The compelling and tragic story of Elian Gonzalez, the little 6-year-old Cuban boy plucked out of the Atlantic off Florida's coast last Thanksgiving, continues to tear at us.

Americans' emotional response to Elian reached new levels of intensity when they awoke Saturday morning to images of Federal storm troopers in full battle gear breaking into an American home in the dark of night to extract an obviously terrified little boy from the embrace of the very fisherman who had pulled him out of the ocean last year.

We will not know, perhaps for several years, how much additional emotional trauma Elian may have experienced by the paramilitary operation. The larger question is why the Clinton Administration would further traumatize a boy who has already suffered so much, including the agony of having his mother perish at sea as she attempted to bring him to America?

There was no reason to use such Gestapo-like tactics to reunite Elian with his father. After a court granted Elian the right to have his asylum case heard and barred him from being taken back to Cuba in the interim, the Miami relatives' main fear (that Elian's father would immediately take the boy back to Cuba) was removed. Consequently, with the help of numerous influential Miami citizens, negotiations with the Justice Department began. These talks apparently resulted in a document that outlined an orderly transition process for turning custody over to Elian's father while the case was adjudicated in American courts. Elian's family agreed to the terms of the document.

While negotiations over final details continued through the early morning hours of April 22, the Miami relatives said the phone went dead. Armed troopers broke into the home and seized Elian. If I remember correctly, we got a little upset when the Japanese surprised us in a similar way on Dec. 7, 1941.

This, after Attorney General Reno, according to the New York Times, and President Clinton, according to Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., promised there would be no midnight raid. The raid happened on Easter weekend, on the day between Good Friday and Easter, the two holiest days in the Christian calendar. Is this the same administration that suspended a bombing campaign out of respect for the Muslim holiday of Ramadan?

However brutally and traumatically, little Elian has now been reunited with his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez. There are many people who feel that this is a simple parental rights case and that Elian should be with his surviving biological parent. If this were just a case of choosing whether Elian should stay with his great uncle Lazaro Gonzalez and his cousin Marisleysis (his surrogate mother during his stay in Miami), or be turned over to his father, then I might agree--if his father were going to take him back home to Honduras, Panama, or Mexico. Unfortunately, Juan Miguel has stated his intention to return to Cuba with his son. Of course, both his and his wife's mother are in Castro's "protective custody" awaiting his return.

Americans need to understand that if Elian is returned to Cuba we will be delivering him to the embrace of Fidel Castro, not his father. Under Cuban law, Elian, as described by Luis Fernandez of the Cuban mission in Washington, D.C., "is a possession of the Cuban government." A 1978 Cuban law mandates that parents raise children with a "communist personality" and outlaws "influences contrary to communist development." At age 11, children are taken from their parents to government camps, to be indoctrinated into communism and labor in the fields. Parents have no "parental rights" as we understand them in America.

Castro has already prepared a "guest house" in Havana for Elian, his father, and his family to occupy when they return to Cuba. Here, Castro's ghoulish psychiatrists (the same people who have identified an official mental illness called "apathy to socialism") will immediately begin to "deprogram" Elian of the damage done during his sojourn in freedom.

The Cuban government claims ownership of human beings. They are the "possession" of the government. Sadly, we once had such an evil system in part of the United States. It was called slavery, and just as in Cuba, people consistently tried to escape such dehumanizing oppression.

Imagine a loving and devoted mother risking her life to bring her son from slavery to freedom. She loses her life in the escape attempt, but her six-year-old son makes it to free territory. Would you send the boy back from Ohio to slavery in Kentucky because the boy's biological father was still on a plantation there? That is what the Fugitive Slave Laws required you to do. Did we not fight a great war to end such abominations on our soil? Why should Elian be sent back to slavery, and why should his mother's sacrifice be negated?

Bill Clinton has reminded us for more than two decades that his hero is President Kennedy. Can anyone imagine John F. Kennedy turning Elian over to Fidel Castro?

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