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Clinton asked to intervene in Haiti kidnapping case

WASHINGTON — The U.S.-based lawyer for one of 10 American Baptists charged with child kidnapping in Haiti appealed Tuesday for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to personally intervene in the case.

Attorneys for detainee Jim Allen said in a letter to Clinton that they are concerned their client may not have adequate legal representation, and he has not been able to speak with his wife, Lisa, since being arrested in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake.

They said the case was complicated by the chaotic situation in Haiti, and they asked Clinton to speak directly to Haitian authorities about letting the families of the detainees talk with them to ensure their well-being.

"Without questioning the integrity of the individuals involved in the Haitian judidicial system, we think it is clear that the unprecedented situation that exists in Haiti now requires a response beyond what would be expected in the ordinary course," lawyers Reginald Brown and Jennifer O'Connor said in the letter.

"We respectfully ask that you make a personal request to the Haitian authorities to allow Lisa and her lawyers to speak directly to Jim without delay," they wrote. "Similar access should also be provided to the families of the other Americans being held in Haiti."

The State Department said Tuesday that the detainees — who insist they are innocent and were on a humanitarian mission — had been receiving consular visits from U.S. diplomats and that it would be unusual for Clinton or any secretary of state to get personally involved.

"We are doing exactly what we would do with detained Americans anywhere in the world," spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters. He added that access to the detainees should be easily arranged by the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince and Haitian officials.

"As to intervening directly in the case, we are very respectful of the Haitian government and Haitian law," he said. "It would be highly unusual for the secretary of state to intervene in the judicial process of another country."

However, Crowley said U.S. officials had been in touch with Haitian authorities about what might happen if Haitian courts were unable to handle the case.

"We have talked to Haitian officials in general terms about their ability to conduct this procedure," he said. If they want to explore alternative avenues with us, we will be happy to do so." Crowley would not elaborate.