000, 3,000 children a year that we deal with in immigration matters. Some of them have parents abroad. Some of them have parents here from whom they've been separated. Some of them have lost their parents. And we always strive to reunify the child with the parent, wherever that parent is.

KING: To your knowledge, is this the only case where force was used to get a child?

MEISSNER: I certainly -- we have not researched that. This is certainly a very unique case, a very exceptional set of circumstances.

Typically, we find cooperation and we receive cooperation on the part of all of the people involved.

KING: So in other words, if INS issues a ruling, usually the people who are affected by the ruling turn over the child if that's the case?

MEISSNER: Absolutely.

KING: What about now? Do you have any future say in whether those families get together?

MEISSNER: We don't have a future say from a legal standpoint, really. But we do believe that still this is a family matter, even with all of the hurt and bitterness and antagonism that exists.

I have been working with a team of experts, two child psychiatrists and a child psychologist, for several weeks now on what would be the best way to bring about this transfer, trying to keep the child's interests and sensitivity to the child at the center of this. And that team has advised from the very outset that the best thing is for the adults to be able to get along. This child will be fine, they tell me, if the adults can get along.

And there is a connection and a bond between the child and the people in Miami who took care of him. There is obviously a fundamental core bond between the child and his father. And so we're very, very glad to see that that has been reconnected.

But we would hope that there is an opportunity for communication and ultimately some access to those relatives in Miami to be able to be re-established.

KING: Thank you, Doris. Doris Meissner, she was the INS commissioner who originally made this decision. She'll be part of that meeting tomorrow with Senator Lott and the attorney general and others.

We'll get another side of the story from Congressman Tom DeLay, the House majority whip. He'll be with us right after these words.


JANET RENO, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: What you saw was a law enforcement operation that went the right way, of people who were well-trained, who knew what they were doing, who were properly in command with the sufficient show of force, not use of force, that enabled them to get in, get the boy in three minutes, and get out.



KING: Joining us now from Seattle, Washington is Congressman Tom DeLay, the House majority whip. He's in Seattle helping fellow Republicans to be elected this November in House races. It's always good to see him and we welcome him to LARRY KING LIVE.


KING: Thank you. Thanks for being with us, congressman.

What did Doris Meissner just say that you disagreed with?

DELAY: Well, she said a lot. First of all, she failed to mention, when she said that the INS was operating legally and under the rule of law, she failed to say that the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Janet Reno was wrong and that Elian should have had his day in court, to have his asylum case heard. She also failed to say that INS was wrong when it said that Elian was incompetent -- when the INS said he was incompetent to submit an asylum application.

She failed to say that they asked for a court order to go into that home, and the court refused to answer them, yet they went anyway.

She also failed to mention that the court offered to be a mediator, and they denied the court's offer, and just went in and raided the home of private American citizens...

KING: Congressman, can you understand...

DELAY: ... which I just find incredible.

KING: Can you understand the frustration of Justice? I mean, you're a father, right?

DELAY: Right.

KING: They've got a father who appears an honest, decent, capable, loving guy. They've got his son. The son obviously loves the father. We know that pretty obvious now. Most sons do love their fathers. They're faced with a dilemma. This family is putting them off down there. I mean, that was correct, right?

DELAY: But Larry, it's no less a dilemma than families all over this country go through in child custody cases. My wife is a CASA, court-appointed special advocate. She deals with child abuse cases and custody cases all the time, almost on a daily basis.

The -- Janet Reno changed the initial ruling of the INS for some reason, because the INS said the custody will be placed with this family in Miami, and we'll go through the normal procedures. All of a sudden, for some reason, it all changed. And my opinion is they cut a deal with Fidel Castro, they sent Greg Craig, the president's lawyer, down to Havana, stayed up all night with Fidel, brought Juan Miguel Gonzalez here. And from that time on, they have tried to keep this out of the court, have been not negotiating in good faith, and they have represented the father.

There are three parties in this: the Miami relatives, the mother included, the dead mother that came -- tried to bring him to freedom, the father, and Fidel and Janet Reno.

The normal way to do this is to have an impartial judge decide custody, and then go through the normal procedures of INS, when they decided to change the procedures that the court addressed.

Normally, what...

KING: Don't you think they did that?

DELAY: No, they didn't.

KING: Why do you think they did the deal with Fidel, as you say? Why?

DELAY: I have no idea, Larry. You'll have to ask them that. But the point is that they did not have the best interests of this child.

Larry, this is a blessed child. This child weathered the storm for over two days, was in the water, and it was very interesting. The others that were in the water with him were bitten by fish, had sunburns, had exposure from the saltwater, their skin was cracking. Yet when Elian was picked up, he was like a newborn babe, and there was nothing wrong with him, including the whole story of the fishermen who heard from a cousin that he hadn't heard from for over a year wanting to go fishing on Thanksgiving Day, finally talked him into going fishing, and they found Elian.

I mean, this is a blessed child, and coming to the United States, seeking freedom with his mother, the very least we should have done was done a procedure that is long-held in this country. And that is a procedure where you look into all sides. You don't send a leftist group like the National Council of Churches, who's in sympathy with Fidel Castro, to go interview the father. You send an impartial person that is a professional in this kind of case, to check out what's going on in Cuba.

You -- and then you present your findings to an impartial jobs, and let him decide what's in the best interest of the child.

to brought into father, check out what's going on in Cuba. And then you present your findings to an impartial judge and let him decide what's in the best interest of the child.

KING: Do you think...

DELAY: When you undermine the rule of law and you throw everything out the window and you decide you're going to decide -- define what's right and wrong, you end up raiding the private residence of American citizens...

KING: And there will be... DELAY: ... which I find is outrageous.

KING: There will be a House investigation into this, is that correct?

DELAY: Absolutely. The speaker has asked Chairman Henry Hyde of the Judiciary Committee to look into this and hold hearings. And let's establish what is the real principle here. And the real principle, which I find really upsetting, is that rather than bring the father here and talk to the father and offer the father to live here in freedom, they just willy-nilly have decided to send this poor child back to live in the slavery of communism under Fidel Castro, who ordered water hoses to be put on sinking boats that drowned 40 people, including women and children -- Fidel Castro that shot down American citizens.

KING: But congressman, he's not Fidel's property. He's his father. He's his father.

DELAY: I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Larry...

KING: You don't think the father loves the child?

DELAY: The constitution -- Fidel's constitution in Cuba states very clearly that children are the property of the state. The father may be allowed to live with this child, but the child is the property of the Cuban tyrant Fidel Castro.

KING: Do you think a 6-year-old can apply for asylum?

DELAY: Absolutely. In fact, the Court of Appeals said so. And they said...

KING: No, they said they'll hear whether he can.

DELAY: No. They said they will hear whether he can. But they also said that -- and I have it right here in front of me -- that the INS finding that he is too young does not in any way state the clearness of the statute that any alien of any age may apply for asylum.

Once again, the INS and Janet Reno is undermining the rule of law.

KING: So under that rule, a 6-month-old could apply.

DELAY: Absolutely.

KING: A fetus could apply.

DELAY: But could apply and then go through a normal process, not just decide and make a deal with Fidel Castro that we're just going to wipe out all processes, wipe out all rules, wipe out the rule of law in the United States, and send this kid back to communist tyranny.

KING: Since it's the boy that counts, though, are you happy that he appears happy to be with his father?

DELAY: I'm very...

KING: Are you happy about that?

DELAY: Absolutely. I'm happy that he appears happy. But that's not the point. The point is what is in the best interest of the child.

You ought to ask the question of Janet Reno and Bill Clinton, have you offered him to stay here and bring his family over here and live with Elian in freedom and allow Elian to realize the dreams of his mother, to live in freedom in the United States of America and escape communist tyranny? That's what you ought to be asking the father.

KING: And we will. Thanks, congressman.

DELAY: That's what you ought to be asking him. You're welcome.

KING: Thanks for joining us. Congressman Tom DeLay, the House majority whip. When we come back, Leon Panetta, former Clinton White House chief of staff. And he was chief of staff when Janet Reno took an earlier question in Waco, Texas. And then Bill Bennett and then a panel.

Right back with Leon after this.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: First, I was saddened by what I saw on TV. This is a nation of law, not guns. And I wish this dispute had been settled in a much more peaceful way.

Secondly, now that the boy is with his father, I would hope that the administration would explain to the father that if he so chooses he can raise his son in freedom, that the father could stay here in the United States of America.



KING: Joining us now from Seaside, California is Leon Panetta, the former White House chief of staff.

We've heard both sides of this very clearly. Where do you stand, Leon?

LEON PANETTA, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, Larry, I think this was a pretty clear call that the administration and Justice Department had to make. This was about the rule of law. And the rule of law is not decided by Republicans or Democrats or Fidel Castro or the relatives or others. It's the rule of law that applies in this case, which is the immigration law. And the immigration law in this case said very clearly that the son belongs with the father. We've known that for four months. The orders had been issued. They had a warrant. The warrant allowed for the child to be returned to the father.

You know, in this country -- my parents were immigrants. They came to this country because of freedom, but freedom that is protected by the rule of law. And you've got to enforce the law, and that's what Janet Reno had to do in this case. She did the right thing.

KING: Should INS have done it sooner?

PANETTA: Well, I think if there's any criticism, it's probably that they should have acted sooner. Four months of negotiation with the relatives, and the relatives continued to raise the bar at every turn. Every time they decided there was the hope that somehow the son would be unified with the father, they backed away from the deal. The father came here. They said that's what they wanted. They backed away then. They said it should go to family court, and family court kicked it out. They still refused to turn over the child. Almost at every turn they've resisted this.

So I think in the end there really was no choice but to go forward.

KING: Leon, you were chief of staff during Waco, and Janet Reno admitted later she was rather impatient and acted swiftly there. Well, it may not have appeared swiftly, but for it was swiftly.

Do you think that had to do with her holding some patience here?

PANETTA: Well, I think she wanted to be cautious, extremely cautious about the situation. After all, it is a touchy situation. It involves a family that obviously loves this child on all sides. It involves a situation that is volatile in that part of the country in which you've got a lot of demonstrations going on. That's her home. She's familiar with that area. She certainly didn't want to do anything that would cause harm either to the child or the relatives or the public in any way.

And so she bent over backwards to negotiate with the family. My goodness, four months of negotiation was involved here, and yet it didn't pay off.

So in the end, I think, you know, she was cautious. She bent over backwards to do everything she could. But in the end, she has -- has a a responsibility to all of the American people, the responsibility to enforce the law. And that's what she had to do.

KING: And do you think those family members -- Ms. Meissner thinks so -- should come together, the father, Elian and the others?

PANETTA: Well, you would hope that they would be able to do that for the benefit of the child. There is a fundamental principle here, and the fundamental principle is that the son ought to be unified with the father. But the son ought to be able to enjoy the relationship with other family members. And so I think it now rests with both the father and the relatives to kind of put aside all of the animosity and all of the, I'm sure, the concerns that were involved here and come together and hopefully give this child the kind of decent up -- you know, raising that we have to give children in this country.

KING: Leon, thanks. Always great seeing you.

PANETTA: Nice to be here.

KING: Leon Panetta, the former chief of staff in the Clinton White House. William Bennett, the co-director of Empower America, critical of the way things went on early Saturday morning, joins us next. Don't go away.


KING: We're now joined by Bill Bennett. He is the co-director of Empower America, bestselling author, and very critical of what happened. And it's always good to have him with us.

Bill, a CNN/Gallup poll done Saturday shows that 57 percent of Americans approve of the government action. They said they had maybe used too much force, but basically approved of him being with his father: 59 percent disapprove of the actions of the family in South Florida.

What do you make of that?

WILLIAM BENNETT, EMPOWER AMERICA: Well, you know, Larry, my name's come up as a potential vice presidential candidate. I'd like to shoot that down tonight by saying 57 percent of the American people are wrong.

KING: Fifty-nine.

BENNETT: Fifty-nine -- that's even worse. And they need to read the black book of communism. They need to read about what communism is and what Cuba is. They need to understand that this boy will not be in his father's control. He will be in control of Fidel Castro.

KING: But if the father wants him and the father loves him, you've got no say, do you? I mean, it's his father.

BENNETT: Well, according to the 11th Circuit, the boy has say and there's something called the independent interests of the boy. The question is can the father really exercise the kind of autonomy that people think he can when he is controlled, has been controlled up to this point, and still is controlled by Fidel Castro.

The question that's haunting me, Larry, is why is the Justice Department and the National Council of Churches so hell-bent on returning this child to his father and to Cuba, and to Cuba, which is -- means putting this child back into the control of a mass murderer.

Now, a lot of people, I guess, just don't know what Cuba is. They think it's some nice warm country with an avuncular leader who likes baseball and he runs a collective farms. It is a murderous and tyrannical state. This man kills people who try to leave his country.

And I have to say that otherwise reasonable people like Leon Panetta here applauding what the Justice Department did on Saturday morning really need to take another look.

The New York Times pointed out the rule of law, of course, but how that law is exercised, how one goes about applying that law is another question.

Those decent citizens in Miami -- and I know that Miami group. Tad Foote and other people down there were negotiating in good faith. You either have to believe them or believe Reno's Justice Department.

Reno's Justice Department has given us plenty of reason not to believe them. I think what they did was unconscionable. I think it's conduct that shocks the conscience, and I think Americans should be ashamed.

And when Bill Clinton stands up and lectures us about the rule of law and says, if we don't have the rule of law, where will we go, it's a little much.

KING: If the father is a communist and he likes Fidel and he's still the father, he's still the father, you want to remove every child out of Cuba?

BENNETT: No. No, it doesn't follow that we remove every child out of Cuba.

KING: Why not?

BENNETT: This is a very special case, very special circumstances. I'd like to have more children out of Cuba. And you know, there is a special piece of legislation, 1980, that says Cubans who get there, put their feet on the shore, on our shores will have freedom.

This mother died trying to get her child here. I think those issues should be taken into account too.

We know who controls every child in Cuba. We know for this child it's going to be even worse.

Why does Castro have so much control over Clinton? Why so much solicity?

You heard Doris Meissner on here just a few minutes ago say they have a couple of thousand cases like this, Larry. They don't exercise this kind -- this kind of Gestapo tactics.

KING: But what do you make of it? I mean, some nefarious -- do you see a nefarious plot here? Are you joining the wacko element that says everything is a plot?

BENNETT: I don't think it's the wacko element, but you know, we have learned after eight years with Bill Clinton that it is not wrong to suspect some motive which is not right out there on the surface. You know, information has a way of getting out.

I don't know what it is. Maybe it's his fear that Castro will release more prisoners or will back off from some deal.

But I'm ashamed that my government is showing this kind of solicitude to one of the worst dictators in the world.

And let me ask this: maybe you can ask one of your guests on the other side on this one. That little boy right now is with his father, and that's OK with me. I mean, he should be with his father, he should be with his other relatives. I'm in agreement with that.

But he's being held at Andrews Air Force Base, and Gregory Craig, the lawyer who is defending this whole thing, has told us that these Cuban interests officials are there. Cuban interests. That is the police guards of the Cuban state are there with the boy and the child.

A U.S. senator can't get onto Andrews Air Force Base property to see this boy, but we have the Cuban KGB, in effect, out there with him. I'm sure the brainwashing is beginning.

I'm just -- I -- this to me is unbelievable, and that six in 10 Americans say send this boy back to Cuba, this is...


KING: ... they say send the boy to his father, Bill, his father.

BENNETT: Yes -- no. But if the question was, if his father then -- quote -- says, he wants to return to Cuba, that's just fine. His father doesn't exercise any autonomy at all. It took him four months to get here, Larry.

KING: Do you -- do you believe this administration is trying to influence the father to stay?

BENNETT: No, I don't see any interest on their part in that. The only thing we have heard is whatever the father wants he should get.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals -- I'll remind Mr. Panetta and others -- however, did say the boy has an interest independent of what the father says, because the 11th Circuit seems to understand what a lot of Americans don't, which is that there's no such thing as parental control in Cuba. The country is run by a dictator. The constitution says parental rights stop when Fidel Castro says they do.

You want to sentence this kid to that kind of life? Do you know what's going to happen to him when he returns?

This is horrible and unconscionable. But you know, we've been here before.

KING: William Bennett losing all chance to be vice president of the United States. Usually, they announce on this program. They don't blow it on this program. BENNETT: I'm sorry.

KING: Thanks, Bill, always good seeing you.

BENNETT: Thank you, sir.

KING: Bill Bennett, co-director of Empower America. When we come back, Judge William Webster, former director of the FBI and the CIA, Ben Bradlee, the former executive editor of The Washington Post, and the renowned attorney F. Lee Bailey. They're going to go at it too. Don't go away.


MARISLEYSIS GONZALEZ, ELIAN GONZALEZ'S COUSIN: We're in his territory now, and he shouldn't be frightened to meet with us, as they said before. And let's see if they could allow the family to meet with the family and get this out of the political issue as we've always said. And I'm looking forward to being able to meet with Elian, being able to meet with his father. And I hope that his attorney allows him to see us.



KING: Joining us now in a panel discussion the rest of the way our Judge William Webster, the former director of the FBI and former director of the CIA, chairman of the National Commission on Advancement of Federal Law Enforcement, at our bureau in Washington. Also in Washington, Ben Bradlee, one of the great names in the history of American journalism, the former executive editor of The Washington Post. He's now vice president-at-large of "The Post." And in West Palm Beach, Florida, the famed attorney F. Lee Bailey joins us.

We'll start with Ben Bradlee on this. Ben, I've got "Newsweek" and "TIME" in front of me. "TIME" has a big picture of the capture with a little picture of the family reunion. And "TIME" puts in it reverse: a little picture of the capture, big picture of the family reunion.

How, in your opinion, has the press handled this, Ben?

BEN BRADLEE, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, if you decide -- and I've said this before on your program. If we can agree on what the word "press" means, I think the newspapers, which is my idea of the press, been -- the ones I've read -- are pretty damn good. I thought the -- we had the same kind of a problem that "TIME" and "Newsweek" between "The Post" and "New York Times."

"The Post" ran the same size paired pictures of the picture of the machine gun and the picture of the smiling Gonzalezes. The New York Times ran just the smiling one. I think the press has played this well.

KING: The New York Times had a big story today, though, talked about the "Miami Herald" and they're provoking problems down in Florida. Did you see their coverage?

BRADLEE: I didn't. But all the coverage out of Miami is provoking. I mean, television camera focuses and stays on a face of somebody just spewing venom and hatred, and there's no sense of fairness there.

KING: Judge Webster, did the government act correctly Saturday morning?

WILLIAM WEBSTER, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: That's a tough question, Larry, and I don't think we know enough facts to make really solid judgments on that. Clearly, we know that there was a legal predicate for what took place. Clearly, we know that a good deal of time has elapsed as other means have been explored. Whether they didn't wait long enough or whether they should have acted a long time ago is going to be subject for more closer scrutiny.

But I think we're in a pretty good position right here. The father is with his son. The court has exercised jurisdiction and told the parties they may not take the son out of the United States. In that situation, we ought to cool it a little bit and allow opportunities for conversation and discourse to continue. Perhaps the family can find a way to deal with it.

KING: With the media away from it, Bill?

WEBSTER: Well, I don't think that'll hurt right now. I think too many is a crowd. And I hope that in this atmosphere, some good can come of it.

We've built this problem -- and it's a tragic problem for the child. We've built this problem into an enormous event with everyone wanting to manipulate the result for particular purposes. And we should take this moment now -- nobody hurt, maybe too much force, so much show of force -- but nobody hurt, child's out, child's with the father. There will be an opportunity to learn how the child feels, how the child's capabilities are with respect to his future, and what the United States is going to do about a situation that -- that although unique in many respects, could be another child, another situation where we have to deal with immigration laws that are on the books.

KING: Lee...

WEBSTER: But cool it now.

KING: Lee, have you represented young children in court in your long career?

F. LEE BAILEY, ATTORNEY: I have only but only on a couple of occasions.

KING: Do -- does a 6-year-old have a say? Does a 6-year-old have an asylum stand? What is the rights of a 6-year-old independent of others in a court? BAILEY: A 6-year-old has the rights of a human being. In most states, a 6-year-old is not competent to testify. But I don't think that's relevant here.

Elian has become a symbol of something much larger, and that is the confrontation between Cuba and its government and the Cuban- American population in Dade County in particular. And if you live in South Florida, as I do, you understand it very thoroughly. It's not going to go away. He was simply the stick of dynamite, and they managed to get the fuse lit. Fortunately, it didn't go off.

KING: Are you glad the government did what it did, Lee?

BAILEY: Well, anybody can Monday morning quarterback. I tend to agree with Judge Webster and always (ph) have agreed with him. Maybe it could have been done a different way, but there's been no bloodshed. So I have to go with what happened and say, let's cool it, let's try and cool it.

This poor kid has become the center of a whirlpool, and he didn't ask for that. Let's try and sort it out.

We can't condemn Cuba forever, and someday there's got to be an amelioration, but it's got to be in a way that we don't have a force of arms in Dade County.

KING: Ben Bradlee, television, which you know very well -- I know your life has been in newspapers but you certainly know this medium. It's a hot medium. Can we -- a collective we -- can we cool it?

BRADLEE: Well, I'm not the guy to ask. Sure, you can cool it if somebody wants to cool it.

KING: Yes, but you know the medium. Will it?

BRADLEE: I know the medium. But if you put a camera in front of those people shouting and burning and doing all that, there's only a thousand of them there. How long are you going to keep it on? That is a very editorial judgment, and it is like throwing kerosene on the fire.

I think cooling -- yes, you can cool it without stepping on my liberties.

KING: Yes. So if the family calls a press conference for tomorrow and they're going to church or something, you're saying we don't have to cover it. If there's people from the National Council of Churches standing in front of Andrews Air Force Base speaking on the other side, we don't have to go there.

BRADLEE: I am saying that. I mean, I would be there in an ideal world looking at it, and if anybody did anything that approached reality, that they really thought was important, then I would -- I mean, I guess I'd take films of it anyway. But some director back in a television studio has got to decide whether it's important or not. KING: We'll right back with Judge William Webster, Ben Bradlee and F. Lee Bailey on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.


KING: We will include some of your phone calls.

Judge Webster, the law says that anyone can apply for asylum. Does "anyone" mean an infant?

WEBSTER: Well, an 11-year-old boy who was not living with his parents applied for it some years ago. I believe he was a Russian child. And there, there was sufficient indication that he could make an informed judgment.

It's difficult to say what an individual child's capable of doing, and I suspect that it wouldn't surprise me at all for the court of appeals to have some lower court make that assessment down the road. I don't know if they will.

But that's -- that's part of the problem. Political refugees have to be able to demonstrate that they would be subject to reprisal, retaliation, torture, et cetera, in the countries if they were returned to the countries. There's no indication of that kind of provocation here.

Good points made by Bill Bennett about the kind of life to which he might have to return, but Cuba is a country that's been around a while. And I don't know that that's enough of a justification to say that anyone who wants to come from Cuba, however, whatever age, can be separated from their families, separated from their parents. That's a tough call, but that's what courts are all about.

KING: Lee, if you were representing the Miami relatives, would you be up against it now or do you have a shot here?

BAILEY: Oh, I think they have a shot. There's always, particularly in this case, a lot of political consideration for a very large block that feels very badly about what might happen to this young man if he went back to Cuba. But I think what is missing here, this is not a case to be decided by the courts. Ultimately, somebody has got to get a bunch of mediators, respected by both sides -- maybe Judge Webster and a prominent Hispanic and one other -- and sit down and just talk to these people, and say, where are the ups and downs, because the politicians might win. But the way that you're headed with this thing, you're not going to win. And I think that applies to Elian and his dad at this moment.

KING: I know you're not active at "The Post" every day, Ben. You're not making the decisions. But do you say now at this point it comes off the front page?

BRADLEE: No, I don't think so. I don't think you can do that. As long as -- as there is kerosene around that's going on the flames, it's a page 1 story. The brainwashing charges is something that really interests me a lot. There's a lot of brainwashing going on. Certainly, the child for the last five months has been brainwashed within an inch of his life by relatives who didn't even know him when he landed here in that tire. So they've been working him over. And of course, the father is going to try to get him back. Why shouldn't he? And any father would try to earn the love of his child and say, oh, I think very careful about that word.

The public is being brainwashed by a whole series of counterarguments that are going around that, you know, there was a warrant, there wasn't a warrant, he has a right, he doesn't have a right. If any father that I know can't see much beyond the fact that he doesn't have his son.

KING: Atlanta, Georgia, hello.

CALLER: Hello. Hi, Larry.


CALLER: My question is, if the judge ordered him to stay in the United States and give him the right to live in the United States, I mean, by the father being the legal guardian of him, what would happen after that considered that he would want to go back to Cuba?

KING: Yes, Lee. What if they ruled that a 6-year-old can ask for asylum, but the father is the custodian of the child and he doesn't agree. What happens then?

BAILEY: Well, I think the father's going to control, because in most families, the father is the guardian, he's the parental trustee of the child, and what he says goes, and if he says, I want to go back to my native country where my son was born and where I'm a citizen, I don't think a U.S. court could stand in his way.

KING: So the ruling would be moot then?

BAILEY: The ruling would be moot.

BRADLEE: He's the sole surviving...

KING: We'll take a break.

BRADLEE: He's the sole surviving parent, too.

KING: Yes. We'll take a break and come back with more. This is LARRY KING LIVE. We'll ask Judge Webster if he'd be willing to mediate, right after this.


KING: Judge Webster, you said that attack may have been a little too harsh. Was there another way to do it?

WEBSTER: Always good from 20/20 hindsight, know what's inside a building, know what your risks and possible subject to being attacked might be. There -- I hate to second-guess. I think that the information that they had may have been flawed, and yet they can't ignore it. We don't want our law enforcement officers injured or sabotaged in the process. But perhaps a little earlier, if they were going to do this, there wouldn't have been all this buildup outside.

You know, if you're trying to solve a problem, you're not going to do it very well in an atmosphere as tense as this one had gotten to be.

KING: Would you mediate if they asked you to?

WEBSTER: Well, that's a nice compliment. But there -- sure, I think anyone who thought that they could be helpful would help out in a situation like this.

You know, mediation requires a proper neutral setting, and it requires an approach based less on legal technicalities and more on identifying the interests of the parties, how to be creative and come up with a solution that's in the best interest of the child, that the family members and the parent can live with.

KING: We also have irony here in that the right wing, which usually likes armed forced -- and I put that -- I know -- I heard a right-wing talk show host today blasting the left wing, which usually doesn't like force, for liking force here. And on the other hand, the right wing, which usually likes force, doesn't like force here. It's a whole big rigmarole, but radio talk shows love it.

Salt Lake City, Utah, hello.

CALLER: Hello.


CALLER: I know you don't have a child psychologist on your panel this evening, but I'm wondering if any child psychologist had been contacted before we showed such force and traumatized this poor child that has been through so much. I cried all weekend watching what took place down in Miami. Does anybody know?

KING: Ben, do you know if the government had a child psychologist ready?

BRADLEE: Oh, I think they did. I'm not sure.

KING: I think had the one on the plane, I think.

BRADLEE: I think so. And they had one if not in the car, certainly on the plane. And I think the -- there was a psychologist or a psychiatrist being consulted by the Justice Department from day one.

KING: Lee, should this have been handled sooner?

BAILEY: Well, you know, I agree with Judge Webster. Monday morning quarterbacking is easy to do. If I had been in charge, I'm a decisive, do-it-now guy, probably I would have said sooner rather than let it fester. But those in charge may have thought that time would cool it down.

I still think that mediation is the answer, and if Bill Webster were to engage himself in that process, I think every lawyer in the United States would clap.

KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments with Webster, Bailey and Bradlee -- sounds like a law firm in itself -- right after this.


KING: Lee Bailey, people have been calling in, so we have to ask. Obviously you have a bandage and we've seen the hand a few times. What happened to your hand?

BAILEY: Last Friday, I had four hours of surgery on my left hand to prevent this finger from curling to the point they were going to take it off, and thank goodness the doctor did a wonderful job.

KING: So what does the hand look like now, the left hand?

BAILEY: Well, you wouldn't want to see it.

KING: Some people have seen it.

BAILEY: They haven't seen under the bandage. It's a big gaping wound.

KING: Hurt?

BAILEY: No. As I said, the LARRY KING show makes it OK.


KING: Ben Bradlee, what now? What do editors do now?

There's going to be a congressional hearing. Trent Lott is getting together with Ms. Meissner.

BRADLEE: That'll fix it up.


KING: What does the...

BRADLEE: We've got to hold hearings, Larry. We've got to hold public hearings in the House, then public hearings in the Senate. And...

KING: And we've also got court hearings.

BRADLEE: And somewhere somebody has got to have a light and look into a dark corner and see if they can find the truth. That's what we're looking for.

KING: It's the hardest part of the game, isn't it?

BRADLEE: Yes, that's it. That's why it's so interesting.

KING: Judge Webster, what next? You said we lay back, we take a -- but the Congress is not going to let that happen. They're going to have hearings. They're going to schedule them quickly, if we listen to Tom DeLay.

WEBSTER: Well, it'd be nice if they carefully laid out a format for understanding the events and what could be improved, perhaps even have appointed a subcommittee or get somebody else to take a look at all the events, decisions that were made, and see whether or not they would be second-guessed.

In the meantime, I hope that the child is spared the burden of all the attention that he's received, and that where he, he has access to his parents -- his parent, and under the best of circumstances, would be able to see other family members in a situation when they would not be pulling on him but rather giving him the support that he really needs.

KING: Lee, it can't be healthy just living at an Air Force Base, can it, or can it?

BAILEY: Well, it can be safe. It's certainly not healthy. But at some point, I agree with the judge, take this kid off the chess board. He's been a pawn for too long.

KING: Is part of it do you think, Ben -- and playing here now to vanity -- the way this kid looks? He's a wonderful looking boy.

BRADLEE: He's a wonderful looking boy. And everybody is pretty good-looking, as far as I can see.

KING: That's right, the dad and...

BRADLEE: Well, the dad is a great looking guy. But -- and that's a strong kid. He's got his arm around somebody's neck all day long. I wish they'd get him off of that swing. I wish they'd get him of having his fingers pushed at the -- in openings in the chain-link fence. You talk about manipulating and brainwashing people. I wish they'd take him off the board. That's a very good phrase.

KING: I guess you didn't like that tape that he made?

BRADLEE: No, I thought it was disgusting.

KING: What did you think, Lee? Did you think it was effective or wrong?

BAILEY: I think having a 6-year-old boy make a tape was pretty much like having Patty Hearst make a tape with a gun at her head.

BRADLEE: Yes, good. KING: Do you agree, Judge Webster...


KING: ... that the boy has become part of a chess board?

WEBSTER: Yes, and this -- the current setup provides an opportunity to give him some relief from it, and he certainly deserves it. He ought to know that the American people care about him. He ought to know that his family cares about him. But he ought to be relieved of getting involved in those issues as long as it's possible.

BRADLEE: And the kid ought to go to school pretty soon.

KING: Yes, he ought to go to school. Not a bad idea.

And William, Bill, the law enforcement officers -- I don't want to put words in your mouth -- they were doing their job, right?

WEBSTER: They were doing their job. They were trying to extract the boy pursuant to a court order as best they could without harm to themselves. And they wanted apparently to make a show that we often do in other situations, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) situation, to make it clear that no one is going to benefit by trying to throw a bomb into the scene.

KING: We thank all of our guests for being with us tonight, Judge William Webster, former director of the FBI and the CIA. Ben Bradlee, a historic figure in American journalism, the former executive of The Washington Post. And the famed attorney F. Lee Bailey. And earlier, Doris Meissner of the INS, Congressman Tom DeLay, Leon Panetta, and Bill Bennett.

CNN "NEWSSTAND" will be following along in the same order, coming up next, staying right atop this story with more analysis of it. We'll be back tomorrow night talking about the No. 1 movie in America, "U-571." Maybe the best naval thriller ever filmed. That's a personal opinion, but occasionally we throw them in.

Thanks for joining us and good night.



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