Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Cody M. Poplin
Friday, December 12, 2014, 2:01 PM

Yesterday, CIA Director John Brennan launched his defense of the agency he leads, calling officers “patriots” but called the tactics employed by some as “abhorrent” and “outside the bounds” of what was approved by the Justice Department. Mr. Brennan also echoed an earlier conclusion made in the CIA’s Comment on the SSCI Study, suggesting that it is “unknowable” whether the enhanced interrogation techniques led to otherwise unavailable intelligence. Even so, he would not rule out the possibility that future policymakers would once again direct the agency to deploy those same techniques. The New York Times, Politico, and the Daily Beast carry useful overviews of the Director’s comments. The New York Times notes that this was the first televised news conference from inside the agency’s headquarters. You can find the text and video of the Director’s remarks at Lawfare.

In the Miami Herald, Carol Rosenberg reports that the Senate report confirms the CIA had a “black site” at Guantanamo Bay, and that they hid it from Congress. According to the report, the CIA maintained two secret sites, codenamed Maroon and Indigo, at Guantanamo Bay from September 2003 to April 2004. The sites held at least five detainees. One of the detainees was Abd al Rahim al Nashiri.

Even as that news broke, the top general overseeing the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Major General John F. Kelly, suggested that it was “foolishness” to claim that the United States had lost the moral high ground on human rights. The Washington Post quotes General Kelly saying, “Human rights groups on the one hand will criticize the U.S. government for enteral feeding, but in private, they’ll tell me ‘Thank goodness you’re doing this. These people might hurt themselves.’”

Elsewhere, the Washington Post details the rise and fall of CIA “black sites” around the globe. The report suggests that the first CIA site was located in Thailand, an assertion that the Thai government has vehemently denied in recent days.

Commentary on the report continues to dominate editorial pages. In the Washington Post, Charles Lane writes that the partisan debate over CIA oversight is dangerous, potentially creating “an intelligence community that sees itself as the whipping boy of one political party and protected favorite of another — to the latter of which it owes reciprocal obligations.”

Timothy Egan tells how the story of the war hero (Senator John McCain) and the chicken hawk (former Vice President Dick Cheney) defines the conflict over CIA enhance interrogation.

In the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan writes that while the torture report is flawed, it carries an important lesson, and “all Americans regardless of party should agree torture is wrong.”

Finally, Conor Friedersdorf tells us that Fox News caught Dick Cheney lying about torture.

Reuters brings a report that a 2003 cable sent by CIA officers, released yesterday by Senator Carl Levin, undercuts the Bush administration claim that a leader of the 9/11 attacks had met with an Iraqi intelligence official in Prague just weeks before the attack. The cable reads, “[T]here is not one [U.S. counter terrorism] or FBI expert that ... has said they have evidence or 'know' that [Atta] was indeed [in Prague]. In fact the analysis has been quite the opposite.”

Yesterday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved an authorization to use military force against the Islamic State along a party-line vote. The measure would authorize President Obama to target the Islamic State, but would greatly limit his ability to deploy ground forces as part of the conflict. The vote also brought into view the sharp rift between fellow Republicans on the committee, particularly Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), who both voted against the measure, but the former did so because he believed it restricted the president’s hand too much, while the latter said it did not limit it enough. The Hill has more on the vote, while Jack reviewed exactly what is in the measure here at Lawfare, noting that in any case, the Bill will not become law.

Reuters reports that ISIS militants stuck a Syrian air base in the province of Deir al-Zor, detonating a tank in a suicide bomb attack. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the tank blew up on the outskirts of the base, but gave no report on casualties or damage to the base itself.

The New York Times carries a story depicting the sad reality of Iraqi security forces on the ground, where they have manpower, but very little firepower to push back the Islamic State. The deficit in arms represents the central government in Baghdad’s fear that the majority Sunni forces in Nineveh province will turn their guns over to the Islamic State, and may be one of the strongest indicators that “the key to rebuilding Iraq may rest less in the airpower of the United States and tis alles than in bridging the differences between the Shiite-led central government and Sunni communities.”

The dispute between Israel and Palestine over the sudden death of a Palestinian Cabinet minister continues to devolve as the Palestinian government has blamed Israel for the death following a preliminary autopsy. Israeli doctors have disputed Palestinian claims that the minister, Ziad Abu Ain, died of a blow to the body, asserting instead that he had a heart attack. The dispute threatens to disrupt Israeli and Palestinian security cooperation. The Washington Post has more.

Elsewhere, Al Jazeera reports that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has expressed support for Egypt’s efforts to close tunnels linking Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. Abbas was quoted saying, “we will continue to support any measure protecting Egypt from danger.”

Iran nuclear talks with resume in Geneva next week, according to the Wall Street Journal, which carries a preview of the state of negotiations.

Reuters reports that Germany’s top public prosecutor has said that the ongoing investigation into the suspected tapping of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone following revelations by Edward Snowden has failed to find any concrete evidence.

The Wall Street Journal brings us news that the Pakistani police have arrested the alleged Karachi-area chief of al Qaeda’s newly formed branch in South Asia, Shahid Usman. According to police, the arrest disrupted a planned attack on a naval base.

Elsewhere in the Subcontinent, the Washington Post brings us a troubling story about a Bangalore executive who was discovered to be the notorious ISIS Twitter propagandist, @ShamiWitness. In contrast to his pro-ISIS Twitter profile, the executive maintains a separate Facebook that shows him at pizza dinners and Hawaiin parties at his work. The account has since been deleted.

The United States has expressed concern that the new leader of Crimea has accompanied Russian President Vladimir Putin to India as a member of a summit delegation. A State Department spokesman said that it was “not time for business as usual with Russia.” Reuters has more on the diplomatic row that comes just one month before US President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit India.

French special forces have killed a high-ranking member of the jihadist group al Murabitoun in Mali. France24 has more on the attack and its significance for counterterrorism efforts in the country.

Parting Shot: We’re renewing an old Onion video, which encapsulates the current debate surrounding the CIA’s interrogation techniques. Seriously, just replace the word “Minotaur” with “CIA.”

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Wells Bennett and Matt Danzer reviewed the Conclusions 13-17 of the SSCI Study on Enhanced Interrogation Techniques.

Wells also linked us to CIA Director Brennan’s statement on the SSCI Study.

Ben Wittes provided us with Senator Dianne Feinstein’s response to CIA Director John Brennan’s speech yesterday.

Cody Poplin shared this week’s Throwback Thursday, which included the six declarations of war from World War II.

Paul Rosenzweig alerted us to Sony’s counterattack against hackers.

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