Feds Under Fire

Smoke billows after a bomb blast in a market in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2006. Two roadside bombs exploded in the main Shurja market in central Baghdad within minutes of each other, killing 10 people and injuring 50, said police. Meanwhile, Iraq's prime minister sharply criticized a U.S.-Iraqi attack on a Shiite militia stronghold in Baghdad, exposing a rift with his American partners on security tactics. AP Photo/Hadi Mizban

Immigration and Naturalization Service commissioner Doris Meissner defends the Easter weekend raid to seize Elian Gonzalez as "a perfectly legal, properly carried out operation."

"We had a search warrant, which we got from a federal judge," Meisner told CBS News' Face The Nation on Sunday. She disputed contentions from the family that an agent said, "You move and I'm going to blow your brains out."

"They would not have said anything like that," said Meissner. "Their use of firearms is only allowed in self defense or to protect the lives of others. They were in and out in three minutes. Their commands are 'We are here, stand aside.' "

Meissner denied Sen. Bob Smith's (R-N.H.) allegation that Elian was hooded as he was brought out.

"That is absolutely false. You saw the pictures. The child came out in the arms of a female agent. The effort was to encase the child in a blanket. That is done for the purpose of protecting the child so that an arm or leg doesn't get caught on a doorjamb..." she said.

Meisner also responded to criticism that the INS agents looked scary in their protective gear, carrying semi-automatic guns.

"They were not able to know how many people would be there and what the circumstances would be inside," she said. "There were demonstrators outside. There was a great deal of aggressive behavior by people surrounding the house. It was a situation in which a great deal of inflammatory language had been used over the weeks."

The commissioner added that the female agent who took the boy stayed with him until he was handed over to his father.

Meisner didn't witness the boy's reunion with his father, but saw them emerge from the airplane.

"The child was nestled in the father's shoulder, bear hug around his neck...It was a wonderful thing."

Meisner doubts that Elian can apply for political asylum, but added that it's up to the federal appeals court.

An attorney for the Miami relatives, Jose Garcia-Pedrosa, told Face The Nation the INS "commando raid" was "close to contempt of court."

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) said the raid was "uncalled for" - and dismissed claims that weapons were in the home.

"It was armed with love. It was armed with religious objects," she told Face The Nation.

Garcia-Pedrosa said the Miami relatives are determined to see Elian.

"First, to make sure that he knows he has not been abandoned and will never be by (his cousin) Marisleysis and the family. And second, to do everything they can do legally to avoid the reprogramming process that Castro has announced in Cuba to begin in Washington."

But Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) called the attorney general's conduct "commendable."

"Enforcing a search warrant is never, never, never a pleasant thing," Rangel told Face The Nation.

"We ought ttake a deep breath and get on with it. This is what we all should really want, the boy and his dad together. And the family in Miami should want that, too."

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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