TIME

Israel’s Netanyahu Tapped to Form New Government

(JERUSALEM) — Israel’s president has formally tapped Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a new government, giving the Israeli leader up to six weeks to put together a new ruling coalition.

Netanyahu’s Likud Party captured 30 seats in last week’s national election, making it the largest party in the 120-seat parliament. Although his party does not control a majority, party leaders controlling a total of 67 seats have recommended that Netanyahu lead the next government for what would be his third consecutive term as prime minister.

With these parties backing him, Netanyahu is all but guaranteed of forming a governing coalition. But the various partners will all be making conflicting demands for Cabinet portfolios, meaning that weeks of negotiations could lie ahead.

TIME Military

Bowe Bergdahl May Face Life in Prison if Convicted

(FORT BRAGG, N.C.)—The Army sergeant who abandoned his post in Afghanistan and was held captive by the Taliban could face up to life in prison if convicted of both the charges he’s facing, military officials said Wednesday.

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was charged with misbehavior before the enemy, which carries a maximum sentence of up to life in prison. He was also charged with desertion, which carries a maximum of five years.

Bergdahl could also face a dishonorable discharge, reduction in rank and forfeiture of all his pay if convicted.

The case now goes to an Article 32 hearing to be held at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. That proceeding is similar to a grand jury. From there, it could be referred to a court-martial and go to trial.

A date for that hearing was not announced.

The charges are the latest development in a long and bitter debate over Bergdahl’s case. They also underscore the military and political ramifications of his decision on June 30, 2009, to leave his post after expressing misgivings about the U.S. military’s role, as well as his own, in the Afghanistan war.

After leaving his post, Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban and held by members of the Haqqani network, an insurgent group tied to the Taliban that operates both in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Last May 31, Bergdahl was handed over to U.S. special forces in Afghanistan as part of an exchange for five Taliban commanders who were imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

After spending about two weeks recuperating at a U.S. military hospital in Germany, Bergdahl was sent to Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in Texas on June 13. He has been doing administrative duties at the base, awaiting the conclusion of the case.

The exchange set off a debate over whether the U.S. should have released the five Taliban members. Little is known about what the five have been doing in Qatar, where they are being monitored by the government. Some lawmakers have predicted that the five would return to the battlefield.

Sen. Lindsey Graham has said that he received information that one of the five has been in touch with members of the Haqqani network. On the flip side, Afghanistan’s peace council in 2011 requested the release of one of the five, Khairullah Khairkhwa, from Guantanamo because it thought he might be able to help foster reconciliation talks with the Taliban.

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., a member of the Armed Services Committee, was asked by reporter Wednesday whether the charges raised doubts about the initial trade of Bergdahl for the Taliban members.

“I would think that it would raise doubts in the mind of the average American if those doubts weren’t raised already,” Wicker said.

Maj. Gen. Kenneth R. Dahl investigated the Bergdahl case and spent months interviewing unit members and commanders, and meeting with Bergdahl and his attorney, Eugene Fidell, a military justice expert who is also a visiting lecturer at Yale Law School. He submitted his report in mid-October, setting in motion a legal review on his report and how the Army can proceed.

The case was referred to Gen. Mark Milley, head of U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, and he has been reviewing the massive report for several months. He had a broad range of legal options.

Milley could have decided not to charge Bergdahl at all, recommend administrative action or convene a court-martial on more serious offenses.

Some within the military have suggested that Bergdahl’s long capture was punishment enough, but others, including members of his former unit, have called for serious punishment, saying that other service members risked their lives — and several died — searching for him.

A major consideration was whether military officials would be able to prove that Bergdahl had no intention of returning to his unit — a key element in the more serious desertion charges.

Read next: The Desertion Charge for Bowe Bergdahl Was Months in the Making

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME conflict

Yemen’s President Flees Country by Sea Amid Rebel Advance

Armed Yemeni militiamen loyal to President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, also known as the Popular Resistance Committees, gather at the entrance Yemeni special forces command in the southern city of Aden on March 19, 2015.
AFP/Getty Images Armed Yemeni militiamen loyal to President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, also known as the Popular Resistance Committees, gather at the entrance Yemeni special forces command in the southern city of Aden on March 19, 2015.

Officials would not disclose President Hadi's destination

(SANAA, Yemen) — Yemeni security and port officials say that President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi has left the country by sea, on a boat from the port of Aden, as Shiite rebels and their allies advance on this southern city.

The officials told The Associated Press that Hadi left with his aides after 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday. The entourage departed by two boats, under heavy security. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

They would not disclose Hadi’s destination. Yemen’s embattled president is scheduled to attend an Arab Summit in Egypt on the weekend.

Hadi’s escape from Yemen comes as the rebels known as the Houthis are closing in on Aden and the city’s fall appears imminent.

TIME conflict

Boko Haram Kidnaps Hundreds of Nigerian Civilians, Official Says

The Islamic rebels went to Damasak's primary schools and rounded up students and teachers

(ABUJA, Nigeria) — Hundreds of civilians, including many children, have been kidnapped and are being used as human shields by Boko Haram extremists, a top Nigerian official confirmed Wednesday.

Several hundred people were abducted by the Islamic militants as they retreated earlier this month from Damasak in northeastern Nigeria, Mike Omeri, the Nigerian spokesman for the fight against Boko Haram, told The Associated Press Wednesday. He said he could not specify how many were kidnapped but local reports say as many as 500 people were taken.

The Islamic rebels went to Damasak’s primary schools and rounded up students and teachers and then retreated, said Omeri.

Troops from Chad and Niger recaptured Damasak, near the border with Niger, from Boko Haram on March 16. The mass kidnapping happened as the extremists were fleeing the advancing troops and information about the abductions has only been confirmed now.

The soldiers who recaptured Damasak found the town largely deserted. Damasak had been held for months by Boko Haram, who used the trading town as an administrative center.

The troops from Chad and Niger who now hold Damasak have discovered evidence of a mass grave, Chad’s ambassador to the U.N. Mahamat Zene Cherif confirmed Wednesday.

International assistance is needed for the thousands of Nigerian refugees who have fled the violence, said the head of the U.N. refugee agency.

Some 74,000 Nigerians have fled to neighboring Cameroon, according to the agency. Over 100,000 more have flooded into Chad and Niger. Troops from the three countries are now helping Nigeria to combat the militants and win back Nigerian towns.

The refugee agency will funnel more resources to Cameroon, said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres on Wednesday while visiting Maroua, the capital of Cameroon’s Far North region. He stressed that additional assistance is needed.

“Cameroon is today not only a very important protection space for refugees, but it is in the first line of defense of the international community,” he said.

The U.N. agency says the Nigerian crisis is one of the most underfunded in the world. In February, the agency asked for $71 million to assist displaced people in Nigeria and neighboring countries; already that figure appears to be too low, it said this week. Thus far, it has received only $6.8 million in donations, he said.

___

Moki contributed to this report from Maroua, Cameroon. AP writer Cara Anna contributed from the United Nations.

TIME Music

Paul McCartney, Metallica and Sam Smith Headline Lollapalooza

Paul McCartney performs in Los Angeles in 2014.
Kevin Winter—Getty Images Paul McCartney performs in Los Angeles in 2014.

Florence + the Machine, Bassnectar and The Weeknd are also on the lineup

(CHICAGO) — Paul McCartney, Metallica and Sam Smith will be among 130 acts at this year’s Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago.

Lollapalooza founder Perry Farrell said Florence + the Machine, Bassnectar and The Weeknd are also on the lineup.

Farrell says “young talented artists will be performing alongside legends.”

McCartney will be making his first appearance at Lollapalooza, while Metallica is taking a stage for the first time since 1996.

Others performing include Kaskade, Alesso, NERO, Dillon Francis, Carnage, Nicky Romero and DJ Snake.

Farrell says the lineup contains “fresh faces,” including MisterWives, Ryn Weaver, Catfish and Bottlemen.

The festival, to take place July 31 to Aug. 2, marks its 11-year anniversary in Chicago’s Grant Park.

Festival officials say three-day general admission tickets sold out within an hour. Single-day general admission tickets remain.

TIME Aviation

American Victims Identified in Germanwings Crash

Two of the three Americans on board the Germanwings flight were identified

(WASHINGTON)—Three Americans were presumed dead in the plane crash in the southern French Alps, including a U.S. government contractor and her daughter, the State Department said Wednesday.

Identified victims were Yvonne Selke of Nokesville, Virginia, an employee for 23 years at Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. in Washington, and her daughter, Emily Selke, a recent graduate of Drexel University in Philadelphia. The U.S. government did not identify the third American it said was on the plane.

Yvonne Selke performed work under contract with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s satellite mapping office, Booz Allen and the Defense Department confirmed in statements after the AP had reported her identity and employment.

“Every death is a tragedy, but seldom does a death affect us all so directly and unexpectedly,” NGA Director Robert Cardillo said. “All of us offer our deepest condolences and will keep her family and her colleagues in our thoughts.”

Booz Allen’s chief personnel officer, Betty Thompson, described Selke as “a wonderful co-worker and a dedicated employee who spent her career with the firm.”

Friends and co-workers of Selke’s circulated a photograph of her showing a smiling, middle-aged woman with brown hair and eyeglasses, and a photo of Emily showing a blond young woman with dark eyes and a bright smile. They described Selke as a diligent and generous worker who regularly brought cookies to co-workers.

A person who answered the phone at Selke’s home said the family was not providing any information.

Drexel University said in a statement that Emily Selke graduated with honors in 2013 and was a music industry major. Her sorority at Drexel, Gamma Sigma Sigma, said in a statement on its Facebook page with a photo of Emily that it was mourning her loss and said she “always put others before herself and cared deeply for all those in her life.”

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. was reviewing records to determine whether any other U.S. citizens might have been on board the flight.

“We extend our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the 150 people on board,” Psaki said.

Further details about Selke’s work for the secretive Pentagon agency were not immediately available. Most information about Selke’s assignment and contact information had already been removed Wednesday from Booz Allen’s internal network.

A spokesman for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Timothy B. Taylor, said it was inappropriate for the agency to comment or confirm information about any contract employee.

The Germanwings A320 lost radio contact with air traffic controllers over the southern French Alps during a seemingly routine flight Tuesday from Barcelona, Spain, to Duesseldorf, Germany, before crashing, killing all 150 on board.

French officials said terrorism appeared unlikely, and Germany’s top security official said Wednesday there was no evidence of foul play. French investigators were opening the jet’s mangled black box they recovered, hoping the cockpit recordings inside would help them unlock the mystery of what caused the crash.

 

 

TIME Yemen

Yemeni President Flees as Rebels Take Base Vacated by U.S. Special Forces

President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi giving a speech in the capital Sanaa in 2013.
Mohammed Huwais—AFP/Getty Images President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi giving a speech in the capital Sanaa in 2013.

Iran-backed Houthi rebels are advancing on Aden

SANAA, Yemen — Yemen’s embattled president fled his Aden home Wednesday for an undisclosed location as Shiite rebels neared his last refuge, five officials told The Associated Press.

Hadi fled just hours after the rebels’ own television station said they seized an air base where U.S. troops and Europeans advised the country in its fight against al-Qaida militants. That air base is only 60 kilometers (35 miles) away from Aden, the port city where President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi had established a temporary capital.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren’t authorized to brief journalists. Witnesses said they saw a convoy of presidential vehicles Wednesday leaving Hadi’s palace, located at the top of a hill in Aden overlooking the Arabian Sea.

Forces loyal to Hadi had no immediate comment. U.S. and European advisers fled the seized air base days ago after al-Qaida fighters briefly seized a nearby city.

The advance of the Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, threatens to plunge the Arab world’s poorest country into a civil war that could draw in its Gulf neighbors. Already, Hadi has asked the United Nations to authorize a foreign military intervention in the country.

Already, military officials said militias and military units loyal to Hadi had “fragmented,” speeding the rebel advance.

Early Wednesday, the satellite Al-Masirah news channel reported that the Houthis and allied fighters had “secured” the al-Annad air base, the country’s largest. It claimed the base had been looted by both al-Qaida fighters and troops loyal to Hadi.

The reported Houthi takeover of the base took place after hours-long clashes between rival forces around the base. The U.S. recently evacuated some 100 soldiers, including Special Forces commandos, from the base after al-Qaida briefly seized a nearby city. Britain also evacuated soldiers.

The base was crucial in the U.S. drone campaign against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which America considers to be the most dangerous branch of the terror group. American and European military advisers there also offered logistical in its fight against the al-Qaida group, which holds territory in eastern Yemen and has claimed directed the recent attack against the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

U.S. operations against the militants have been scaled back dramatically amid the chaos in Yemen. U.S. officials have said CIA drone strikes will continue in the country, though there will be fewer of them. The agency’s ability to collect intelligence on the ground in Yemen, while not completely gone, is also much diminished.

The takeover of the base is part of a wider offensive led by Houthis, backed by loyalists of deposed president Ali Abdullah Saleh within Yemen’s armed forces.

The Houthis, in the aftermath of suicide bombings in Sanaa last week that killed at least 137 people, ordered a general mobilization of its forces. The group’s leader, Abdel-Malik al-Houthi, vowed to send his forces to the south under the context of fighting al-Qaida and militant groups.

The Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, in September and have been advancing south alongside forces loyal to Saleh.

On Tuesday, Houthi militias and allied forces fired bullets and tear gas to disperse thousands of protesters in the city of Taiz, known as the gateway to southern Yemen. The Houthis killed six demonstrators and wounded scores more, authorities said.

The Houthis also battled militias loyal to Hadi in the city of al-Dhalea adjacent to Taiz, which is Yemen’s third-largest city. The city also is the birthplace of its 2011 Arab Spring-inspired uprising that forced Saleh to hand over power to Hadi in a deal brokered by the U.N. and Gulf countries.

Hadi on Tuesday asked the U.N. Security Council to authorize a military intervention “to protect Yemen and to deter the Houthi aggression expected to occur at any hour from now” against Aden and the rest of the south. In a letter to the council’s president, Hadi said he also has asked members of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League for immediate help.

Saudi Arabia warned that “if the Houthi coup does not end peacefully, we will take the necessary measures for this crisis to protect the region.”

Diplomatic missions of Hadi’s Arab Gulf allies, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, have evacuated their diplomatic staff from Aden over the past few days, officials said. They earlier evacuated from Sanaa and relocated to Aden to support Hadi.

TIME Burma

Are Slaves Catching the Fish You Buy?

In this Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014 image from video, slaves from Burma lean over the deck of their trawler at the port in Benjina, Indonesia.
AP Slaves from Burma lean over the deck of their trawler at the port in Benjina, Indonesia, on Nov. 26, 2014

"These situations would be called modern slavery by any measure"

(BENJINA, Indonesia) — The Burmese slaves sat on the floor and stared through the rusty bars of their locked cage, hidden on a tiny tropical island thousands of miles from home.

Just a few yards away, other workers loaded cargo ships with slave-caught seafood that clouds the supply networks of major supermarkets, restaurants and even pet stores in the United States.

But the eight imprisoned men were considered flight risks — laborers who might dare run away. They lived on a few bites of rice and curry a day in a space barely big enough to lie down, stuck until the next trawler forces them back to sea.

“All I did was tell my captain I couldn’t take it anymore, that I wanted to go home,” said Kyaw Naing, his dark eyes pleading into an Associated Press video camera sneaked in by a sympathetic worker. “The next time we docked,” he said nervously out of earshot of a nearby guard, “I was locked up.”

Here, in the Indonesian island village of Benjina and the surrounding waters, hundreds of trapped men represent one of the most desperate links criss-crossing between companies and countries in the seafood industry. This intricate web of connections separates the fish we eat from the men who catch it, and obscures a brutal truth: Your seafood may come from slaves.

The men the AP interviewed on Benjina were mostly from Myanmar, also known as Burma, one of the poorest countries in the world. They were brought to Indonesia through Thailand and forced to fish. Their catch was then shipped back to Thailand, where it entered the global stream of commerce.

Tainted fish can wind up in the supply chains of some of America’s major grocery stores, such as Kroger, Albertsons and Safeway; the nation’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart; and the biggest food distributor, Sysco. It can find its way into the supply chains of some of the most popular brands of canned pet food, including Fancy Feast, Meow Mix and Iams. It can turn up as calamari at fine dining restaurants, as imitation crab in a California sushi roll or as packages of frozen snapper relabeled with store brands that land on our dinner tables.

In a year-long investigation, the AP talked to more than 40 current and former slaves in Benjina. The AP documented the journey of a single large shipment of slave-caught seafood from the Indonesian village, tracking it by satellite to a gritty Thai harbor. Upon its arrival, AP journalists followed trucks that loaded and drove the seafood over four nights to dozens of factories, cold storage plants and the country’s biggest fish market.

The tainted seafood mixes in with other fish at a number of sites in Thailand, including processing plants. U.S. Customs records show that several of those Thai factories ship to America. They also sell to Europe and Asia, but the AP traced shipments to the U.S., where trade records are public.

By this time, it is nearly impossible to tell where a specific fish caught by a slave ends up. However, entire supply chains are muddied, and money is trickling down the line to companies that benefit from slave labor.

The major corporations contacted would not speak on the record but issued statements that strongly condemned labor abuses. All said they were taking steps to prevent forced labor, such as working with human rights groups to hold subcontractors accountable.

Several independent seafood distributors who did comment described the costly and exhaustive steps taken to ensure their supplies are clean. They said the discovery of slaves underscores how hard it is to monitor what goes on halfway around the world.

Santa Monica Seafood, a large independent importer that sells to restaurants, markets and direct from its store, has been a leader in improving international fisheries, and sends buyers around the world to inspect vendors.

“The supply chain is quite cloudy, especially when it comes from offshore,” said Logan Kock, vice president for responsible sourcing, who acknowledged that the industry recognizes and is working to address the problem. “Is it possible a little of this stuff is leaking through? Yeah, it is possible. We are all aware of it.”

The slaves interviewed by the AP had no idea where the fish they caught was headed. They knew only that it was so valuable, they were not allowed to eat it.

They said the captains on their fishing boats forced them to drink unclean water and work 20- to 22-hour shifts with no days off. Almost all said they were kicked, whipped with toxic stingray tails or otherwise beaten if they complained or tried to rest. They were paid little or nothing, as they hauled in heavy nets with squid, shrimp, snapper, grouper and other fish.

Some shouted for help over the deck of their trawler in the port to reporters, as bright fluorescent lights silhouetted their faces in the darkness.

“I want to go home. We all do,” one man called out in Burmese, a cry repeated by others. The AP is not using the names of some men for their safety. “Our parents haven’t heard from us for a long time. I’m sure they think we are dead.”

Another glanced fearfully over his shoulder toward the captain’s quarters, and then yelled: “It’s torture. When we get beaten, we can’t do anything back. … I think our lives are in the hands of the Lord of Death.”

In the worst cases, numerous men reported maimings or even deaths on their boats.

“If Americans and Europeans are eating this fish, they should remember us,” said Hlaing Min, 30, a runaway slave from Benjina. “There must be a mountain of bones under the sea. … The bones of the people could be an island, it’s that many.”

_______

For Burmese slaves, Benjina is the end of the world.

Roughly 3,500 people live in the town that straddles two small islands separated by a five-minute boat ride. Part of the Maluku chain, formerly known as the Spice Islands, the area is about 400 miles north of Australia, and hosts small kangaroos and rare birds of paradise with dazzling bright feathers.

Benjina is impossible to reach by boat for several months of the year, when monsoon rains churn the Arafura Sea. It is further cut off by a lack of Internet access. Before a cell tower was finally installed last month, villagers would climb nearby hills each evening in the hope of finding a signal strong enough to send a text. An old landing strip has not been used in years.

The small harbor is occupied by Pusaka Benjina Resources, whose five-story office compound stands out and includes the cage with the slaves. The company is the only fishing operation on Benjina officially registered in Indonesia, and is listed as the owner of more than 90 trawlers. However, the captains are Thai, and the Indonesian government is reviewing to see if the boats are really Thai-owned. Pusaka Benjina did not respond to phone calls and a letter, and did not speak to a reporter who waited for two hours in the company’s Jakarta office.

On the dock in Benjina, former slaves unload boats for food and pocket money. Many are men who were abandoned by their captains — sometimes five, 10 or even 20 years ago — and remain stranded.

In the deeply forested island interiors, new runaways forage for food and collect rainwater, living in constant fear of being found by hired slave catchers.

And just off a beach covered in sharp coral, a graveyard swallowed by the jungle entombs dozens of fishermen. They are buried under fake Thai names given to them when they were tricked or sold onto their ships, forever covering up evidence of their captors’ abuse, their friends say.

“I always thought if there was an entrance there had to be an exit,” said Tun Lin Maung, a slave abandoned on Benjina, as other men nodded or looked at the ground. “Now I know that’s not true.”

The Arafura Sea provides some of the world’s richest and most diverse fishing grounds, teeming with mackerel, tuna, squid and many other species.

Although it is Indonesian territory, it draws many illegal fishing fleets, including from Thailand. The trade that results affects the United States and other countries.

The U.S. counts Thailand as one of its top seafood suppliers, and buys about 20 percent of the country’s $7 billion annual exports in the industry. Last year, the State Department blacklisted Thailand for failing to meet minimum standards in fighting human trafficking, placing the country in the ranks of North Korea, Syria and Iran. However, there were no additional sanctions.

Thailand’s seafood industry is largely run off the backs of migrant laborers, said Kendra Krieder, a State Department analyst who focuses on supply chains. The treatment of some of these workers falls under the U.S. government’s definition of slavery, which includes forcing people to keep working even if they once signed up for the jobs, or trafficking them into situations where they are exploited.

“In the most extreme cases, you’re talking about someone kidnapped or tricked into working on a boat, physically beaten, chained,” said Krieder. “These situations would be called modern slavery by any measure.”

The Thai government says it is cleaning up the problem. On the bustling floor of North America’s largest seafood show in Boston earlier this month, an official for the Department of Fisheries laid out a plan to address labor abuse, including new laws that mandate wages, sick leave and shifts of no more than 14 hours. However, Kamonpan Awaiwanont stopped short when presented details about the men in Benjina.

“This is still happening now?” he asked. He paused. “We are trying to solve it. This is ongoing.”

The Thai government also promises a new national registry of illegal migrant workers, including more than 100,000 flooding the seafood industry. However, policing has now become even harder because decades of illegal fishing have depleted stocks close to home, pushing the boats farther and deeper into foreign waters.

The Indonesian government has called a temporary ban on most fishing, aiming to clear out foreign poachers who take billions of dollars of seafood from the country’s waters. As a result, more than 50 boats are now docked in Benjina, leaving up to 1,000 more slaves stranded onshore and waiting to see what will happen next.

Indonesian officials are trying to enforce laws that ban cargo ships from picking up fish from boats at sea. This practice forces men to stay on the water for months or sometimes years at a time, essentially creating floating prisons.

Susi Pudjiastuti, the new Fisheries Minister, said she has heard of different fishing companies putting men in cells. She added that she believes the trawlers on Benjina may really have Thai owners, despite the Indonesian paperwork, reflecting a common practice of faking or duplicating licenses.

She said she is deeply disturbed about the abuse on Benjina and other islands.

“I’m very sad. I lose my eating appetite. I lose my sleep,” she said. “They are building up an empire on slavery, on stealing, on fish(ing) out, on massive environmental destruction for a plate of seafood.”

_________

The story of slavery in the Thai seafood industry started decades ago with the same push-and-pull that shapes economic immigration worldwide — the hope of escaping grinding poverty to find a better life somewhere else.

In recent years, as the export business has expanded, it has become more difficult to convince young Burmese or Cambodian migrants and impoverished Thais — all of whom were found on Benjina — to accept the dangerous jobs. Agents have become more desperate and ruthless, recruiting children and the disabled, lying about wages and even drugging and kidnapping migrants, according to a former broker who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid retribution.

The broker said agents then sell the slaves, usually to Thai captains of fishing boats or the companies that own them. Each slave typically costs around $1,000, according to Patima Tungpuchayakul, manager of the Thai-based nonprofit Labor Rights Promotion Network Foundation. The men are later told they have to work off the “debt” with wages that don’t come for months or years, or at all.

“The employers are probably more worried about the fish than the workers’ lives,” she said. “They get a lot of money from this type of business.”

Illegal Thai boats are falsely registered to fish in Indonesia through graft, sometimes with the help of government authorities. Praporn Ekouru, a Thai former member of Parliament, admitted to the AP that he had bribed Indonesian officials to go into their waters, and complained that the Indonesian government’s crackdown is hurting business.

“In the past, we sent Thai boats to fish in Indonesian waters by changing their flags,” said Praporn, who is also chairman of the Songkhla Fisheries Association in southern Thailand. “We had to pay bribes of millions of baht per year, or about 200,000 baht ($6,100) per month. … The officials are not receiving money anymore because this order came from the government.”

Illegal workers are given false documents, because Thai boats cannot hire undocumented crew. One of the slaves in Benjina, Maung Soe, said he was given a fake seafarer book belonging to a Thai national, accepted in Indonesia as an informal travel permit. He rushed back to his boat to dig up a crinkled copy.

“That’s not my name, not my signature,” he said angrily, pointing at the worn piece of paper. “The only thing on here that is real is my photograph.”

Soe said he had agreed to work on a fishing boat only if it stayed in Thai waters, because he had heard Indonesia was a place from which workers never came back.

“They tricked me,” he said. “They lied to me. … They created fake papers and put me on the boat, and now here I am in Indonesia.”

The slaves said the level of abuse on the fishing boats depends on individual captains and assistants. Aung Naing Win, who left a wife and two children behind in Myanmar two years ago, said some fishermen were so depressed that they simply threw themselves into the water. Win, 40, said his most painful task was working without proper clothing in the ship’s giant freezer, where temperatures drop to 39 degrees below zero.

“It was so cold, our hands were burning,” he said. “No one really cared if anyone died.”

________

The shipment the AP tracked from the port of Benjina carried fish from smaller trawlers; AP journalists talked to slaves on more than a dozen of them.

A crane hoisted the seafood onto a refrigerated cargo ship called the Silver Sea Line, with an immense hold as big as 50 semi-trucks. At this point, by United Nations and U.S. standards, every fish in that hold is considered associated with slavery.

The ship belongs to the Silver Sea Reefer Co., which is registered in Thailand and has at least nine refrigerated cargo boats. The company said it is not involved with the fishermen.

“We only carry the shipment and we are hired in general by clients,” said owner Panya Luangsomboon. “We’re separated from the fishing boats.”

The AP followed the Silver Sea Line by satellite over 15 days to Samut Sakhon. When it arrived, workers on the dock packed the seafood over four nights onto more than 150 trucks, which then delivered their loads around the city.

One truck bore the name and bird logo of Kingfisher Holdings Ltd., which supplies frozen and canned seafood around the world. Another truck went to Mahachai Marine Foods Co., a cold storage business that also supplies to Kingfisher and other exporters, according to Kawin Ngernanek, whose family runs it.

“Yes, yes, yes, yes,” said Kawin, who also serves as spokesman for the Thai Overseas Fisheries Association. “Kingfisher buys several types of products.”

When asked about abusive labor practices, Kingfisher did not answer repeated requests for comment. Mahachai manager Narongdet Prasertsri responded, “I have no idea about it at all.”

Every month, Kingfisher and its subsidiary KF Foods Ltd. sends about 100 metric tons of seafood from Thailand to America, according to U.S. Customs Bills of Lading. These shipments have gone to Santa Monica Seafood, Stavis Seafoods — located on Boston’s historic Fish Pier — and other distributors.

Richard Stavis, whose grandfather started the dealership in 1929, shook his head when told about the slaves whose catch may end up at businesses he buys from. He said his company visits processors and fisheries, requires notarized certification of legal practices and uses third-party audits.

“The truth is, these are the kind of things that keep you up at night,” he said. “That’s the sort of thing I want to stop. … There are companies like ours that care and are working as hard as they can.”

Wholesalers like Stavis sell packages of fish, branded and unbranded, that can end up on supermarket shelves with a private label or house brand. Stavis’ customers also include Sysco, the largest food distributor in the U.S.; there is no clear way to know which particular fish was sold to them.

Sysco declined an interview, but the company’s code of conduct says it “will not knowingly work with any supplier that uses forced, bonded, indentured or slave labor.”

Gavin Gibbons, a spokesman for National Fisheries Institute, which represents about 75 percent of the U.S. seafood industry, said the reports of abuse were “disturbing” and “disheartening.” ”But these type of things flourish in the shadows,” he said.

A similar pattern repeats itself with other shipments and other companies, as the supply chain splinters off in many directions in Samut Sakhon. It is in this Thai port that slave-caught seafood starts to lose its history.

The AP followed another truck to Niwat Co., which sells to Thai Union Manufacturing Co., according to part owner Prasert Luangsomboon. Weeks later, when confronted about forced labor in their supply chain, Niwat referred several requests for comment to Luangsomboon, who could not be reached for further comment.

Thai Union Manufacturing is a subsidiary of Thai Union Frozen Products PCL., the country’s largest seafood corporation, with $3.5 billion in annual sales. This parent company, known simply as Thai Union, owns Chicken of the Sea and is buying Bumble Bee, although the AP did not observe any tuna fisheries. In September, it became the country’s first business to be certified by Dow Jones for sustainable practices, after meeting environmental and social reviews.

Thai Union said it condemns human rights violations, but multiple stakeholders must be part of the solution. “We all have to admit that it is difficult to ensure the Thai seafood industry’s supply chain is 100 percent clean,” CEO Thiraphong Chansiri said in an emailed statement.

Thai Union ships thousands of cans of cat food to the U.S., including household brands like Fancy Feast, Meow Mix and Iams. These end up on shelves of major grocery chains, such as Kroger, Safeway and Albertsons, as well as pet stores; again, however, it’s impossible to tell if a particular can of cat food might have slave-caught fish.

Thai Union says its direct clients include Wal-Mart, which declined an interview but said in an email statement: “We care about the men and women in our supply chain, and we are concerned about the ethical recruitment of workers.”

Wal-Mart described its work with several non-profits to end forced labor in Thailand, including Project Issara, and referred the AP to Lisa Rende Taylor, its director. She noted that slave-caught seafood can slip into supply chains undetected at several points, such as when it is traded between boats or mingles with clean fish at processing plants. She also confirmed that seafood sold at the Talay Thai market — to where the AP followed several trucks — can enter international supply chains.

“Transactions throughout Thai seafood supply chains are often not well-documented, making it difficult to estimate exactly how much seafood available on supermarket shelves around the world is tainted by human trafficking and forced labor,” she said.

Poj Aramwattananont, president of an industry group that represents Thai Union, Kingfisher and others, said Thais are not “jungle people” and know that human trafficking is wrong. However, he acknowledged that Thai companies cannot always track down the origins of their fish.

“We don’t know where the fish come from when we buy from Indonesia,” said Poj of the Thai Frozen Foods Association. “We have no record. We don’t know if that fish is good or bad.”

______

The seafood the slaves on Benjina catch may travel around the world, but their own lives often end right here, in this island village.

A crude cemetery holds more than graves strangled by tall grasses and jungle vines, where small wooden markers are neatly labelled, some with the falsified names of slaves and boats. Only their friends remember where they were laid to rest.

In the past, former slave Hla Phyo said, supervisors on ships simply tossed bodies into the sea to be devoured by sharks. But after authorities and companies started demanding that every man be accounted for on the roster upon return, captains began stowing corpses alongside the fish in ship freezers until they arrived back in Benjina, the slaves said.

Lifting his knees as he stepped over the thick brush, Phyo searched for two grave markers overrun by weeds — friends he helped bury.

It’s been five years since he himself escaped the sea and struggled to survive on the island. Every night, his mind drifts back to his mother in Myanmar. He knows she must be getting old now, and he desperately wants to return to her. Standing among so many anonymous tombs stacked on top of each other, hopelessness overwhelms him.

“I’m starting to feel like I will be in Indonesia forever,” he said, wiping a tear away. “I remember thinking when I was digging, the only thing that awaits us here is death.”

TIME Yemen

Yemen Leader Asks U.N. to Back Military Action Against Rebels

A Houthi Shiite rebel with Yemen's flag painted on his face chants during a rally in Sanaa, Yemen, Feb. 27, 2015
Hani Mohammed—AP A Houthi Shi'ite rebel with Yemen's flag painted on his face chants during a rally in Sanaa, Yemen, on Feb. 27, 2015

The embattled President is looking for support against a Shi'ite Houthi insurgency

(UNITED NATIONS) — Yemen’s embattled president asked the U.N. Security Council to authorize a military intervention in support of his government to oust Houthi Shiite rebels who control much of the disintegrating country’s north and are advancing south.

President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi said in a letter to the council obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press that he had also asked members of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League to immediately provide “all means necessary, including military intervention to protect Yemen and its people from the continuing Houthi aggression.”

Hadi, the country’s internationally recognized leader and a key U.S. ally, asked the Security Council to approve a resolution that can be militarily enforced under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter.

The Houthis seized the capital Sanaa in September and have been advancing south alongside forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who stepped down in 2011 as part of a U.S.-backed, Gulf-brokered deal after months of protests against his rule. The rebels have recently closed in on the southern port city of Aden where Hadi fled and is now based.

Hadi said a Security Council resolution should invite willing countries to immediately support Yemen’s legitimate government “by all means and measures, to protect Yemen and deter the Houthi aggression expected to occur at any hour from now against the city of Aden” and other cities in the south.

Military convoys are heading to attack Aden and the south, Hadi said, and Yemeni air force jets controlled by the Houthis are continuing to fly and bomb Aden “in a very alarming and dangerous” way.

Hadi also said Yemen’s missiles have been looted, and asked the Security Council “to control the missile capability looted from the legitimate authority or assign a neutral country to monitor it.”

He said all efforts at a peaceful settlement have been rejected by the Houthis whose goal is to control the country.

“The Yemeni people have never faced such heinous aggression,” he said. “The threats posed by the Houthis are not targeting the security of Yemen but the regional and international peace and security.”

The Houthis are members of the Shiite Zaydi community, which makes up around a third of Yemen’s population and is concentrated in the north. Their opponents view them as a proxy of Shiite Iran, charges the Houthis deny.

The turmoil has undermined Yemen’s ability to combat al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the target of a U.S. drone program, and the country now also faces a purported affiliate of the extremist Islamic State group, which claimed responsibility for a series of suicide bombings killing at least 137 people last Friday.

Hadi also asked the Security Council to help Yemen face al-Qaeda and Daesh, the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.

TIME justice

Woman Who Spent 22 Years on Death Row Says Case Dismissal Is ‘Bittersweet’

Debra Milke on March 24, 2015, in Phoenix.
Matt York—AP Debra Milke on March 24, 2015, in Phoenix.

"My son is gone. My mother is gone."

(PHOENIX) — An Arizona woman who spent 22 years on death row in her son’s killing before her conviction was thrown out said Tuesday she doesn’t know why the 4-year-old was murdered and had nothing to do with his death, despite allegations from prosecutors.

Debra Milke spoke at a news conference a day after her case was dismissed in the 1989 killing of her son Christopher, who thought he was going to see Santa Claus when he was taken to the desert and shot by two men who are now in prison for his death.

Milke steadfastly denied being involved in the shooting and responded quickly when told that prosecutors still think she had a part in it.

“Based on what?” she asked.

It was the first time Milke has spoken publicly at length since a federal appeals court overturned her conviction two years ago. The appellate court found prosecutors failed to disclose a history of misconduct by the case’s lead investigator, Phoenix police Detective Armando Saldate.

The misconduct included multiple court rulings in other cases that Saldate either lied under oath or violated suspects’ rights during interrogations.

The case rested largely on Milke’s purported confession to Saldate, who didn’t record the interrogation. Milke, now 51, has disputed that she confessed.

A voice message left for the now-retired Saldate wasn’t immediately returned Tuesday.

Prosecutors sought to retry Milke, but the state’s highest court rejected that bid last week, leading to the case’s dismissal.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said he’s confident his office could have won another conviction regardless of any questions about Saldate’s credibility. He said numerous other witnesses would have testified about incriminating comments made by Milke at the time.

“I have seen nothing in reviewing the entire trial transcript or anything that has been brought up since that would cause me to question the decision of jury when she was first convicted,” Montgomery said.

Authorities say Milke’s motive was that she didn’t want the child anymore and didn’t want him to live with his father.

Milke said Tuesday she doesn’t know the reason for her son’s killing “because there wasn’t a proper investigation.”

The two men who led the boy to his death were convicted of murder but refused to testify against Milke. One of the men was Milke’s roommate.

At the news conference, Milke’s voice cracked with emotion as she read a statement saying she suffered two tragedies — the death of her child and the detective’s false claim that she confessed to killing the boy. Milke then removed her glasses and wiped away tears.

At one point, she was asked about a box of ammunition police found in her purse when they first spoke with her. Prosecutors say the ammunition was of the same caliber as the bullets used to kill the child.

She said she found the bullets in a roommate’s clothes while doing laundry, and put them in her purse.

“Clearly, I forgot they were in my purse,” Milke said. “That’s my answer.”

It’s unclear what Milke plans to do now that her criminal case is over.

She expressed relief that it was dismissed but said she doesn’t feel happiness.

“The victory is bittersweet,” said Milke, whose mother died from cancer last year. “My son is gone. My mother is gone.”

___

Associated Press writer Brian Skoloff contributed to this report.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com