TIME Egypt

An Egyptian Court Orders a Retrial For the Jailed Al Jazeera Journalists

Mohamed Famy, Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste have been in prison for over a year, convicted of conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood

The three Al Jazeera journalists incarcerated in Egypt received a glimmer of hope on Thursday, when a court canceled their jail sentences and ordered a retrial.

However, Mohamed Famy, Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste were denied bail at an appeal hearing, with the judge ruling that their case had to be reviewed by a criminal court, Al Jazeera reported.

Famy, Greste and Mohamed have been in prison for over a year after being convicted of conspiring with the now banned Muslim Brotherhood. Greste and Fahmy were sentenced to seven years each in prison, while Mohamed received an additional three years for possession of a spent bullet casing he had picked up during one of the protests.

Al Jazeera has maintained that the charges against its employees are baseless and absurd, and the defense lawyers said they expect the retrial to be held within a month.

The trio’s families were not satisfied with the verdict, having harbored the hope that they would be released this week.

[Al Jazeera]

TIME Aviation

For the AirAsia Bereaved, the New Year Brings Nothing but Grief

Residents pray for victims of AirAsia Flight QZ 8501 crash on Dec. 31, 2014, in Surabaya, Indonesia
Oscar Siagian—Getty Images Residents pray for victims of AirAsia Flight QZ 8501 crash on Dec. 31, 2014, in Surabaya, Indonesia

Surabaya is a city in mourning

The New Year festivities in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city, are traditionally colorful and boisterous — but not this year. This is a city in shock and mourning, its inhabitants struggling to come to terms the loss of 162 lives in the AirAsia disaster.

When Singapore-bound AirAsia Flight QZ 8501 vanished from radar screens, 42 minutes after taking off from Surabaya’s Juanda International Airport on Sunday, there were prayers and tentative hopes. But the airing on live TV of graphic images of dead bodies floating in the Java Sea on Tuesday ensured, for the families of the victims, that New Year will henceforth be a time of grief and mourning.

In Surabaya, an official New Year’s Eve concert was hastily replaced with an interfaith prayer meeting. Nationally, President Joko Widodo urged Indonesians to be restrained in their commemoration of the New Year. The district head in Pangkalan Bun, the town in Indonesian Borneo close to where bodies and debris were found, banned music, fireworks and noisy parties out of respect for the dead.

“Like everyone else, we were shocked,” said Sunu Widyatmoko, CEO of Indonesia AirAsia. “We never thought that the first findings would be of lost ones. We thought we were going to find survivors.”

Seven bodies in total were recovered as of Wednesday night, one of which has been identified as a female, Hayati Lutfiah Hamid, according to Budiyono, chairman of the East Java police’s victim-identification team, who spoke to waiting media. But rough conditions and strong currents in the Java Sea have stirred up sediment at the crash site. Already murky waters have become even more opaque, hampering visibility for divers and making the task of recovery more difficult. Poor weather is likely to persist for the rest of the week, according to authorities.

At the airport on Wednesday evening, officials announced that the crisis center, where family members have been gathering, would be moved to the nearby hospital were incoming bodies will be sent for identification. At a press conference, AirAsia representatives also sought to clear up speculation and rumors that had surfaced since the plane disappeared from radar on Sunday.

AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes said on Wednesday that the plane’s main fuselage had not been located by sonar, nor had a body wearing a life jacket been recovered, despite these being widely reported.

“There’s lots of rumors going around and, until we have official confirmation, what we’ve heard is all speculation,” Fernandes told reporters. “There is no sonar, nothing. There’s some visual identification, but nothing confirmed.”

Throughout Wednesday, men in uniform and mourners watched televised news reports at the crisis center, fueled on sips of coffee and bites of instant noodles from Styrofoam cups. The characteristic Indonesian aroma of clove cigarettes hung heavy in the air.

Dwi Prasetyo Yudo and his wife had traveled to the center at the beginning of the week from their nearby hometown of Malang to show support for their family friend of more than two decades, who lost his daughter on the flight. Local media reported that as many as 35 of the dead were from Malang, including a party of alumni from a Catholic high school traveling with their families.

As night fell, the couple slipped out of the center to visit the airport’s prayer room to gather with fellow Muslims. Dwi said his prayers on New Year’s Eve would be dedicated to “peace in Indonesia.”

Across Surabaya, vigils were held at places of worship to remember the passengers, most of whom were Indonesians of Chinese ethnicity, many of them Christian.

According to pastor Florida Rambu Bongi Roni, based on the names listed on the flight’s manifest, approximately 70% of the people on board Flight QZ 8501 were from Surabaya’s large Christian community.

At Gereja Kristen Indonesia (the Indonesian Christian Church), where Roni is a minister, dozens of mourners squeezed into wooden pews in their humble chapel for a special commemoration service, where they sang Presbyterian hymns, recited the Apostle’s Creed and lit candles in unison.

The church lost three members in the crash, all from the Soesilo Utomo family. The mother, father and son were aboard Flight QZ 8501; their teenage daughter is now an orphan.

“I didn’t have family on the Air Asia [flight], but I can feel what they feel,” said the minister.

During her impassioned sermon, Roni wiped tears from her eyes as she called on her congregation to be more kind in the coming year.

“Caring for others is number one for our lives,” she said. “The tragedy of Air Asia reminds us that we don’t know at what time we will die, so we must make our lives about caring for others and make people happy and full of joy.”

Surabaya resident Yuska Sahertian was among the dozens who attended the evening’s service. A university lecturer, she said at least 15 of her former students had boarded the ill-fated aircraft early Sunday morning.

“It’s very painful,” she said.

As the clock approached midnight, approximately 35,000 people crammed into Graha Bethany Nginden, an evangelical megachurch on the outskirts of Surabaya, to both welcome the New Year and remember the nine members of their community who disappeared when the Air Asia jet crashed into the Java Sea.

Only hours before the service, Pastor Deddy Sutjahjo sat in the empty church and scrolled through Flight QZ 8501’s manifest, pausing to explain how he knew this passenger or who in the church was related to another, as he dabbed the tears from his eyes with a handkerchief and bit his quivering lip.

He explained that many of those who had loved ones on Flight QZ 8501 were still not ready to speak publicly about their losses. Some even appeared to be holding out hope. After all, only seven bodies had been recovered so far.

“We are still praying for them,” he said.

— With reporting by Yenni Kwok

TIME North Korea

Kim Jong Un Says He Is Open To ‘Highest Level Talks’ With South Korea

"We should write a new history in North-South ties," he says

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un said he is open to “highest level talks” with neighbors South Korea on Thursday, urging the two countries to mend their adversarial relationship.

“We should write a new history in North-South ties,” Kim said in his New Year broadcast on state television, according to AFP. “There is no reason not to hold the highest-level talks.”

The offer to hold talks between the two nations was floated a few days earlier by South Korea’s minister in charge of inter-Korean affairs Ryoo Kihl-Jae, who proposed January as a tentative date.

There have been no formal talks between the two countries since February 2014. An agreement to resume dialogue in October following a North Korean delegation’s visit to the South for the Asian Games was soon set aside following renewed border clashes.


TIME Thailand

The Draconian Legal Weapon Being Used to Silence Thai Dissent

Pornchai Kittiwongsakul—AFP/Getty Images Thai university student Patiwat Saraiyaem, center, is escorted by prison officials as he arrives at the criminal court in Bangkok on Oct. 27, 2014

Thailand's lèse majesté laws are supposed to protect the royal family from defamation, but in practice they are being used as a vicious political tool

Barefoot and shackled at the ankles, two Thai student activists shuffled into court this week to plead guilty to insulting the nation’s monarch by staging a play about an fictitious king.

Patiwat Saraiyaem, 23, and Pornthip Munkong, 25, face up to 15 years in jail under Thailand’s lèse majesté laws, considered the world’s harshest.

The laws are ostensibly protect King Bhumibol Adulyadej and the royal family from defamatory slurs, but are in practice used in vendettas and as a political tool.

The offending content of the play, The Wolf Bride, has not been made public, but it was performed to commemorate the 40th anniversary of a pro-democracy student protest at Thammasat University that was brutally crushed by the then military government in October 1973.

“My boy did not intend to insult the monarchy, he is just an actor,” Patiwat’s father Aiyakan Saraiyaem told news agency AFP outside the court.

Held in custody since their arrests, both students were denied bail, and pleaded guilty in an attempt to avoid further jail-time.

The case is indicative of spiraling political prosecutions in Thailand exacted through lèse majesté, otherwise known as Article 112. In recent years, a bevy of academics, politicians, journalists and even a 61-year-old grandfather have fallen foul of this law. And it has almost nothing to do with safeguarding the Thai monarchy.

It is “political weaponry in the guise of a legal system,” says Jakrapob Penkair, a former Minister to the Prime Minister’s Office, who was accused of lèse majesté over a speech he gave at Thailand’s Foreign Correspondent’s Club that rebuked the nation’s culture of royal patronage. “It encourages people to go berserk.”

This is because lèse majesté cases can be brought by any Thai citizen — no matter what country they reside in, and at any time, against any other individual, Thai or foreign. (Criminal cases, by contrast, are typically brought by a department of public prosecutions.)

This Orwellian culture is fostered by the state. During the tenure of former Democrat Party Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who was in power from 2008 to 2011, he appeared on huge billboards asking citizens to “protect the monarchy” by reporting those whom defamed the institution.

And so the vast majority of lèse majesté cases are brazenly political or spurred by personal grudges. Last week, for example, the Democrat Party’s legal advisor filed lèse majesté charges against Suda Rangkupan, a former Chulalongkorn University lecturer and supporter of ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, for wearing the color black during December, the month of King Bhumibol’s birth. (Thais traditionally wear his birthday color of yellow out of respect.)

Preposterous as these charges plainly are, most Thais are afraid of, and conditioned against, speaking out. Thai journalists cannot report on cases freely without putting themselves at risk of prosecution, while courtiers appears to be immune.

“Rational Thais who respect the monarchy no less than the rest are becoming more aware that lèse majesté law is enforced to protect a few privileged commoners lurking around the palace at the expense of the institution itself,” Verapat Pariyawong, a Harvard-trained Thai lawyer who is currently a visiting scholar at the University of London, tells TIME.

Sometimes, an indirect connection with the cause of offense is sufficient. When Ekachai Hongkangwan was arrested in 2012 for peddling pirated copies of an Australian documentary about the Thai monarchy, the fact that that the material was essentially accurate, and that he had no part in its creation, was no defense.

“Because,” Judge Aphisit Veeramitchai explained to the court, “if it is true, it is more defamatory; and if it isn’t true, then it’s super defamatory.” Ekachai was jailed for three and a half years.

Little wonder most people accused of Article 112 either apologize or meekly claim to be misunderstood, rather than attack the lèse majesté laws in the first place. This ensures that there is no public debate on the law.

The scope of lèse majesté has also flourished contrary to the expressed wishes of King Bhumibol. During his birthday speech in 2005, the monarch said, “Actually, I must also be criticized. I am not afraid if the criticism concerns what I do wrong, because then I know. Because if you say the king cannot be criticized, it means that the king is not human. If the king can do no wrong, it is akin to looking down upon him because the king is not being treated as a human being. But the king can do wrong.”

Article 112 is typically deployed with politically expedient timing, rather than at the time of the supposed offense. The former minister Jakrapob made his offending speech eight months before charges were laid; students Patiwat and Pornthip performed their play in October 2013, but were only arrested this past August.

“It’s not about your action, it’s about the timing,” says Jakrapob. “They wait until the moment when you seem most vulnerable.”

So why are students being targeted now? Since Thailand’s latest military coup of May 22, opposition to the new junta government has been brutally quashed. Yet, in recent months, students have become emboldened as public dissatisfaction grows over a slew of scandals, and have displayed great daring by even publicly heckling dictator Prayuth Chan-Ocha.

“They are using the youngsters as an example,” says Jakrapob of the latest charges, “to say that regardless of your age or social background, we will not hesitate.”

And so as protests increase, lèse majesté has followed suit. A study published November by the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights noted 18 cases since the generals seized power, usually tried through fast-track kangaroo courts. These include a radio show host jailed for five years, and a 24-year-old student jailed for two-and-a-half years for posting a Facebook message under a pseudonym. On Wednesday, Internet providers were granted sweeping new powers to remove any content verging on lèse majesté. The junta even pursues those who have fled overseas.

It appears the Thai establishment wants to silence dissent before the delicate time of succession approaches. King Bhumibol is the world’s richest monarch, worth an estimated $30 billion, but is 87 years old and ailing. Many ascribe Thailand’s festering political travails to the wrangling for control of this vast fortune before Bhumibol passes on the crown.

This has already been reflected in the purges of powerful policemen connected to the recently jilted wife of Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, using, among other charges, lèse majesté. The military must maintain a vice-like grip on power to ensure the succession takes place as its powerful backers wish.

“At this very delicate time of transition, they cannot afford to give an inch to anyone,” says Jakrapob, “and the young people worry them.”

TIME Italy

98 Passengers of the Adriatic Ferry Are Still Unaccounted for

Greece Ferry Fire
AP—AP In this image taken from a Dec. 28, 2014 video and made available Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014 passengers of the Italian-flagged ferry Norman Atlantic wait to be rescued after it caught fire in the Adriatic Sea.

Authorities have no idea whether they have been killed, rescued or even boarded the vessel

Ninety-eight passengers of the Greek-operated Norman Atlantic ferry that caught fire in the Adriatic Sea on Sunday have not been accounted for, according a justice official in the Italian port of Bari.

Associated Press reports that it is uncertain whether the missing passengers boarded the Italian-made vessel, or were killed in the disaster, or rescued.

Bari prosecutor Giuseppe Volpe told the Italian ANSA news agency that he hoped that Greek authorities would be able to establish how many people had been rescued by various ships and brought to Greece.

Eleven people are known to have died as a result of the fire, while hundreds of survivors have been plucked from the sea. However, the total number of passengers aboard the ill-fated vessel — which was sailing from Greece to Italy when the fire broke out — has still not been established.

Greece’s merchant marine ministry has accused Italy of botching the identification of the rescued and missing. “The information forwarded to us so far by Italian authorities contains names listed twice and misspellings in the names registered,” it said.

Meanwhile, poor weather hampered efforts Wednesday to tow the ferry to Italy for an investigation and a search that could turn up more dead.

The Italian captain has been questioned by the authorities in Bari, who refuse to divulge further details pending the results of their investigations.

TIME South Korea

The South Korean Charity That Tries to Give Everyone a Dignified Farewell

Ham Hak-joon sits in his one-room home on top of the hill in Jongro District, Seoul, South Korea in December 27, 2014. Ham, an 86-year-old man who lives by himself, has been out of contact with two of his grown-up children for more than 30 years. He has arranged a funeral with Good Nanum when the time comes.
Jean Chung for TIME Ham Hak-joon sits in his one-room home on top of the hill in Jongro District, Seoul, South Korea in Dec. 27, 2014. Ham, an 86-year-old man who lives by himself, has been out of contact with two of his grown-up children for more than 30 years. He has arranged a funeral with Good Nanum when the time comes.

More elderly South Koreans are dying alone, their bodies unclaimed

Ham Hak-joon lives alone in one moldy room at the top of a hill in Seoul, looking out on a city and back on a lifetime that have passed him by.

Now 86 years old and retired without a wife or contact with his two grown children, Ham has plenty of time to wonder how his life will end. One constant source of anxiety is who will hold a funeral for him.

He says he hasn’t spoken to his children in more than 15 years and that his only friends are, like him, poor and elderly. “I thought of donating my body to science,” he said. “At least that way I could be sure that someone would come collect me when I go.”

But instead of that, Ham has reached out to a civic group that holds funerals for people who die with no known family members, their bodies going unclaimed from hospitals or police morgues.

That organization, called Good Nanum (or Good Sharing), was formed five years ago when stories of unclaimed bodies began to circulate in South Korea.

Park Jin-ok, Good Nanum’s director, says he and his colleagues thought it important that everyone, even those without loved ones, be provided some ceremony to mark the end of their lives.

“In our country, not just living, but dying has become a source of worry,” says Park. “Elderly people who live alone wonder what will happen to their bodies. We promise that we’ll find them.”

In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of bodies going unclaimed. Data released in October by the country’s Ministry of Health and Welfare found 878 unclaimed dead nationwide in 2013, up from 719 in 2012 and 682 in 2011.

Park says that his work can be emotionally taxing and that, in private moments, he is sometimes haunted by the more shocking cases he has encountered of unclaimed deceased. The mother found dead of apparent suicide, floating off the coast with her newborn baby strapped to her back. The homeless man killed when a shutter collapsed on him as he slept in a storefront late at night.

Ham wears his winter jacket, seated cross-legged on an electric blanket, the only source of heat in his otherwise frigid one-room apartment. He apologizes for the low temperature and is sheepish about his room’s musty odor. Before receiving visitors, he leaves the door open to bring in fresh air, despite the subzero temperatures outdoors.

One of three children, he tells the story of having started his adulthood in the South Korean military in the mid-1950s, driving a truck delivering ammunition to military posts on the northern outskirts of Seoul — then and today the frontline in a simmering conflict with North Korea.

He then spent years as a bus driver, traversing the busy streets of Seoul. Frustrated by how his low wages made it difficult for him to provide for his wife and two children, Ham started his own tour bus company in the mid-1990s. He borrowed money to buy three buses and hire drivers, hoping to build a prosperous business. But when South Korea’s economy collapsed in the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-98, Ham’s work dried up and he went bankrupt.

Ham Hak-joon used these candles when his lightbulb was burned out in his one-room home.
Jean Chung for TIMEHam Hak-joon used these candles when his lightbulb was burned out in his one-room home.

It was downhill from there: his relationship with his wife soured and their marriage ended in divorce. Ashamed at having no job or money, he isolated himself from his son and daughter.

“My pride wouldn’t allow me to face them after I had failed,” Ham said. He says can’t clearly remember the last time he saw his kids in person. “I don’t even think they would know my face if they saw me today,” he says.

Ham’s only income is a government pension of around $100 per month. He used to collect scrap cardboard for recycling to earn some money, but problems with his knees have made that impossible. Because he is a father of two, he doesn’t qualify for more government assistance. In South Korea, children are expected to financially support their aging parents.

Unfortunately, that expectation does not match reality. Results of a survey by Statistics Korea released last month show that more elderly people are financially independent of their children and fewer adults who feel obligated to take care of their aging parents (31.7 this year, down from 40.7 in 2008).

Experts say the situation in each family is largely determined by their financial circumstances. “The adult children of parents who are not self-sufficient feel the pressure of filial obligation more,” says Ansuk Jeong, a Ph.D. in community psychology and research professor at Yonsei University in Seoul.

Ham Hak-joon shows a photo of him, which will be used in his funeral, in his one-room home on top of the hill in Jongro District, Seoul, Dec. 27, 2014.
Jean Chung for TIMEHam Hak-joon shows a photo of him, which will be used in his funeral, in his one-room home on top of the hill in Jongro District, Seoul, Dec. 27, 2014.

Good Nanum usually waits for around a month before cremating the corpse and holding a funeral. During that time, they post known details of the deceased on local government websites, with the hope that family members will come forward.

Social workers say sometimes bodies aren’t claimed because relatives because can’t afford to cover the funeral costs. “The funerals cost around 5 million won ($4,500), which is too much of a burden for many families,” says Park Sang-ho, a social worker in Seoul.

Korean funerals are normally a three-day affair, but due to a lack of staff and resources, Good Nanum holds only one-day funerals. They display a portrait of the deceased, if one is available and their identity is known. In front of the casket they display the customary drinks or snacks that the deceased may have enjoyed in life.

Ham has already prepared his funeral portrait. He says he at least is no longer worried about passing away anonymously.

“I know I won’t be all alone after I die,” he says. “That makes me live a bit easier.”

TIME elections

These Are the Elections to Watch Around the World in 2015

From Greece to Argentina, elections could transform the international political landscape

This past year was marked by monumental elections that ushered in new political regimes in countries like the India, and Tunisia, and solidified or extended others in places like Egypt, Brazil and Japan.

The year 2015 is shaping up to be a respite from the chaos of democracy, with the electorate of some of the world’s largest countries sitting on the sidelines. But a spate of political developments has infused global importance into elections around the world and prompted two previously unexpected votes in Greece and Israel that will have major repercussions for their respective regions.

Here’s a look at what to expect:

United States

Three of the five largest cities are electing their mayors this year. In Chicago, former Obama adviser Rahm Emanuel is running for reelection in February and holds a strong lead in polls. In Houston, the biennial vote in November will select a successor to Democratic Mayor Annise Parker, who has reached her term limit. It will be a similar situation in Philadelphia, where Democratic Mayor Michael Nutter can’t run for a third term.

Meanwhile, Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi are electing governors in November, including replacements for Kentucky’s Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear and Louisiana’s Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, both of whom have reached their term limits.


The Greek Parliament’s refusal to elect Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s choice for president earlier this week triggered snap general elections set for January 25. Opinion polls have placed the radical leftist opposition party Syriza in the lead, raising the prospect of an anti-bailout government that could move to default on its massive debt and prompt a new eurozone crisis.


A stumbling economy and a persistent Islamist insurgency in the north have drained some public support for President Goodluck Jonathan, in office since 2010, and the vote on Feb. 14 is expected to be close. Jonathan will go up against Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler campaigning on a platform of security and anti-corruption. But the biggest determinant of who becomes the leader of Africa’s biggest economy may fall along ethnic and regional lines: Buhari is a Muslim northerner, while Jonathan is a Christian from the south.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disbanded his already tenuous centrist coalition in early December and called for early general elections set for March 17, expecting to win a new mandate for himself and a more right-leaning government. But polls show that a new left-leaning coalition could beat Netanyahu’s Likud party, though the incumbent could stay in power if he successfully forms a coalition with rightist parties.


The April 13 election is all but likely to ensure that President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, wanted on genocide charges by the International Criminal Court, will extend his 25-year rule, even as violence continues between Khartoum and rebel groups in Darfur and elsewhere.


The United Kingdom is heading for what may be the closest election in a generation—and the first since a divisive vote in Scotland to remain part of the 307-year-old Union—as the Labour party seeks to unseat Prime Minister David Cameron and his Conservative party in elections slated for early May. The rest of the European Union will be closely watching this vote, as Cameron has promised a referendum on EU membership in 2017, while Ed Milibrand, head of Labour, has rejected the idea.


President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has drawn some public support for her obstinate stance against U.S. investors and U.S. courts who are demanding Argentina repay $1.3 billion in debt plus interest. But the skirmish has scared off investors and helped put longterm economic growth largely on hold until the dispute is resolved or, as is likely, a more market friendly president takes office following elections in October. As for Fernandez, her tenure is up after reaching her two-term limit.


Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party has seen an uptick in support in recent days, putting it ahead of the Liberal party. But his party’s support took a hit this year and he’s far from guaranteed a win in elections in 2015, currently slated for Oct. 19. His biggest rival will likely be Justin Trudeau, head of the Liberal Party and son of long-serving Premier Pierre Trudeau.

Burkina Faso

In the wake of longtime President Blaise Compaoré’s ouster amid mass protests, the interim leadership agreed to hold new elections in November. If that plan holds, the Burkinabé people will select a government not headed by Compaoré for the first time since he seized power in 1983.


The nascent anti-establishment party Podemos has skyrocketed in popularity and is now competitive with the two stalwarts in a country still burdened by an economic crisis (unemployment stands at around 24 percent). Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of the right-leaning Popular Party, is already under pressure from an empowered Catalan independence movement, and the populist movement does not augur well for him in next years elections, which must take place on or before Dec. 20. But he’s hoping that economic reforms and early indications of a recovery will boost his standing.


The vote in late 2015 could mark a significant step in Myanmar’s heralded-but-stumbling process of political reform, but that’s not certain. Though the elections will be the first since a semi-civilian government assumed power after half-a-century of military rule, the military is still highly influential and key constitutional reforms called for by the opposition are unlikely to pass ahead of the vote. Among them is a measure to repeal a law that prevents opposition leader and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi from running. For now, Shwe Mann, the speaker of parliament and a retired general, is the front-runner.

TIME Military

U.S. Transfers 5 More Guantanamo Detainees

AFP—AFP/Getty Images The US flag at the US Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on August 6, 2013.

127 people are left in the naval base prison

The U.S. has transferred five more detainees out of Guantanamo Bay and sent them to Kazakhstan, officials said, bringing the prison’s population down to 127.

Officials determined that the two Yemeni and three Tunisian detainees did not pose security threats. The Department of Defense identified the men as Asim Thabit Abdullah Al-Khalaqi, Muhammad Ali Husayn Khanayna, Sabri Muhammad Ibrahim Al Qurashi, Adel Al-Hakeemy and Abdullah Bin Ali Al-Lufti.

During President George W. Bush’s administration, almost 800 detainees were held in the naval base in southeastern Cuba as “enemy combatants” without charges. President Barack Obama set a goal in 2009 of closing the prison within a year but has since faced opposition from lawmakers who say the detainees pose security risks.

Read more: Where are all those freed Guantanamo detainees now?


State Department Insists North Korea Behind Sony Hack

But the inside-job theory is gaining steam among outside experts

The U.S. government remains convinced the North Korean government was behind last month’s massive Sony hack, despite outside reports alleging an employee of the company may have been involved.

“The United States government has concluded that the North Korean government is responsible for this attack,” State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters. “And we stand by that conclusion. “

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is leading the investigation in conjunction with other U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies, announced on December 19 that the rogue regime was responsible for the hack. But doubts have simmered among outside security experts, in part because the government has acknowledged withholding some of the evidence that led to the conclusion.

The FBI said it would not share its complete analysis of the evidence pointing to North Korea. “The need to protect sensitive sources and methods precludes us from sharing all of this information,” the bureau said. Publicly, the FBI has indicated the attack mimicked previous North Korean intrusions on South Korean systems, adding the “data-deletion malware” used in the attack was similar to other code experts have attributed to North Korean-allied hackers and attempted to “ping” internet protocol addresses linked to the country.

As a result, private cybersecurity experts have expressed continued doubts about the link to North Korea. “We can’t find any indication that North Korea either ordered, masterminded or funded this attack,” Kurt Stammberger, a vice president at Norse security in California, told the Los Angeles Times. Stammberger told the paper that he had briefed law-enforcement officials on the theory that the massive hack was an inside job.

But the inside-job theory has holes of its own. Outside analysts have only been given limited access to the malware and details of the Sony hack, and have failed to offer conclusive evidence that the U.S. government’s conclusions are wrong. “It’s not that it’s not possible. It’s just that it’s ambiguous,” Mark Rasch, a former federal cybercrimes prosecutor, says of the inside-job theory.

A disgruntled IT employee might have both the motive and technical expertise to burrow deep into Sony’s computer networks and extract some 100 terabytes of data, a process that cyberexperts say may have taken weeks or months. The nature of the hack—which spilled personal information about thousands of people and made public the private emails of Sony executives—seemed calibrated to embarrass the company. In their initial email to Sony executives and public statement, the hackers made no mention of “The Interview.” And wiping Sony’s computers, Rasch says, “is a tactic we frequently see in attacks by disgruntled insiders.”

Cybersecurity experts have said from the start that an insider could be involved. “We don’t discount the possibility of an insider,” Jaime Blasco, director of labs at the California-based security firm AlienVault, told TIME earlier this month.

In his end-of-year press conference, President Obama himself placed the blame on North Korea and promised that the U.S. government would respond, but would not discuss the specifics.

“They caused a lot of damage, and we will respond,” Obama said. “We will respond proportionally, and we’ll respond in a place and time and manner that we choose.”

TIME Know Right Now

Know Right Now: Champagne Facts for New Year’s Eve

What you should know about the bubbly you'll be sipping

Champagne is a favorite celebratory drink for any special occasion, but the fizzy golden beverage is particularly popular on New Year’s Eve when the clock strikes 12.

You might be ready to pop that bubbly to ring in 2015, but do you know whether you’re drinking actual champagne? How about where it came from? Or the price?

Watch today’s Know Right Now to find out everything you didn’t know you wanted to know about Champagne this New Year’s Eve.

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