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Among the many tragedies of Nicolae Ceausescu's Romania is the fact that the United States helped prop him up for for 14 years. From 1974 to 1988, the U.S. government gave preferable treatment to the Ceausescu regime knowing full well the extent of his human rights abuses.

In my four years as U.S. ambassador to Romania, I witnessed a long line of U.S. officials - Secretary of State Alexander Haig, former President Richard Nixon, then-Vice President Bush, and others - trek to Bucharest to pay homage to Ceausescu. Bush, for example, was briefed by those of us in the embassy on Ceausescu's horrible deeds, but ignored the question of human rights in every meeting with top Romanian officials, instead praising Ceausescu.This cozy relationship was a result of the U.S. policy of ``differentiation' devised by Nixon and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to reward some Warsaw Pact communist countries like Romania. Beginning in 1974, the U.S. government extended ``most favored nation' status to Ceausescu's Romania; with it came trade subsidies, reduced rate bank loans, financial credits and grants, technology and political backing.

The rationalization for the flawed policy was that Ceausescu was somehow independent of Moscow and could be used to tweak the Russian bear.

In reality, there were no real disagreements between the Soviet Communists and Romanian Communists. Romanian ``independence' was simply disinformation projected to get Western economic and technological assistance.Our embassy collected intelligence information that contradicted Ceausescu's claims of independence. There was much greater Soviet-Romanian military, political, economic and intelligence cooperation than was projected publicly. Romania transferred Western technology to her Soviet allies, and consulted with the Soviets (and got prior approval) on any supposed independent actions.

And Romania voted the Soviet line at the United Nations as consistently as other Warsaw Pact countries considered Soviet clones.

Yet government policymakers ignored these realities, as they ignored our embassy's reports of the many of the horrors of Ceausescu's Romania.

Bibles into toilet paper Ceausescu himself was a paranoid, egomaniacal monster. Although he had only a grammar-school education, he considered himself a god-king over his fiefdom of Romania. He required his ``subjects' to make homage by calling him such names as the ``Creator of Thought' and ``The Giver of Strength,' and to use the word ``Thy' when referring to him.

The West German ambassador in Bucharest in 1984 said that Hitler and Goebbels must be turning over in their graves because not even Hitler was referred to by the terms Thou and Thy, as was Ceausescu.

The atmosphere in Romania under Ceausescu was so depressing that virtually everyone looked over their shoulder in fear and dared not speak out. His dreaded secret police, Securitate, commanded the services of every fourth or fifth person in the country.

Telephones were tapped, houses were bugged, typewriters at the U.S. Embassy were doctored and the embassy itself was radiated on the orders of Ceausescu. The shoe of a former U.S. diplomat in Bucharest was bugged with a sophisticated electronic listening device.

Ceausescu directed the demolition of churches, the murder of pastors and priests and many political dissidents, as well as the jailing of large numbers of potential opponents from the churches and intellectual community.

A vast gulag of slave labor worked on useless projects such as the Danube Canal shortcut. Under a previous agreement with the U.S. government in part for favored treatment, Ceausescu agreed to allow the importation of some 30,000 Bibles for the Reformed Church in Transylvania. But instead of distributing the Bibles, he ordered that the Bibles be chopped up into toilet paper.

Ceausescu carried out a bizarre and destructive policy inside Romania that showed no regard for human life or the past culture and history of the people. He micromanaged the economy to the point that he would drop down by helicopter on a collective farm and tell the farmers how to plant corn.

Once he instructed them to plant the corn rows only 12 to 18 inches apart instead of the 3 to 4 feet to double the yields. The crops were less than half as productive.

Women were required to have at least four children or pay fines to the government, and all women between the ages of 15 and 45 were regularly checked by doctors to see if they were pregnant (whether or not they were married) so that no abortion could later take place.

In foreign policy, Ceausescu assisted radical Arab terrorists and had close personal ties with Momar Khaddafy and Yassir Arafat. Tens of thousands of radical Arabs were allowed to train outside Bucharest, and some of the world's best known terrorists were given safe haven in Romania.

Under Ceausescu, Romania became a leading military armaments exporter, sending tanks, MIG fighter planes, missiles, guns, explosives and military vehicles around the world.

His last official diplomatic act before his execution was laying a wreath at the grave of the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran.

Ceausescu was overthrown Dec. 22 and was executed by a firing squad Dec. 25.

U.S. should apologize After helping perpetuating Ceausescu's tyranny, the U.S. State Department and administration should have the courage to apologize to the Romanian people for a tragically mistaken policy. After all, the Queen of England and the King of Norway did renounce two weeks ago the royal honors they earlier gave Ceausescu and admitted to a grave mistake.

For now, the United States should not rush in with political and economic support for a transitional government filled with Ceausescu's henchmen posing as ``reform communists.' The Romanian people want a non-communist government and real freedom, not the continuation of a system that produces more Ceausescus.

Instead, the United States should help redress past mistakes by standing with the Romanians who seek true political freedom from Marxist Leninism, the democratic non-communists who want to remove the whole system.

The long suffering Romanian people deserve no less.

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