Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Garrett Hinck
Friday, November 3, 2017, 12:50 PM

President Donald Trump leaves for Asia on Friday; he will visit Japan, China, South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines, the New York Times reported. Trump will address the North Korean missile crisis in meetings with Chinese, Japanese and South Korean leaders. In a speech in Vietnam, Trump will build on the Japanese idea of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” to articulate a containment strategy against China. In advance of Trump’s departure, two U.S. bombers flew close by North Korean airspace and conducted a bombing drill in South Korea, according to the Wall Street Journal. North Korean state media said the exercise was meant to simulate a nuclear strike. The U.S. Pacific Command said the exercise was not planned in response to any current event.

The Islamic State said Sayfullo Saipov, the man who killed eight people in New York using a truck on Oct. 31, was one of its soldiers but did not provide evidence he had coordinated with other Islamic State fighters, CNN reported. In its weekly newspaper, the militant organization did not say it had any prior knowledge of the attack. Federal investigators found that Saipov had about 90 videos and 3,800 images related to the Islamic State on his phone.

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will be dishonorably discharged for deserting his base in Afghanistan but will not serve any prison time, the Times reported. Bergdahl walked off his base in 2009 and shortly after, the Taliban captured and held him for five years.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is under scrutiny for his statements to Congress regarding the extent of his knowledge of Trump campaign contacts with Russia, CNN reported. Sessions failed to disclose to lawmakers at his confirmation hearing that he had rejected a proposal from Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos for the candidate to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Carter Page, another former Trump foreign policy adviser, testified before the House intelligence committee that he had told Sessions about a trip Page planned to take to Russia during the campaign, also according to CNN. Democrats on the Senate judiciary and intelligence committees want Sessions to clarify his prior testimony on the matter.

The White House was unaware that Sam Clovis—the former Trump campaign co-chair, and later—nominee for USDA chief scientist, testified before a grand jury in the special counsel investigation, ABC News reported. Administration staffers learned that Clovis had come under scrutiny in the Russia investigation from media reports. Clovis was the “campaign supervisor” cited in the charges against George Papadopoulos who appeared to encourage Papadopoulos to cultivate ties with Russia. Separately, in recent weeks, Jared Kushner has turned over documents to the special counsel probe related to his role in the campaign, the transition and any contacts with Russians, CNN reported. On Thursday, Trump said he wished he could redirect the Justice Department to focus its efforts on Hillary Clinton, also according to CNN. He said, “A lot of people are unhappy with the Justice Department, including me.”

Syrian government forces and Iranian-backed militias have completely retaken the city of Deir al-Zour, the Islamic State’s last major stronghold in Syria, the Times reported. Russia air strikes aided the capture of the last remaining neighborhoods where militants held out against the Syrian advance. In Iraq, the town of Al-Qaim fell to the Iraqi Army and its allied militias, clearing the Islamic State from one of its last remaining territories in the country, Reuters reported. Separately, a U.N. report said the Islamic State executed hundreds of civilians during the siege of Mosul and used civilians as human shields in the course of the nine-month battle, the Times reported. The U.N.’s top human rights official recommended that Iraq amend its criminal code to allow its courts to try the Islamic State’s offenses, which he described as war crimes, or that Iraq bring the crimes to the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction.

Three civilian defense attorneys again defied an order from a Guantanamo Bay military judge to continue representing Rahim al-Nashiri, accused of plotting the USS Cole bombing, the Miami Herald reported. The attorneys said they would not appear at a Virginia teleconferencing facility to participate in a hearing on Friday morning. A federal district court judge in Washington D.C. refused to halt the hearing because of its lack of counsel. The D.C. judge may also rule on Friday afternoon about the detention of the Marine Corps brigadier general who assented to the attorney’s resignation.

The U.S. and Russia put forward conflicting U.N. resolutions about extending the mandate of the body investigating uses of chemical weapons in Syria, the AP reported. Last week, Russia vetoed an extension of the Joint Investigative Mechanism’s (JIM) mandate for another year. The Russian resolution only renews the JIM’s mandate for six months while the U.S. resolution would extend the body’s authority for two years. Last week, the latest JIM report blamed the Syrian government for the April sarin gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun.

The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor will seek to open an investigation into war crimes in Afghanistan, Reuters reported. Fatou Bensouda said she had a reasonable basis to believe war crimes and crimes against humanity occurred in the course of the sixteen-year long war in Afghanistan.

Defense News’ Matt Bodner and Aaron Mehta explained how a minor Pentagon research project led Vladimir Putin to warn the U.S. was planning biological warfare.

Politico’s Josh Meyer wrote about how Carter Page and George Papadopoulos’ interactions with Russians linked to the Kremlin exemplifies Moscow’s use of cut-outs.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Harry Larson explained what immigration detainers are and the legal challenges they face.

Robert Chesney, Sabrina McCubbin and Benjamin Wittes analyzed President Trump’s suggestion that the New York attacker be held as an enemy combatant in the context of the chaotic developments in the military detention system.

Mieke Eoyang, Ben Freeman and Benjamin Wittes shared the October 2017 data from the Confidence in Government on National Security Matters project. They also discussed data that supported a troubling conclusion: Republican attacks on the special counsel are affecting public confidence in Mueller’s inquiry.

Sarah Grant summarized Wednesday’s contempt hearing for in the al-Nashiri case at the military commissions..

Vanessa Sauter posted the habeas petition of Brig. Gen. John Baker, the chief defense counsel at the military commissions.

Stewart Baker shared the Cyberlaw Podcast, featuring an interview with Rep. Tom Graves, co-sponsor of the Active Cyber Defense Certainty Act.

Benjamin Wittes posted the “Million Dollars in Rugs” edition of Rational Security.

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