By Jacqueline Charles, David Ovalle, and Jay Weaver
The five heavily armed Americans arrested in Haiti earlier this week are back on their home soil and won’t be facing an criminal charges in the United States — a decision already causing outrage among some Haitian leaders on the island.
Federal sources told the Miami Herald that the men will not be charged criminally, but are being debriefed. They told U.S. authorities they were on the island providing private security for a “businessman” doing work with the Haitian government.
The five American citizens, who returned on a commercial flight to Miami on Wednesday night and met by by U.S. law enforcement, did not have any scheduled appearances in Miami federal court.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office referred calls to the State Department, which said only: “The return of the individuals to the U.S. was coordinated with the Haitian authorities.”
What promises were made by the American government to secure the release of the men remain murky.
According to a letter obtained by the Miami Herald, Haitian Minister of Justice Jean Roody Aly wrote to Haiti’s Central Bureau of the Judicial Police saying he authorized the transfer of the five Americans and two U.S. permanent residents to the United States to stand trial there.
“I want to inform you that I’ve authorized a procedure of transfer to the United States of America of American citizens and United States permanent residents, a total of seven to respond to the charges of transporting illegal arms from the United States through the Haitian territory,” the letter reads.
Aly is aligned with beleaguered Haitian President Jovenel Moise, whose advisers tried to get the men removed from custody of the country’s police. Moise has been under fire for his handling of the poverty-stricken nation’s economy; violent protests calling for his ouster have rocked Haiti in recent weeks.
Pierre Esperance, executive director of the National Human Rights Defense Network in Haiti, blasted the decision by U.S. authorities to not charge the men.
“What the Haitian government did, is grave. It shows that they had something they were looking for. The fact that the U.S. took these people and did not charge them, it shows there was a conspiracy. They didn’t want them to go before Haitian justice,” he told the Miami Herald.
The release of the men from the Haitian justice system is causing a political uproar in Haiti, a country already in upheaval.
Protesters and the opposition have been calling for the resignation of Moïse over mismanagement of the economy and corruption allegations centered around Venezuela’s PetroCaribe oil-discount program. Haiti owes the South American country about $2 billion and Haitians have been demanding an accounting of the money, which was supposed to be invested in social programs for the poor after the country’s 2010 earthquake.
Prominent commentator Marvel Dandin, during his editorial on Radio Kiskeya in Port-au-Prince, said the US government’s decision to circumvent the Haitian justice system is “ugly, worse than a slap in the face.”
“It’s sad, regrettable to see we have authorities like this in the country,” he said.
The Haitian National Police detained the five men, who were part of a group of eight stopped at a checkpoint in downtown Port-au-Prince, last Sunday afternoon.
The men were in two vehicles without license plates, and police found a cache of automatic rifles and pistols. The eight were arrested on weapons charges.
Haitian police say they found these weapons in the cars of several men driving around Port-au-Prince without license plates. Among those arrested were five Americans.
The Americans are former Navy Seal officers Christopher Michael Osman and Christopher Mark McKinley, and Marine veteran Kent Leland Kroeker, as well as Talon Ray Burton and Dustin Porte.
The others were two Serbians, at least one of whom is a U.S. permanent resident, and a Haitian national who was deported from the United States.
According to the Haitian police, the men claimed they were on a “government mission” when they were pulled over about a block from the nation’s central bank. The U.S. government intervened after Haitian Prime Minister Jean Henry Céant, speaking on CNN, called the group “mercenaries” and “terrorists.”
The men were taken to the airport in Port-au-Prince in shackles, according to Haitian sources, but American Airlines refused to allow them on the flight like that. The men were allowed on the flight freely, and even waited in a VIP diplomatic salon before boarding American Airlines Flight 1059.
When the plane landed at Miami International Airport, U.S. law enforcement boarded the flight and handcuffed the men, according to a tweet from Haitian TV and radio personality Carel Pedre.
David Ovalle covers crime and courts in Miami.