Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Jordan Brunner
Wednesday, February 1, 2017, 1:04 PM

President Trump has nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court of the United States. Gorsuch clerked for two Supreme Court justices, Byron White and Anthony Kennedy, as well as for Judge David Sentelle of the D.C. Circuit. SCOTUSblog notes his “eerie” similarity to Justice Scalia. NPR examines Gorsuch’s history, while the New York Times provides a full transcript and video of Trump’s remarks on Gorsuch. Senate Democrats will now face a difficult decision over whether to block Gorsuch’s appointment in response to Senate Republican’s refusal to hold confirmation hearings for President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. The Times has more.

The Supreme Court nomination comes as fallout continues over Trump’s executive order banning immigrants and refugees from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States. The Washington Post tells us that Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) wrote a letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis calling the signing of the refugee ban order in the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes “a slap in the face” to Muslim members of the military and asking how Mattis could have stood behind such an action. Mattis, who the Wall Street Journal reports is heading to Asia today to reassure allies in the region, did not receive notice of the order until a few hours before the event. Senior Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis refused to say whether Mattis knew what was in the order before it was signed.

Reuters also writes that U.N. human rights experts have also condemned the ban as violative of international law. The U.N. special rapporteurs on migration, racism, human rights and counterterrorism, torture, and freedom of religion claimed that Trump’s ban could lead to people denied asylum being sent home to face torture, stating that “recent U.S. policy on immigration . . . risks people being returned, without proper individual assessments and asylum procedures, to places in which they risk being subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.” The officials also urged the Trump administration not to return to the practice of waterboarding.

Around 1,000 State Department officials have signed the draft dissent memo criticizing the executive order, which was first posted on Lawfare. The department has 18,600 employees, 7,600 of whom are Foreign Service officers. The memo has now received far more signatures than any recent such cable, the Times reports.

Foreign Policy informs us that outgoing Under Secretary of State for Arms Control Tom Countryman delivered remarks at a private goodbye party urging his colleagues to stay in their positions and remain “tireless” in their efforts to uphold their oaths to defend the Constitution. Countryman and several other senior career State Department officials were pushed out of their jobs, and at least 900 State Department officials delivered a formal dissent memo criticizing the refugee ban. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said they should “either get with the program or they can go.”

Buzzfeed reports that according to King Abdullah II of Jordan, Israeli intelligence officials are worried that Trump’s plan to move forward with relocating the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem would “enflame tensions among radical groups.” Trump’s promise to relocate the embassy would be an unprecedented break with U.S. diplomatic practice since 1967, when Israel took full control of Jerusalem. Jordan’s Information Minister, Mohammed Momani, has called the move a “red line” for Jordan that would serve as a “gift to extremists.”

The Post tells us that violence has erupted as Israeli troops and police have begun to drag 40 families of settlers in Amona from their homes as they work to demolish the settlement that has been built on private Palestinian property. A handful of activists who turned out to support the families have been arrested.

The Times examines documents detailing ISIS’ drone program, which highlight the group’s success in adapting readily accessible technology into a potentially effective new weapon.

AFP writes that the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of Syrian and Arab fighters battling the ISIS in Syria, has received US armored vehicles and a promise of new American support. The move is apparently a decision of the Trump administration, rather than a holdover policy from the Obama administration. The alliance between the United States and the SDF has caused tensions with Turkey, which considers the parent organization of the SDF, the Kurdish YPG force, to be a terrorist organization.

Buzzfeed informs us that the Pentagon Inspector General is expected to release a report today concluding that U.S. Central Command’s downplaying of the rise of ISIS was not part of a systematic intelligence problem, but the result of procedural problems. Analysts who demanded the investigation have expressed outrage, and one called the report a “whitewash.” The report will include a series of recommendations to CENTCOM. Another investigation by a House of Representatives task force concluded that the intelligence directorate of CENTCOM, or J2, watered down lower-level assessments in order to validate the Obama administration’s assessment of the status of the war. The Wall Street Journal has more.

The Post notes that the botched counterterrorism raid in Yemen over the weekend, which killed 15 civilians, may be a sign of things to come. The Pentagon is drawing up plans to delegate the decision-making for operations in Yemen to a lower level and accelerate activities against AQAP, if approved by the White House.

Reuters tells us that Iran announced it has tested a new missile but that the test did not violate the provisions of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Act, the nuclear accord that was signed between the United States and Iran in 2015. The U.N. Security Council had an emergency meeting over the test, and recommended that it be studied at the committee level. U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley called the test “unacceptable.”

Reuters informs us that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has asked China for help in fighting ISIS-linked militants by sending ships to patrol southern waters plagued by raids on commercial vessels. Duterte justified the call by claiming that the piracy would escalate to levels seen in Somalia, and raise insurance costs. He did not say whether China had responded.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Susan Hennessey published a new Aegis Series Paper on “The Elephant in the Room: Addressing Child Exploitation and Going Dark.”

J. Dana Stuster updated the Middle East Ticker.

Paul Rosenzweig flagged Laura Donohue’s book and Joel Brenner’s essay, both on the future of foreign intelligence.

Nora Ellingsen examined the terrorism prosecutions of co-conspirators Akhror Saidakhmetov and Abdulrasul Juraboev, along with Justin Kaliebe and Emanuel L. Lutchman.

Quinta Jurecic provided a reminder about the upcoming Hoover Book Soiree: Edward Jay Epstein on “How America Lost Its Secrets.”

Jordan Brunner noted responses by high-profile officials to President Trump’s National Security Presidential Memorandum on the National Security Council.

Quinta flagged the City of San Francisco’s complaint in federal district court against Trump’s order on sanctuary cities.

Luca Marzorati previewed the argument in John Doe v. Federal Republic of Ethiopia that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act gives state-sponsored hackers immunity.

Ashley Deeks noted the serious problem under the U.N. Charter with trying to establish “safe zones” in Syria.

Jordan clarified that Steve Bannon does not need to be confirmed by the Senate to exercise his role on the National Security Council.

Quinta flagged a White House press release listing senior Trump DOJ nominations.

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