Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Rachel Bercovitz
Thursday, June 22, 2017, 11:54 AM

U.S. forces participated in the interrogation of al-Qaida militants detained in secret prisons managed by the United Arab Emirates and Yemeni forces in southern Yemen, preparing questions and obtaining transcripts of interrogations carried out by the Emiratis, the Associated Press reported this morning. The AP story raises the question of whether U.S. use of intelligence extracted through torture by another party constitutes a violation of the International Convention Against Torture.

On Wednesday King Salman of Saudi Arabia announced the appointment of his son, Defense Secretary Mohammed bin Salman, as crown prince in a reshuffle that has ousted King Salman’s nephew and former heir apparent, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. Bin Nayef was further dismissed from all government roles, including his influential post as interior minister. The appointment of Mohammed bin Salman (known as MBS) marks a profound departure from Saudi succession protocol and presages the continuation of a more activist Saudi foreign policy. As Defense Secretary, MBS has directed the Saudi intervention in Yemen and initiated a diplomatic and economic embargo of Qatar that has strained Saudi-U.S. relations. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis have called for the easing of tensions between the two parties, and Tillerson has played an active mediation role. On Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert suggested the Department’s declining confidence in the prospect of a U.S.-brokered resolution and questioned the Saudis’ motivation for imposing the blockade.

The New York Times reports that White House officials are urging House Republicans to weaken the terms of a Senate bill passed last Wednesday that provides for new sanctions on Russia and makes it more difficult for President Trump to lift such sanctions. The administration seeks to remove the provision for a congressional review process that would prevent the president from unilaterally lifting sanctions, or else to attach a waiver that would enable the president to bypass this process. White House officials have expressed concern that the bill would undermine the administration’s ability to regulate sanctions as a means of inducing a change in Russian behavior. The bill is stayed in the House as of Tuesday because Kevin Brady (R-TX), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, raised a procedural objection on the ground that the Senate bill’s revenue provisions violated the requirement that revenue bills originate in the House.

Criticism of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has intensified following reports published this week by the New York Times and Citizen Lab that the Mexican government has deployed advanced surveillance software called Pegasus to spy on many prominent journalists and activists who are among the government’s most vocal critics. Nine targets filed a criminal complaint Monday with the Office of the Attorney General, calling for an independent inquiry into the allegations. Pegasus, a product of the Israeli NSO Group, is designed to remotely compromise and monitor communication and location intelligence captured on mobile phones. NSO sells the product to “authorized governments” on the condition that it be used exclusively to “combat terror and crime.” Mexico has purchased an estimated $80 million in surveillance software from the NSO Group.

White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas yesterday, laying the foundation for a revival of peace negotiations. White House Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman participated in the discussions.

Yesterday the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals remanded a suit brought by former Guantanamo Bay detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani to the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. Circuit Court Judge Stephanie Seymour held that the District Court had erred in dismissing the suit that contested the legality of “special administrative measures” that barred Ghailani’s participation in weekly group prayer services. Ghailani, an al-Qaida operative and the first Guantanamo detainee to be tried in a civilian court, was convicted and sentenced in 2011 to life in prison for his involvement in the 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The Tenth Circuit opinion can be found here.

China and South Korea are pressing the Trump administration to enter into negotiations for a temporary freeze on North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests in exchange for a reduction in American military presence in the Korean peninsula. Tillerson and Mattis have rebuffed the proposal, raised in the past several months by Chinese President Xi Jinping and endorsed by South Korean President Moon Jae-in. During the inaugural meeting yesterday of the Diplomatic and Security Dialogue, Tillerson instead urged China to “exert much greater economic and diplomatic pressure” on the North. The meeting was attended by Tillerson and Mattis, as well as Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi and Chief of Joint Staff General Fang Fenghui. In a statement Wednesday, Trump appeared to walk back from his enigmatic Tuesday tweet that suggested the administration’s lack of confidence in China’s ability to rein in the North, noting that the U.S. maintains “a great relationship with China.”

The Iraqi military reported yesterday that Islamic State fighters destroyed the twelfth century Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul, a culturally significant landmark where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his only public appearance in July 2014 to announce the establishment of a caliphate in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Central Command confirmed the Iraqi military’s report via drone surveillance. The mosque’s destruction was a propaganda victory for ISIS and a blow to Iraqi forces that had hoped to achieve symbolic victory by recapturing the site.

 

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Stephanie Leutert called attention to climate-change induced migration in Central America, noting that the persistence of extreme weather conditions will have profound effects on the region’s economy, crime, and movement of people.

Steve Vladeck outlined his critiques of Justice Kennedy’s analysis of Bivens damages, as set forth in the majority opinion in Ziglar v. Abbasi.

Jane Chong flagged yesterday’s Senate and House Intelligence Committee hearings on Russian meddling in the U.S. elections. Witnesses’ prepared statements before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence can be found here; Former DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson’s statement before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence can be found here.

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