PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Haiti's prime minister said Monday that 10 Americans who tried to take a busload of undocumented Haitian children out of the country knew that "what they were doing was wrong" and could be prosecuted in the United States.
Max Bellerive told the Associated Press that his country is open to having the Americans face U.S. justice, since most government buildings — including Haiti's courts — were crippled by the monster earthquake.
"It is clear now that they were trying to cross the border without papers. It is clear now that some of the children have live parents," Bellerive said. "And it is clear now that they knew what they were doing was wrong."
If they were acting in good faith — as the Americans claim — "perhaps the courts will try to be more lenient with them," he said.
U.S. Embassy officials would not say whether Washington would accept hosting judicial proceedings for the Americans, who are mostly from Idaho. For now, the case remains firmly in Haitian hands, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in Washington.
Haitian officials insist some prosecution is needed to help deter child trafficking, which many fear will flourish in the chaos caused by the devastating Jan. 12 quake. The government and aid groups are still struggling to get food, water, shelter and basic health care to hundreds of thousands of survivors, and many parents are desperate to get help for their children.
U.S. diplomats have had unlimited access to the 10 detainees and will monitor any court proceedings, Crowley said. They have not yet been charged.
Members of the church group insisted they were only trying to save abandoned children — but few appear to have had any significant experience with Haiti, international charity work or international adoption regulations.
Since their arrest Friday near the border, they have been held in two small concrete rooms in a judicial police headquarters building.
One of the Americans, Charisa Coulter of Boise, was treated Monday at a field hospital for either dehydration or the flu. Looking pale as she lay on a green Army cot, the 24-year-old Coulter was being guarded by two Haitian police officers. "They're treating me pretty good," she said. "I'm not concerned. I'm pretty confident that it will all work out."