The U.S. government has determined that the 10 American Baptist missionaries detained by the Haitian government on kidnapping charges and held in squalid conditions without medical care for days had no “malicious intent” in trying to take 33 Haitian children out of the country following the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake.
“Our judgment is that these were people that did not have malicious intent,” said a senior State Department official, who spoke about the government’s unofficial but “prevailing view” on the condition that he not be named.
“Most people that have looked into this particular case have come away with the impression that these were well intending people who, unfortunately, did not follow the established procedure that is a matter of not only Haitian practice but international practice,” he said.
The comments mark the first time that the U.S. government has in any way cleared the missionaries of the unspoken question around whether they were taking the children out of Haiti to sell them into some form of slavery, be it sexual, physical or some other form.
Nonetheless, the official said, the State Department also believes the 10 Baptist missionaries “have clearly done some things that have violated Haitian law.”
“Somebody can’t just swoop in, scoop up 30 children, many of whom may not have actually been orphans, and waltz out of the country, and that country should be agnostic to whether that has happened or not,” the official said. “I would be astounded if you were thinking that any sovereign country does not have a right to stand up and enforce its laws, even under the most dire of circumstances. Otherwise you have chaos.”
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley would confirm only that the State Department has tried to determine the motive of the 10 Americans, but would not discuss the finding.
“We have done our own background search to try to ascertain who these people are and what their affiliation is,” he said. “We have looked into this group to find out whatever we can about their background and their prior involvement in international adoptions.”
The missionaries have been held in miserable conditions and have lacked adequate medical care for several days of their imprisonment, which began when they tried to cross the border with the 33 children into the neighboring Dominican Republican on Jan. 29.
Crowley said that the U.S. government is waiting for the Haitian judge, Bernard Saint-Vil, to conclude his investigation and determine whether the Americans will stand trial before they take any official action in response.
“The case is taking its course. We’re monitoring it carefully. And as it unfolds we will make our own judgment as to whatever the resolution, whether it is just under the circumstances. But right now it is a Haitian legal process that we are closely monitoring,” he said.
The State Department official signaled that the U.S. government does not think the Haitian judge will be punitive toward the Americans.
“The Haitian judge will certainly take into account the extenuating circumstances of the intent of these American citizens,” he said, adding that “the Haitian government is acutely aware of the importance of its relationship with the United States and will not be anxious to have this case become an irritant in the relationship.”
Crowley defended the U.S. government’s efforts to help the Americans, some of them as young as 18.
“We are making sure that they have what they need,” Crowley said, though he did not dispute the New York Times report that one of the Americans who is a diabetic did not have insulin for the first several days of her imprisonment.
“I can’t say if that’s true. We are aware that one individual has particular medical needs. I believe we have verified that that medicine and care is being provided,” he said.
The missionaries, most of them from Idaho, claim that they were taking the children from a damaged orphanage in Haiti to another orphanage in the Dominican Republic. Some of the children with them, however, were discovered to have parents of their own. But some parents have told U.S. media outlets that they wanted their children to go with the Americans.
The State Department, however, has said that the Haitian government was not putting up roadblocks to those trying to adopt children through legal means, and press reports have said that more than 650 Haitian children have made it out of the country since the earthquake.
“I challenge the notion that the existing system was not working,” the State Department official said.