Monday, February 01, 2010

On malice vs. stupidity

Okay, so stupid people ruin everything. I was all ready to run with a post in the wake of the ten Baptists in Haiti arrested on charges of child trafficking. On Saturday, news networks were reporting that the ten Idahoans had been stopped crossing the border into the Dominican Republic with 33 Haitian orphans between the ages of 2 months and 12 years, some of whose parents died in the earthquake and some of whom were abandoned by their parents before the quake. Laura Silsby, the group's leader, says the kids came through a Haitian pastor and that while they didn't have adoption papers for any of them, they felt they were doing the right thing and had planned to go back and arrange paperwork later.

Oh, it was a good post. It was all about "othering" and the way we look at people in developing and underprivileged countries. I was going to pull up the "animal shelters" bit from a while back. I was going to point out that if this were earthquake-flattened Salinas, there's no way these people would have been tooling around the city in their bus, scooping up wandering children and carrying them to safe, happy new homes across the border in Nevada, because Californian orphans are actual people, whereas Haitian orphans are cute little brown puppies who speak a cute, funny language and would look adorable in the stroller of any white American family that would have them and plucking them out of the rubble would really be doing everyone a favor. I would point out the dumbassitude of trying to carry children across a national border without thinking that any paperwork would be involved.

And then I watched the news today and cursed the gods that I was going to have to scrap that bad boy and start over.
As a group of American Baptist charity workers waits to hear if they will be tried on child trafficking charges for attempting to take 33 children out of earthquake-ravaged Haiti, the Associated Press has learned that not all of the children they were transporting were orphans.

"One (8-year-old) girl was crying, and saying, 'I am not an orphan. I still have my parents.' And she thought she was going on a summer camp or a boarding school or something like that," George Willeit, a spokesman for SOS Children's Villages, said. SOS, an Austrian-based charity working in Haiti, now has custody of the children.

Willeit said the children arrived "very hungry, very thirsty." A 2- to 3-month-old baby was dehydrated and had to be hospitalized, he said. Workers were searching for their families or close relatives.
And thus the Americans' story begins to unravel and the "aw, shucks, were we not s'pose to do that?" defense becomes shakier.
"Our understanding is that they had lost parents in the quake or possibly some had parents abandon them before the quake," said Laura Silsby, a member of the group.
[Central Valley Baptist Church pastor Drew Ham] insisted the children had been verified as orphans and had come from established orphanage in Port-au-Prince, although he couldn't provide the name.
And yet CBS didn't have trouble at all finding the village full of (not-dead) parents who had signed their children over to the Americans, who had promised the kids schools and swimming pools and tennis courts.

Or they can just ask the kids:
Thirteen-year-old Chesner said his parents were approached by a pastor, believed to be a Haitian American, and some "white missionaries" who he later recognised on the bus which took the children to the border. Chesner said: "They told my parents that the environment and hygiene was not safe with dead bodies after the earthquake. They wanted to take me to a camp in Dominican Republic. I did not know how long I was going for, and I am happy to be back in Haiti because I want to see my mother."
And then there's Laura Silsby's confusion about paperwork:
"They really didn't have any paperwork ... I did not understand that that would really be required," the leader of the arrested group, Laura Silsby, told CNN.
Although human-rights activist Anne-christine d'Adesky might disagree:
Mrs. Silsby said her authorization to collect Haitian orphans and bring them to the Dominican Republic was from an unnamed Dominican official, according to Ms. d'Adesky's email [to U.N. authorities]. "I informed her that this would be regarded as illegal even with some 'Dominican' minister authorizing, since the kids are Haitian," Ms. d'Adesky wrote, adding that she directed Ms. Silsby to U.N. agencies helping the Haitian government handle orphans and adoptions. In a telephone interview, Ms. d'Adesky said she recalled Ms. Silsby's response: "We have been sent by the Lord to rescue these children, and if it's in the Lord's plan we will be successful."
So we're going to have to assume that no, it actually wasn't in the Lord's plan. The Lord's plan probably included trained, accredited, documented aid workers who weren't galloping idiots.

Arresting officials also note that Silsby told them that the group was taking the kids to an orphanage in the Dominican Republic--while in reality, the building is still in the planning stages and the plan was to put the kids up in hotel rooms until the facility was built. Complete with swimming pools and tennis courts, one can assume.

(Y'all, this stuff is all verifiable. If you're going to lie, at least lie about stuff they can't check.)

Now, I'm not going to try to figure out their motives here. I have no reason to think that Silsby and co. had any intention of selling the kids into slavery or as exotic pets to high-bidding Americans. But I feel perfectly comfortable raising an eyebrow at their actions after they started lying about them. In making the Heinlein's Law determination regarding stupidity and malice, lying about your actions offers more than enough reasonable doubt to start the needle swinging.

Yesterday's post was going to close with a comment about how it's important to follow your heart, but you have to let your head be in charge of it or else you find yourself in a Haitian jail on charges of child trafficking. Today, though, I can leave them with only this: You tried to smuggle undocumented children across a national border, you lied to officials about how and where you got them, and you lied to the parents about why you were taking them, where they were going, and what was going to happen when they got there. If it turns out that your motives were the tiniest bit ulterior, I hope they throw the damn book at you. And even if it turns out that this whole massive cockup really was some honest(ly stupid) mistake, I hope you all get at least a few months in jail for being idiots. At the very least, it'll make the streets safer for our children.

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