Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Matthew Kahn, Vanessa Sauter
Thursday, December 14, 2017, 2:53 PM

6,700 Rohingya died—including 730 children under the age of 5— in the first month of the Myanmar government’s crackdown on the Muslim ethnic minority group, according to the New York Times. The Times also reports that two Reuters journalists have been arrested in the country on accusation that they attempted to illegally obtain government documents related to the military's activities in Rakhine State, where the acts against Rohingya have occurred. Murders, rape, and arson in that state have driven over 645,000 Rohingya into neighboring Bangladesh since August. The United States and United Nations have called the acts ethnic cleansing.

In a 3-2 vote, the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal the 2015 net neutrality rules, reports the Washington Post. A University of Maryland survey earlier this month said 83% of Americans oppose the change, which allows internet service providers to discriminate in the connection speeds they allow to different websites. The Times says the final effect that the change will have on internet users remains unclear. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says he intends to file a lawsuit seeking to stop the rule change.

In the days before President Donald Trump took office, his closest confidants urged him to accept the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election, says the Post. The president resisted the advice. Based on interviews with 50 current and former American officials, the Post’s essay details episodes that reveal the president’s views and frustrations related to Russia, how those frustrations have affected his relationships with those around him, and the resulting implications for foreign policy and national security. “If you talk about Russia, meddling, interference—that takes the [Presidential Daily Briefing] off the rails,” said one former senior intelligence official. The briefing is designed to avoid angering the president, the Post’s report says.

In a signing statement for the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, Trump signified that he intends to keep Guantanamo open, though he reserves the right to release detainees, the Miami Herald reports. Trump stated that “restrictions on the President’s authority to transfer detainees would violate constitutional separation-of-power principles, including the President’s constitutional authority as Commander in Chief.” The statement is similar to President Barack Obama’s prior assertion of this authority, though the Obama administration emphasized this authority in an effort to close the facility.

The Trump administration is refocusing on Iran now that the threat from the Islamic State in the Middle East is subsiding, according to the Wall Street Journal. Officials from the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia have expressed concern over Iranian military expansion and the threat of Iranian military presence in Syria. While Defense Secretary James Mattis will keep troops in Syria in an effort to keep Islamic State insurgents from regaining ground in the country, U.S. officials state that American troops might also be needed to deter Iran’s military presence in Syria and prevent Iran from transporting weapons to its allies.

The unnamed U.S. citizen detained as an enemy combatant by the U.S. military since Sept. 16 also holds Saudi citizenship, according to the Hill. John Doe was captured by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic forces while allegedly fighting with Islamic State insurgents. He has not yet been charged or provided counsel, but his Saudi citizenship could allow an arrangement to transfer him into Saudi custody under certain conditions.

James Alex Fields Jr., the self-identified neo-Nazi that killed counterprotester Heather Heyer at a far-right rally in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, will make his first appearance in court on Thursday, according to the Post. He is charged with second-degree murder for deliberately driving his car into another car, killing Heyer and injuring 19 others, among several other charges.

Democrats on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee say the president will seek a federal pay freeze and cuts to domestic security programs in the fiscal year 2019 budget, reports the Post. The senators released two reports citing budget guidance promulgated by the Office of Management and Budget. The documents specifically address the Department of Homeland Security but, regarding pay raises, cite “governmentwide guidance” that there will be no civilian salary increases. The documents also cite $568 million in cuts to counterterrorism programs, including countering violent extremism initiatives, transportation security, domestic nuclear detection, and emergency response programs. Congress would ultimately have to decide whether to authorize appropriations for those purposes.

On Wednesday, British Parliament dealt a major blow to Prime Minister Theresa May in a 309-305 vote for more control over Brexit negotiations, the New York Times reports. Parliament must now provide formal approval for any final deal in the ongoing negotiations withdrawing from the European Union. May argued against the vote, calling it another roadblock in the complicated negotiations intended to be completed in March 2019.

On Thursday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in suggested a “new start” in the relationship between China and South Korea, the Journal reports. Moon and Chinese President Xi Jinping met at a Beijing summit, which was the first time the South Korean president visited China since assuming office in May. The two countries, which have suffered from a frayed diplomatic relations, seek to strengthen bilateral ties in a mutual effort to deter North Korea’s missile program.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Mieke Eoyang, Benjamin Freeman and Benjamin Wittes analyzed new survey data on public confidence in the FBI.

Mieke Eoyang and Laura S.H. Holgate explained the dangers Michael Flynn’s advocacy for a Middle East nuclear power deal during his tenure as national security adviser.

Arun Sukumar commented on the reelection of Judge Dalveer Bandhari to the International Court of Justice.

Matthew Kahn posted the live stream of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s testimony on Justice Department oversight before the House Judiciary Committee.

Kahn posted the live stream of Tuesday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the strategic and legal considerations regarding the use of force.

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