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Today’s Headlines and Commentary

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Friday, December 13, 2013 at 12:11 PM

What is the status of a long-pending report on the CIA’s counterterrorism interrogation methods?  According to the The Atlantic, the Obama Administration has been sitting on the 6,000-page tome, in which Senate investigators describe the agency’s use of torture and other brutal interrogation tactics after 9/11. The Senate Intelligence Committee voted to adopt the report exactly one year ago, over the objections of several Committee Republicans.  At the time, Senator Feinstein heralded it as one of the most “significant oversight efforts” in United States history and said she hoped that “the CIA [would] emerge a better and more able organization as a result of the committee’s work.” She likewise thought the document would “settle the debate once and for all over whether our nation should ever employ coercive interrogation techniques[.]”  The Atlantic piece says that although many senators, former CIA employees and even the vice-president favor of the report’s release, Obama “has bowed to pressure from a faction within the CIA” in suppressing it.  That account seems to contradict this Foreign Policy story, which tells us that some—though not all–of the SSCI’s work will be made public, soon.

From the New York Times: a presidential advisory committee has recommended that President Obama impose new restrictions on the National Security Agency. The committee’s report has not been released publicly, but government officials tell the Times that the “program to collect data on every phone call made in the United States should continue, though under broad new restraints that would be intended to increase privacy protections”. Among other things, the report also recommends that the government increase transparency concerning its international intelligence gathering programs—a suggestion which, the Times predicts, the NSA is likely to ignore.

A compromise version of the long-brewing National Defense Authorization Act for FY2014 was passed late last night in the House. The military budget bill is long and complex, and deals with some key policy issues, like Guantanamo Bay and sexual assault in the military. On the latter, the legislation would  make it a crime to retaliate against those who report sexual assault.  But the House bill does not include an amendment, like that proposed in the other chamber by Senator Kristen Gillibrand; she would alter the military justice system’s handling of sexual assault prosecutions.

Some Guantanamo-related provisions of the NDAA struck a chord with the United States Marine General who led the First Joint Task Force at the base’s detention center. General Michael Lehnert penned an op-ed piece for the Detroit Free Press that calls for the shutting down of the facility. Though he thinks language in the NDAA that would “give the president some additional flexibility to transfer detainees to their home or third countries” is a good step, he argues that it is not enough.  In his view, detainees also should be able to be transferred to the United States. But, more poignantly, the admonishes the facility as a whole and says it “should never have been opened.”

Department of Whoa: the Associated Press has an account of FBI agent Robert Levinson, who disappeared in Iran in 2007. Though it was reported that Levinson was but a mere tourist, the AP reveals that he was in fact working for the CIA. The AP tells the long and sordid tale, complete with cover-up stories, anonymous tips, discreet firings and a gripping account of how the man became “part of the CIA’s spy war with Iran.” The AP confirmed Levinson’s CIA ties in 2010 but delayed publishing the story because “the U.S. government said it was pursuing promising leads to get [Levinson] home.” Those efforts, the AP tells us, came up empty—so the story went to print.

Speaking of Iran, the Senate Banking Committee has drafted a bill that would “slap fresh sanctions on Iran[.]”  The Committee “will pass the legislation if Tehran fails to follow through on its end of a temporary nuclear deal with global powers,” according to this Politico story.

No surprise here. Iran isn’t very happy about a recent sanctions package that we told you about yesterday. Abbas Araqchi, the chief nuclear negotiator from Iran, argues that the targeting of firms linked to the country’s nuclear program goes “against the spirit of the Geneva deal” which was agreed upon last month. Araqchi expected the opposite treatment from the United States and its allies; the deal to curb its nuclear program, after all, was based on some $7 billion in relief from sanctions. The United States defends yesterday’s “blacklistings,” arguing that they are justified within the existing sanctions framework—and are thus not “new.”

Meanwhile, the AP reports, Iran is nervous that all this attention on its nuclear program will “increase the risks of an attack on its atomic facilities and the scientists working on them.”

Let’s not forget about Syria. Yesterday, the United Nations finally released its official, final report on whether chemical weapons were used there. This document goes farther than its September predecessor, which said that sarin gas indeed had been deployed in the August 21 attack on Damascus; the more recent and final report “suggests” that chemical weapons were used in at least four other attacks, too. The Wire has more details.

Twenty-two Iraqi prisoners facing terrorism charges escaped from a prison in Baghdad. Of these, thirteen were quickly rearrested; eight remain at large. The escape seriously calls into question Iraqi security capabilities.

You may have heard about the recent “purging”—killing—of Jang Song Thaek, the uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. But what does that mean, exactly? NPR considers the implications of this recent action.  The Guardian has DPRK’s full statement regarding Jang’s execution.

How are Lance Armstrong and the war on terror related? Slate explains. It seems the United States is using legislation passed to halt the statute of limitations for fraud committed against the United States during war—the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act—to target Armstrong. “The idea is that because the United States has been at war in Afghanistan since 2001, the clock on Armstrong’s fraud never began ticking. This aggressive interpretation may cost Armstrong an extra $27 million and force him to give back every penny the Postal Service paid him—but only by pushing the law far beyond its original purpose.”

And, finally, maybe some good news in time for the holidays: the FCC is officially reviewing its ban on in-flight calls. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler penned an op-ed in USA Today defending a lift of the ban.

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