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Evangelicals ask Obama to help missionaries jailed in Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The 10 Idaho missionaries facing kidnapping charges in Haititestified as a group in a closed-door hearing Wednesday before an examining judgebut their anticipated release did not happen.

The case will now be transferred to a local prosecutor, who has five days fromThursday to review the dossier and report his findings to Examining Judge BernardSaint Vil and decide if the defendants should be released or jailed, or ifattorneys need to call more witnesses.

Once the judge receives the prosecutors’ dossier, Saint Vil has up to twomonths to make a final decision on whether the defendants should be released.

Meanwhile, some prominent American Baptists in the United States, includingRichard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & ReligiousLiberty Commission, have been enraged by the handling of the case.

Land, who wrote to President Barack Obama on Saturday asking him to do‘‘everything in your considerable power to secure the release'' of the detainees,said Wednesday he was growing increasingly frustrated with what he viewed asinaction.

"If I were the president, I'd call President Preval and say, ‘PresidentClinton is down there and we're going to have him swim by and pick up themissionaries and we'll adjudicate any court issues in the U.S.,' '' Land said.

"I'd tell the Haiti government that the American people have responded in anextraordinary generous fashion for the suffering country and now it's time for thegovernment of Haiti to respond to these people who at worst were guilty ofnaiveté."

In addition to kidnapping charges, the missionaries face criminal associationcharges.

The missionaries arrived shortly after noon Wednesday, squeezed into a Haitianpolice truck after they were shuttled from the police station cell where they arebeing detained. As they filed out the back of the truck, officers struggled tokeep back several dozen photographers and reporters. A few of the missionariesheld tightly onto well-worn copies of the Bible.

The missionaries’ 90-minute examination came the same day that several Haitianparents testified before Saint Vil, telling him that they willingly handed overtheir children to the missionaries.

"It was a very good thing that the American missionaries were doing for us,"Paulene Alene said afterward, adding that she handed over her 7-year-old daughterto the missionaries for a better life. "We gave them our children voluntarily. Weask for their freedom.”

One of the missionaries’ attorneys conceded in the courthouse parking lot --filled with tents housing those made homeless by the Jan. 12 quake -- that hisclients hadn’t submitted paperwork to Haitian authorities to adopt the childrenbut that the Jan. 12 catastrophe made a case for their rescue.

"There was no way to do this in a legal way," attorney Jean Rene Tessier said. "The border was open to accepting people and there was noinstitution that could do anything about this case at this time."

Despite that claim, Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said last monththat the government worried that children could be picked up on the streets ofPort-au-Prince by nongovernmental organizations as well as by others who may beinvolved in trafficking into prostitution or slavery.

Bellerive said Haiti would not release children for adoption without hispersonal approval, and ordered nongovernmental agencies working in Port-au-Princeto stop collecting children found on the street.

After the Wednesday hearing in an air-conditioned side room at the courthouse,the missionaries filed out one-by-one under a heavy police escort.

As they filed out of the courtroom, some of the stared ahead, a few smiled, andone spoke.

"God is good, God is good," said Laura Silsby, an Idaho businesswoman who isthe leader of the group. The group was then shuttled back to the Haitian policestation where they have been held since they were detained earlier this month.

The issue could be politically tricky for Obama as he presses a domestic agenda that already has the opposition of many conservatices.

"Every day these people spend in a squalid Haitian prison does considerabledamage to Mr. Obama's standing with evangelicals," Land said Wednesday. "Thequestion how badly and how permanently depends on what the administration does."

Land said he's encouraging fellow Baptists to register their complaints withtheir member of Congress.

Reg Brown, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney for detainee, Jim Allen, a Texaswelder, said Wednesday that Allen's team of lawyers is "cautiously optimistic''that their client would soon be released.

"We believe the Secretary of State has played a constructive role in thatSecretary Clinton wants to bring the Americans home," said Brown, who this weekwrote to Clinton, asking for her assistance.

The group set up a Web site Wednesday -- bringjimhome.com -- with Allen's wife,Lisa, asking for help.

"When Jim heard about the earthquake in Haiti he felt a very strong call tohelp that country and its people recover from the extreme devastation," she sayson the Web site, noting that her husband decided to go to Haiti to help a cousin, apastor in Idaho. "Jim did not know all the specifics of the trip but I know thatJim is a godly man who would never, ever break a law anywhere."

Daniel, of the Miami Herald, reported from Haiti. Clark reported from Washington.

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