The Haitian government is right to hold 10 Americans for kidnapping

Haitian children like this girl have the right to be protected by their government. Photo: Marty Duren

The news last week of the detention of 10 Americans in Haiti on charges of kidnapping and criminal association brought pleading from three Southern Baptist Leaders and fuming from a fourth. Current and immediate past leaders of the SBC sent a letter to President Obama urging him to do all that he could do to secure the release of “the Idaho 10” as they have been called in some press reports.

President of the Southern Baptist lobbying wing, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Dr. Richard Land, wrote to both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a letter dated February 5, 2010:

The Haitian government is receiving massive assistance from the United States, from both public and private sources. Our nation’s churches are giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to relief efforts for the people of Haiti. These fine Christian men and women sought to do even more to help alleviate the suffering of some Haitian children. For the Haitian government to respond in this way to the obvious good intentions of these honorable Christians is outrageous.

He goes on to say,

We ask that you do everything in your considerable power to secure the release of these United States citizens. Please know that we are available in any way you might deem appropriate to assist in the immediate release of these men and women and their safe return to the United States.

I am not sure to whom “we” refers. It does not refer to me.

Despite Dr. Land’s insistence, the amount of support being provided by Americans has nil to do with whether the Haitian government should release those held captive. His over the top blathering about money from the US government and US churches is overshadowed by a more pertinent point: the government of Haiti has the same responsibility to protect its children as the government of the United States has to protect Land, et al. While all involved doubt any malicious intent by the Idaho based short term missionaries, the fact remains as it always does that ignorance of the law is no excuse. We now know that the leader of their number, Laura Silsby, was not ignorant of the law at all. It was her willful disobedience that endangered the other nine.

Haitian police station

Police Nationale D'Haiti near the airport in Port-au-Prince. Photo: Marty Duren

The week before I arrived in Haiti, the ministry with which I traveled was holding a clinic on the sidewalk beside the capitol complex. A German volunteer missionary, Viktor Thiessen, not unlike the volunteers from Idaho, was faced with a perilous situation. He recounted the happening to me:

I was on the road and had several conversations with men as a group approached and argued loudly. I asked my translator what was going on? He told me a girl’s parents had been killed during the earthquake. She did not know what to do now; she was only 10 or 11, living on the street and was already a victim of rapists. The woman with her said, “She has been with me two days, but I can not even eat yet. She should go to others.” The girl was not crying, only looking at the ground. It broke my heart.

I quickly went to Dr. Richard [Kowalske] and told him, “We need to do something.” In the meantime, the woman with the girl disappeared into the crowd. After about an hour there was another group and it was loud again. I saw the girl again with another woman. I called Richard and he said, “Bring them here to us and call our translator.” When our translator, John, came, he hugged her, then he asked her many questions to determine whether her parents or any relatives were alive.

Then he put her into the van and said she should wait a minute until we are finished working. In the evening we took the girl to an orphanage run by Haitians in a town where some had relocated after the earthquake.

This is only a single example of children in danger following the earthquake. Had this girl remained on the streets, the chances of her being kidnapped for sex trafficking or forced into prostitution in Haitian alleys would have been high indeed. Instead, she was rescued with the knowledge of the authorities and is being cared for by Haitians at a Haitian orphanage run by some wonderful people.

While I believe the Haitian government acted properly in detaining the Americans, I think it would be a mistake to sentence them beyond the time served at the time of the judge’s decision. The Haitian government needs to make a point that child kidnapping and sex trafficking will not be tolerated and that any suspected incidences will be given the utmost serious prosecution. Yet for all that has happened, no children were taken from the country. Time served and lifelong banishment from the country is more than enough for what these volunteers actually did, though the leader, Laura Silsby, may deserve a more harsh punishment as she reportedly was the sole translator thus able to understand the regulations that were violated.

To give in to any country that whines about a “mistreated” citizen, even if that country is the United States, is to give the impression of treating criminals with kid gloves. For anyone to insinuate that the mere rendering of financial assistance following a disaster excludes a helper nation’s citizens from prosecution by the government of an offended nation is a very strange interpretation of biblical truth, not to mention international law.

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.

  • I couldn’t agree more Marty. While I understand that this group probably had good intentions, it is no excuse to ignore the laws of a sovereign nation. I’m sure these same “leaders” would be up in arms if a religious group from another nation came to remove children in New Orleans after Katrina.

    • Marty Duren

      I think Drs. Hunt, Page and Chapman followed the precedent of Daniel in the scriptures: they appealed to authority to intervene. Land’s bombastic and foolish language only demonstrates his lack of understanding. Your point is well taken re: Katrina. If a bunch of traffickers from Thailand got arrested while floating through the 9th Ward picking up kids, I doubt he’d find any outrage in it at all.

  • Robert I Masters

    A couple or more points……

    1. We often ignore the laws of Sovereign nations. Just last week the nation of Switzerland ignored the laws of Haiti by refusing to give back millions of dollars that were deposited there by “Baby Doc”.

    2. You have not established any facts in the case. It is all hearsay often times slanderous. Keep in mind that Haiti follows Napoleonic law…guilty until proven
    innocent. Itself a barbaric system of justice.

    3.If you must pre-condemm other Southern Baptist(doubtful that is a Christian principle), at least note the actions of other Christians and governers who did the same things albeit with the might of the U.S Airforce behind them.

    4. through out history the U.S has done this ….see the amount of orphans brought to the U.S after the fall of vietnam. In my own experience I can tell you of eight missionaries who took orphans out of country to rise them. One time the government would have rather the orphan in question was to be buried alive as was the local custom for twins. Needles to say said orphan is living her thankful life in London now.

    5.Why must you stand with the voodoo priest association…cant you see you further the work of the devil. Like David Kear says just Google his statements.
    I guess Pat Robertson was right….still making pacts with the devil. not good.

    6.Why no mention of the violation of “laws” that Haiti has signed with the US.Meeting with the us consulate within 24 hrs…not granted. food ,water and humane cell conditions….not granted till after 5 days. right to speak to consul…..not granted. All rights that you and I are given as you citizens.
    Paul did the same thing as a Roman was he whining?

    Lets stay unified behind our brothers and sisters then we can encourage a better solution with them when they return home safe and sound…to the adoption question.

  • Beth L.

    These people were removing at least a few children who still had living parents. They (at least the leader) blatantly ignored official channels for doing what they did and they’re getting what they had coming to them. They absolutely should have been detained and I’m thrilled the Haitian government did it. At least they were paying attention to what was going on. The actions of “the Idaho 10” were incredibly idiotic, and their “passion” really needed to be accompanied with some common sense. I don’t believe all 10 people were equally guilty and it seems some of them were totally deceived, but as for the leader…she surely now knows what the road to Haitian jails are paved with.

  • Marty,
    My friend, I can’t go with you on this one. A fellow DOM here is close friends with the pastor of the Idaho church where these missionaries were from and we are told that the rules/required paperwork/procedures, etc. for transporting the children kept changing. . .easy to believe when one considers how utterly corrupt the Hatian government is, as well as considering the borderline-bullying pressure put on the government by UNICEF to disallow the legal transportation of orphans to the U.S. At worst, these folks were simply overzealous in their compassion, and should have long since been released.

    Having worked in several places in the third world I totally understand the concern of many of these countries regarding the safety and well-being of their children. Its a legitimate concern and an increasing problem worldwide. At the same time, the Hatian government didn’t seem to mind looking the other way when young teenage girls were being pimped on the streets of Port au Prince just after the quake. Trafficking happens within that country and the government says nothing. All of this is notwithstanding that the government apparently had no apparatus for doing anything to help its people in the aftermath of this quake, yet somehow found the resources to hold a trial?

    And of course, there is the presumption of innocence . . .or at least I thought there was.

    I’m with you in principal that the laws of sovereign nations should be obeyed, but I am less inclined to believe the claims of a dysfunctional government in hoc to the United Nations and more inclined to believe well-meaning, if possibly misinformed Christ-followers who were trying to bring help to kids.

    • Marty Duren

      Joel-
      I cannot say that I disagree with your concerns, but your first sentence only reinforces my argument. If you had been the leader of this team (or, knowing you as I do, only a member of this team) attempting to remove 33 kids from the country, not speaking the language and having the requirements change with every official with whom you spoke, would you still try to leave the country transporting kids? Not a chance.

      The news reported yesterday the investigation turned up nothing, so they will be free to go in the near future perhaps as early as today. You and I both know that pressure was brought to bear behind the scenes, most likely from the State Dept, to ensure their release. Perhaps favors even changed hands. Perhaps it was the fact that we already have 17k troops on the ground in PaP and may outnumber their own army.

      I agree that to look the other way on child prostitution yet get hot and bothered about suspected child trafficking is hypocritical, but it does not change the facts. It may have even been a situation where every official gave conflicting information, even contradicting the one before. That even happens in the good old US of A. I still think wisdom would have dictated sitting tight until complete clarity could be gained. If it wasn’t forthcoming, leave the kids or place them in a Haitian orphanage. I’m sure Sister Silsby could raise sufficient funds to feed them for months.

      I suspect that the Haitian gov’t saw this as a chance to demonstrate they are taking trafficking seriously. How better to do this than hold Americans? You think if it was a bunch of Nepalese crooks NBC and Reuters would have continued coverage? Not likely.

      How ever often the Haitian gov’t looks the other way in its responsibility to its citizens, it is still responsible for them. For me, infrequent and inconsistent enforcement of the laws that protect kids from trafficking is better than no enforcement at all.

      Thanks for dropping by; we need to talk soon.

  • Hal

    Let’s make some things clear. First these were not missionaries. They were orphanage workers at best, even though many of these were not even orphans. Entrepreneurs at worst. A good business is in helping people adopt Haitian children. Thousands of dollars go to the adoption process. Where does it go? Is there any accountability in all of this? No.

    They are not in jail because they are Christians. They are not martyrs. They are in jail because they tried to take children out of their country without doing the right thing. Forget intentions, good or bad, what they did was illegal.

    They are jeopardizing all work by Baptists and Southern Baptist especially by what they did. I have heard that the Haitian Government is strongly considering kicking out all Baptist relief agencies. We did not help by our leadership writing a very public letter to the president.

    Let’s not make them heroes. That will be the next thing, A welcome home, books to be written, speaking circuit. We will try to make them martyrs. No, No, No. How would the Apostle Paul look at this “suffering”.

    Help us, what a sad publicity op.

    • Marty Duren

      Hal-
      I feel your pain, bro. It would be a huge surprise to me if the gov’t of Haiti kicked out Baptist relief agencies. Right now they are in little position to be picky.