By Jacqueline Charles
A group of Americans arrested in Haiti driving around Port-au-Prince with an arsenal of weapons are being flown to the United States after failing to show up for their first court appearance before the Haitian justice system.
“They left,” a police source told the Miami Herald shortly after 5:30 pm just as a Miami-bound American Airlines flight started to take off from Port-au-Prince.
On board: former Navy Seal officers Christopher Michael Osman and Christopher Mark McKinley and former Marine Veteran Kent Leland Kroeker. Dustin Porte and Talon Ray Burton are the other two U.S. citizens who were among eight heavily armed men whom Haiti National Police arrested on Sunday afternoon at a police checkpoint in downtown Port-au-Prince. The group also included two Serbians, at least one of whom is a U.S. permanent resident, and a Haitian national who was deported from the U.S.
A video of the men inside the American Airlines lounge at the Toussaint Louverture Airport shows the men being escorted through the lounge without any shackles with one U.S. embassy staffer in front and another in the back.
Airport employees say the men seem quite at ease and were placed inside the VIP diplomatic lounge to wait on the flight after their tickets were purchased at the counter. One of the two Serbians was not allowed to board the flight by Haitian immigration because he had no entry stamps showing where he resides.
The Haitian national was not among those sent back to the U.S. No one would discuss the case on the record. But sources familiar with the negotiations said the U.S. government intervened and expressed concerns following an interview by Prime Minister Jean Henry Céant with CNN where he characterized the group as “mercenaries and terrorists.”
Still, some saw the move as a slap in the face of Haiti’s justice system, which has been the recipient of millions of dollars in aid from the U.S. government over more than two decades.
“They don’t trust the Haitian justice system,” said Pierre Esperance, a human rights activist who had been monitoring the arrest and first published a list with the men’s names. “We can’t even tally the amount of money they have spent since 1995 on not just reforming the Haitian justice system, but the penal code and the police….The American government has spent a lot of money.
“They should have at least let them make their first appearance before the Haitian courts.”