Still leading the news: The recent release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from Taliban captivity, in exchange for transferring five Taliban Guantanamo detainees to Qatar for a year. In an address yesterday, Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei seemed to react to that, and to President Obama’s West Point commencement speech; Khamenei declared that America has abandoned the idea of military intervention. The New York Times has more details.
Families of Americans still held hostage abroad are resentful and dismayed that their relatives have not been traded for prisoners, a la Bergdahl. The captives include Warren Weinstein, a 72-year old development officer who was abducted by Al Qaeda in Lahore, Pakistan; and Caitlin Coleman, who was pregnant when she and her Canadian husband, Josh Boyle, were taken by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Kevin Sieff of the Washington Post describes the reactions of Afghans who remember Sgt. Bergdahl stumbling into their village: “We think he probably was high after smoking hashish. . .Why would an American want to find the Taliban?” The story details how Afghan villagers apparently tried to stop Bergdahl and offer him food and bread. If he was, in fact, a deserter, then Bergdahl is part of a “fascinating and bizarre club,” writes Dan Lamothe elsewhere in the Post. In still another Post piece, Anne Gearan describes the process of Sgt. Bergdahl’s reintegration into society.
At a press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron, President Obama said he makes “no apologies” for transferring the Afghan detainees in order to ensure Bergdahl's safety and freedom. The Post has more. The defense followed a classified Senate briefing yesterday, during which the Obama administration sought to explain the decision to negotiate for Bergdahl’s release. According to the Times, many Senators emerged frustrated after the meeting. The Hill reports that Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) warned that if the President sought to release any other Guantanamo detainees, Republicans would seek impeachment.
Lastly, to round out the day's Bergdahl coverage: the Wall Street Journal reports on the five released Taliban fighters. One apparently led, in 1999, "a scorched-earth offensive that prompted some 300,000 people to flee for their lives."
President Obama faces criticism from otherwise like-minded foreign policy officials, some of whom were in his administration, writes Peter Beinart in The Atlantic. One is former State Department official Vali Nasr, who believes that upon taking office, the White House should have sought a diplomatic agreement with the Taliban, in order to prevent a civil war in Afghanistan. Additionally, former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford broke with the President in an interview with PBS NewsHour; Ford said America should have taken advantage of the opportunity to arm Syrian rebel groups before jihadists overtook the opposition, thereby forcing Assad to negotiate.
The results of Syria’s presidential election were announced yesterday, reports the BBC. They come as no surprise. Having won 88.7% of votes, Bashar al-Assad will serve a third seven-year term. Although the Syrian government put voter turnout at 73.47%, Assad critics and Syrian rebels are calling the election a sham. The Guardian observes that voting only took place in government-held areas, to the exclusion of northern and eastern Syria. But the Washington Post notes that since most Western reporters were denied visas, there is no real way for the press to determine the election's legitimacy. At a press conference in Beirut, Secretary of State John Kerry called the election “meaningless,” because there were no real options, the results cannot be disputed, and many citizens could not even vote.
Meanwhile, in South Yemen, the BBC writes that at dawn, insurgents attacked a military checkpoint with machine guns. The assault has left fourteen people dead---eight soldiers, six militants, and one civilian.In other Yemen news, a U.S. drone strike has killed three suspected AQAP militants, including a local commander. The Long War Journal has more.
According to the Hill, a coalition of America’s leading technology firms, including Google, Facebook, AOL, Microsoft, Apple, Twitter, Yahoo, Dropbox, and LinkedIn, intends to issue an open letter to the Senate. The group will urge more stringent limits on NSA surveillance than those imposed by the House-passed USA Freedom Act.
The Guardian has launched SecureDrop, a platform for whistleblowers and leakers to securely provide information to the newspaper. The move comes exactly a year after the Guardian first disclosed classified documents provided by NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Al Jazeera reports that Israeli Housing Minister Uri Ariel announced plans today for settlement expansion in the West Bank by 1,500 units. He noted the decision was a “proper Zionist response” to the creation of a “consensus” Palestinian government that included members of Hamas and Fatah.
Shane Harris marks the seventieth anniversary of D-Day with an article in Foreign Policy. The subject is an account by an American soldier, describing evidence of a massacre at the French town of Oradour-sur-Glane. Days after the allied invasion, the Nazis there murdered 642 men, women, and children; a Justice Department lawyer recently uncovered the solider's story.
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