Bahrain: US Soldiers involved in Trafficking Thai Females

2020-06-19 - 8:35 ص

Bahrain Mirror: The Military Times website said that the Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigated numerous sailors for crimes involving sex trafficking and prostitutes in Bahrain in recent years. Navy prosecutors have struggled at times to win criminal convictions in court.

The Navy filed charges against at least nine sailors for such offenses in 2017 and 2018, including one mid-grade officer and five chiefs. The charges included allegations that some sailors were trafficking or attempting to traffic Thai prostitutes into Bahrain and housing them in their off-post apartments with the intention of taking a cut of their nightly cash earnings.

Navy prosecutors secured guilty pleas in five of those nine cases, but officials concede that they offered watered-down plea deals to some of the accused sailors due to a recurring problem: the failure to get the Thai prostitutes at the center of the cases into a military courtroom to testify.

Several cases hinged on the cooperation of these victimized women, and the Navy's prosecutions collapsed when the women fell off the Navy's radar or they otherwise refused to cooperate, leaving prosecutors without key witnesses at trial.

The website contacted several anti-trafficking and advocacy groups both in the United States and Thailand to learn more about the life of Thai prostitutes in Bahrain. All professed ignorance of the situation or declined to comment.

Attempts to contact the women at the center of the cases were also unsuccessful.

The women's reluctance is unsurprising in a way, according to service officials.

Such women in Bahrain are there illegally, NCIS officials testified, and were both unfamiliar with and distrustful of the American military justice system.

Three Thai prostitutes accused a Navy chief of sexual assault in 2017, but Navy prosecutors were unable to get them on the stand to testify.

Lin Raiwest, an NCIS informant and Thai prostitute who was well-known to many U.S. sailors in Bahrain and who was at the center of several Navy investigations, told her NCIS handlers that the women sometimes travel to Bahrain under a false alias so their families wouldn't find out, according to court records.

They often lived in crowded apartments and went without medical care while selling sex to sailors in Bahrain so that they could make money to send home to their families in Thailand.

Bahrain officials did not respond to numerous calls and requests for comment for this story.

She told Navy prosecutors that she would testify in several cases, but later disappeared according to court records.

Navy officials declined to comment on why some prosecutions sputtered, but court records show several cases in which Raiwest was a central witness later resulted in acquittals or plea deals on lesser charges for sailors accused of crimes.

A Navy official familiar with the cases acknowledged the difficulties.

"Holding sailors accountable at court-martial for conduct involving this population of vulnerable foreign nationals will continue to be a challenge," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the Navy did not authorize them to speak on the matter.

Overseas, the U.S. government could not compel these women to testify.

"Many of these women made the choice not to participate, or simply vanish," the official said. "In the same way victims of sexual assault feel shame or remorse and choose not to report...persons who are victims of sex and labor trafficking are often reluctant to participate in prosecutions."

The challenge of holding sailors accountable and winning convictions in court was further complicated by the fact that NCIS and Navy attorneys had little experience with sex trafficking prosecutions and had to seek counsel from the U.S. Department of Justice during some proceedings, according to court records obtained by Military Times.

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