Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Raffaela Wakeman
Tuesday, January 8, 2013, 11:57 AM

Leading the news for Lawfarers: Charlie Savage's piece in the New York Times, about an ongoing debate in the Obama administration over whether it should drop the military commission cases against Salim Hamdan and Ali al Bahlul.   The controversy arises because of the D.C. Circuit's recent decision in Hamdan II---which rejected the accused's conviction for material support for terrorism, and also seemed to cast doubt on al-Bahlul's conviction for conspiracy (see our coverage here (Steve), here (Ben), here (Jack), here (Bobby),  here (Trevor), and here (more Steve)). Reportedly in favor of dropping the cases are  Chief Prosecutor Brigadier General Mark Martins, State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh, and Acting Defense Department General Counsel Robert Taylor.  Lisa Monaco, Assistant Attorney General at the Justice Department's National Security Division, reportedly disagrees and supports further litigation.

So President Obama has "picked a fight" with the GOP by nominating Chuck Hagel as SecDef: here's Maggie Haberman of Politico on the GOP's plan to seek "payback;" Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post on the challenges facing the future SecDef (whether Hagel or someone else); Dana Milbank of the Post on why Hagel is ready for the nomination battle;  Thomas Wallsten and Peter Hamburger of the Post on the uniqueness of a partisan battle over a SecDef nomination; the AP on Israeli reaction to Obama's pick (or, perhaps, to GOP spin about a 2006 remark Hagel made to a State Department official regarding the "Israel lobby"); and David Brooks of the Times,  asserting that Hagel, a Republican, was selected in order to provide Obama political cover during "the beginning of America's military decline."  Last but not least is the Lincoln Journal Star.  It has this interview with Hagel, who says his opponents have distorted his record on both Iran and Israel.

And how surprising it is that Hagel is the first veteran and former enlisted soldier to be nominated for the top post at Defense? Don't forget that he and John Kerry are both Vietnam veterans, as Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns point out in this Politico piece.

Hagel won't be the only nominee facing potential scrutiny.  There's also President Obama's nomination of John Brennan to be Director of the CIA. According to the Hill's Carlos Munoz, Senator John Cornyn won't allow a vote on Brennan until investigations into national security leaks have finished,  and the nominee also may face questions from Senator John McCain about "enhanced interrogation" techniques.   Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti gather reactions from current and former CIA officials on the Brennan choice; Micah Zenko likewise adds his two cents on the nomination.   Along similar lines, the Times' "Room for Debate" blog asks whether Brennan's experience as chief of staff for the CIA during the Bush administration is a good or bad thing.  For additional Brennan coverage, you can took to Tom Gjelten of NPR or to Siobhan Gorman of the Wall Street Journal.

Taken together, what exactly do the intelligence and defense nominations portend? The Washington Post's Greg Miller and Scott Wilson reckon that the Hagel and Brennan choices serve as "course adjustments" for the administration.  The Economist also notes similarities between the nominees' and the President's views on U.S. foreign policy and military power.  Britain's self-described "newspaper" also had this to say, in response to a claim by pro-Israel groups that Hagel is "not a responsible choice":

This is mostly preposterous. During his Senate career, Mr Hagel regularly voted for large chunks of military aid to go to Israel. He has never said anything that could be taken as hostile to the country, other than by those who believe that support for Israel's government should be unconditional. However, it is understandable why Mr Hagel rouses strong feelings in some quarters.

He has been a consistent critic of America’s long confrontation with Iran, at times expressing scepticism about the value of unilateral American sanctions. He remains an advocate of engagement with Iran and has warned against sliding into war on the basis of “flawed assumptions and flawed judgment”. It is not ridiculous to suggest that if Mr Hagel is at the Pentagon the mullahs in Tehran may worry a little less about Mr Obama’s promise to use force if necessary to prevent them acquiring a nuclear weapon. Mr Hagel has also upset people by arguing that Israel should talk to Hamas. In a 2006 interview he caused a minor storm by clumsily claiming that the “Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people” in Congress and that his approach was to “argue against some of the dumb things they do because I don’t think it’s in the interest of Israel”.

Mr Hagel is also disliked by Republican neo-cons for having become a stern critic of the Bush administration’s conduct of the Iraq war (which he initially voted for). Few would argue now with his repeated charges of incompetence in the years after the invasion, but his opposition to the troop surge in 2007 that helped prevent Iraq descending into all-out civil war looks far less prescient.

And of course, we can't forget the New York Times editorial on the selections, in which the newspaper argues that Hagel and Brennan should face series questions during confirmation.

So much for nominations.  In other news, Stanley McChrystal's book is making waves. Here is the New York Times review.  In other press accounts, McChrystal expresses support for a proposed assault weapons ban ("[t]hat's what our soldiers ought to carry...I personally don't think there's any need for that kind of weaponry on the streets and particularly around the schools in America."); explains his decision to resign ("I wanted to do what was best for the mission."); and affirms locals' adverse opinions about drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other places ("They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who've never seen one or seen the effects of one.").

Another day closer to the release of Zero Dark Thirty, another slew of complaints about the depiction of torture in the film and allegations of leaks from the intelligence community to its makers. Kate Nocera of Politico brings us up to date on all that.

Jackie Northam of NPR discussed on Morning Edition the significance of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's trip to the U.S.

A drone strike this morning along the Afghan-Pakistan border killed at least 8 militants, writes Ishtiaq Mahsud of the AP.

And there was another "green-on-blue" attack in Afghanistan, with one British soldier killed and six British soldiers wounded. Here's the AP with the story.

Amnesty International voices its continued call to close Guantanamo.

We don't always cover immigration here at Lawfare, but this report by the Migration Policy Institute, on the cost of immigration enforcement, seems quite on-topic. According to the report, immigration control has become "the federal government's highest criminal law enforcement priority." Here are related Post and Times stories.

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