Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Cody M. Poplin, Sebastian Brady
Wednesday, January 7, 2015, 4:11 PM

Daybreak greeted us with heartbreaking news of a devastating terrorist attack at the Paris office of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Gunmen killed 12 people, including four of the magazine’s well-known cartoonists and its editor. Two police officers who responded to the scene were also murdered. At the time of writing, the three gunmen remain at large. The last tweet on Charlie Hebdo’s account was a cartoon of the Islamic State militant group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

According to the BBC, this is the deadliest attack in France since 1961. However, France has been on high-alert since before Christmas, as on at least two incidents Islamist militants drove cars into shoppers and in another, police were attacked by a man wielding a knife. The French government has announced that none of the attacks are linked, but it plans to further raise security by deploying 300 soldiers to public places. The BBC carries a number of graphic videos from the firefight. Both Reuters and France24 carry live updates of the events, public response, and ongoing manhunt.

Finally, Buzzfeed brings us 22 cartoons from artists around the world who have rushed to respond to the Charlie Hebdo shooting.

Today in New York, FBI Director James Comey suggested that the hackers who attacked Sony used Internet addressed “exclusively used” by North Korea. According to Shane Harris of the Daily Beast, Comey said that in certain instances, the hackers let down their guard, failing to use proxy addresses that would mask their actual location. This allowed the FBI to ascertain North Korean culpability with “very high confidence.” Lawfare will provide a full transcript of Director Comey’s remarks as soon as they are released.

At the same time, South Korea’s defense ministry announced that North Korea appears to have successfully achieved a “significant level” of technology needed to miniaturize nuclear warheads, a process that allows them to fit on ballistic missiles. Yonhap News has more.

Elsewhere, Reuters reports that, according to Seoul, North Korea has boosted its “cyber forces” to 6,000 troops, and is actively working to cause “physical and psychological paralysis” in the South.

Iraqi defense minister Khaled al Obeidi said on Tuesday that the Iraqi military had started rebuilding after its almost total collapse last June, but that the project was “still in the early stages.” His remarks came as Prime Minister Haider al Abadi called for a “tribal revolution” against the Islamic State militants. Yet, just one day after those comments, the ISIS fighters launched a major attack on Ain al Assad base in Anbar, killing at least 23 Iraqi security force troops.

Even so, in the Atlantic, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross writes that ISIS has lost its greatest weapon: momentum. Amidst a series of strategic errors, ISIS’s decline has grown increasingly apparent.

Several of those mistakes were ones that drew the United States back to Iraq. The New York Times carries the story of the return of US forces to the region, including how many are now finding items that their comrades carried. Items include notes from Boy Scout Troops, pinups from the men’s magazine Maxim, the scores of NFL playoff games, and even cans of Copenhagen tobacco. Perhaps most profoundly, is a copy of Foreign Affairs with passages highlighted in green ink, such as “the United States also needs to cultivate better strategic thinkers in both the military and the civilian spheres” and “plan for what comes after the overthrow of a regime.”

The US military’s Central Command announced yesterday that it will launch a formal investigation into two airstrikes, one in Iraq and the other in Syria, after reports of civilian casualties surfaced. The Command also said that three other airstrikes are being assessed to determine whether an investigation is warranted. Read more at the Wall Street Journal. Today, Central Command announced that coalition airstrikes have damaged or destroyed 3,222 ISIS targets since August, including 58 tanks, 184 Humvees, 673 fighting positions, and 980 buildings or barracks.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has announced that Palestine will join the International Criminal Court on April 1st. Time has more.

Haaretz reports that Israel Defense Force Major General Danny Efroni does not plan to halt this investigation of last summer’s Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip. In recent months, the military advocate general has come under increased pressure to call off the criminal investigations of wartime acts.

More violence in Yemen today, according to the Los Angeles Times, which reports that more than 50 people were killed in a car bomb attack outside the gates of a police academy in Sanaa.

Sanaa was not the only capital hit today, as a Turkish leftist group claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at a police station in Istanbul. The attack killed one officer and wounded another.

Dominic Ongwen, a senior commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army has surrendered in the Central African Republic and been taken into custody by US forces. The International Criminal Court wants to try Ongwen for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, said that if verified, Ongwen’s defection “would represent a historic blow to the LRA’s command structure.”

A report from Congressional Quarterly says that a new proposal by Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill) would link tighter restrictions on the Iranian oil industry to the progress of nuclear negotiations. A Senate spokesman suggested that the bill was an attempt to signal that failure to come to an agreement would result in enhanced sanctions against Iran, but National Security Adviser Susan Rice warned last month that new sanctions would “blow up” the negotiations.

This new bill comes as Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif survived a snap vote in Parliament over his handling of the long-running nuclear talks, writes the Times of Israel. While the vote, which Zarif survived by a count of 125-86, was not a formal confidence motion, its loss would have undermined his credibility moving forward, potentially scuttling negotiations.

Reuters sheds light on an emerging oil conflict between Canada and Saudi Arabia. As Canada pumps a record volume of crude to U.S refineries in the Gulf Coast, Saudi Arabia, which is already threatened by shale oil, is getting pushed out. The spat has the potential to push oil prices even lower.

The Daily Beast asks if a recent spat of terrorist attacks in Ukraine shows that Russian president Vladimir Putin is turning to terrorism to further destabilize Ukraine.

NBC reports that the leader of the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) has promised further attacks following the group’s massacre of 153 people at a Pakistani school in December. Maulana Fazlullah claimed the attacks were in response to the Pakistani military’s operations against the terrorist group.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reveals, lawmakers in Pakistan passed a constitutional amendment allowing Islamist militants to be tried in military tribunals. The amendment comes in response to December’s deadly attack by the TTP, which the Pakistani military blamed in part on enfeebled civilian courts. The Post explains that the amendment faced opposition from progressives and Islamists, both of whom claimed the change ceded too much power to the military. Dawn tells us a petition challenging the amendment has already been filed with the Supreme Court.

In more ways than one, the death penalty looms over the trial of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Globe details. To begin, Tsarnaev’s lawyers have claimed the trial would not be taking place at all if prosecutors hadn’t sought the death penalty in the first place. Additionally, jury selection hinges on the death penalty, as all potential jurors must answer if they would be willing to impose that sentence on the the defendant.

According to the Wall Street Journal, a report by the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General shows that patrolling the U.S border with drones has been both expensive and ineffective. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency is disputing the report, saying that drones have “achieved or exceeded all relevant performance expectations.”

Over at Overt Action, Aki Peritz argues that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has become integral to the national security apparatus, contra Peritz’s own earlier claims of ODNI irrelevance.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

In a brief post, Paul Rosenzweig linked to a Salon article proposing the abolition (or at least modification) of the U.S. service academies. 

Earlier, Paul linked to a Post editorial discussing growing concern over transitioning control of the internet naming function to an international body.

Wells flagged a Times op-ed by outgoing Special Envoy for Guantanamo Closure Cliff Sloan, who says that the administration has made “great progress” on closing Guantanamo in the last 18 months.

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