Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Raffaela Wakeman
Wednesday, March 20, 2013, 12:13 PM

Afghan President Hamid Karzai won a small victory in his negotiations with the United States: U.S. Special Operations forces will pull out from Wardak province, where---according to Karzai---elite teams had tortured and killed civilians.   (The U.S. denies the allegation). Here's the Wall Street Journal on that.

Speaking of torture, it seems the Bahrain government may not have eliminated from its repertoire certain interrogation methods---which a 2011 commission deemed torture, and which lead the U.S. to threaten to withhold $53 million in foreign assistance.  Five detainees say they were beaten, electrocuted, and suspended on ropes during their interrogations by Bahraini officials. Alex Delmar-Morgan of the Wall Street Journal reports.

The AP reports on allegations that an American defense contractor unlawfully spilled secrets to his girlfriend---a Chinese national thought to be working on behalf of the Chinese government. The boyfriend has been charged and detained, but authorities haven't located the girlfriend just yet. We posted the criminal complaint against the boyfriend and a quick summary earlier this morning.

And SecTreasury Lew met yesterday with China's new President. Jane Perlez of the New York Times reports on their meeting.

Lot's of commentary on the Iraq invasion's 10-year anniversary: the New York Times editorial and Room for Debate blog; the same newspaper's David Sanger on lessons learned, and Tim Arango and Michael Gordon on Iraq's persistent sectarian divide; The Economist; and Wired's Spencer Ackerman on pre-war intelligence.  Ackerman reminds us that the U.S. (read: CIA and George W. Bush) thought Saddam Hussein was planning to use drones to perpetrate an attack with biological weapons.

Before my alarm even went off this morning, Jack already had noted this important piece by Dan Klaidman.  The latter reports on the Obama administration's plans to transfer command and control of targeted killings from the CIA to the DoD---whatever that may mean, exactly.

Jessica Stern penned this op-ed in the New York Times.  She discusses how terrorist organizations have exploited Iraq's weak security situation, since the United States' withdrawal.  Stern writes:

The good news from Iraq, to the extent that there is any, is that the United States removed from power a brutal dictator. But we also left behind, after seven bloody years, not only a shattered nation but also an international school for terrorists whose alumni are now spreading throughout the region.

That the war on terror, which created the political environment for invading Iraq, ended up exacerbating terrorism there and in the region is only one of the many tragic consequences of this ill-fated American escapade.

When we want to persuade ourselves of a war’s importance, as Mr. Bush and his team did in 2003, we are prone to irrational exuberance and denial of inconvenient facts. The staggering costs of our willful blindness include the strengthening of the very phenomenon — terrorism — that our leaders cited in dragging us into an unnecessary war that left us morally and financially bankrupt.

It appears there's been a major cyberattack against banks and media in South Korea. The AP reports on rumors about the likely culprit: the country's next-door, northern neighbor.  Here's the Times story by Choe Sang-Hun.

Apparently 9 of 15 people infected with a SARS-like virus have died thus far, and mostly in places like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, and the United Kingdom.  Health officials in those countries could be downplaying the outbreak's chances of becoming a pandemic. Here's the Wall Street Journal on that:

"I worry this is a replay of the China SARS syndrome," said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy at the University of Minnesota, and a former special adviser to the U.S. government on bioterrorism and public-health preparedness. "We all hoped that would never happen again."

Instead, he said, "what's going on inside Saudi Arabia is a black hole for public health," he said. "It's possible the Saudis are doing more and haven't told us. It's possible they're not."

But Peter Daszak, president and disease ecologist at EcoHealth Alliance, an organization that researches the animal origins of emerging viruses, said the Saudi government has been open to outside experts. A team from EcoHealth Alliance, working with scientists at Columbia University, went to Saudi Arabia a few weeks ago to help investigate the wildlife species source of the virus.

"They were proactive in inviting us," Dr. Daszak said of the Saudi government. "I don't think there has been such a lack of transparency there."

Syrian rebels and the Assad regime naturally blame one another for using chemical weapons in the conflict. Here's the Times.  The Hill's Jeremy Herb also notes the White House's position, should the allegations against Assad prove true. The use of chemical weapons would cross a "red line" for President Obama.

The Economist reacts to the news that Bosco Ntaganda (nickname "The Terminator"), a notorious war criminal in the Rwandan genocide, voluntarily surrendered at the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda.  Ntaganda, the target of an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court, is apparently the first indicted person to turn himself in.

Some un-cheery news from North Africa: AQIM says it has beheaded a French hostage, in response to the French military's effort, in Mali, to counter the terrorist group.  The French Foreign Ministry declined comment, and there has been no independent verification of AQIM's claim. Here's Reuters with the story.

Let's counterbalance the AQIM news with something a little more uplifting (we all need a good human interest story now and then): Malala Yousufzai, the 15 year old Pakistani crusader for girls education who was attacked by the Taliban last fall, has returned to school---albeit in England, and not in her homeland.  Douglas Shorzman of the Times shares the news.

Senator Patrick Leahy will confine today's Judiciary Committee hearing to the domestic application of drone technology.  But next month's will touch on lethal drone uses abroad.  So reports Vermont Public Radio.

Charlie Savage reports on former DOD General Counsel Jeh Johnson's speech yesterday at Fordham Law.

Last week The Economist featured this report on the UK's deployment of an experimental system of "passive" radar.  It detects aircraft location by comparing original television (yes, television) broadcast signal strength with the signal reflected off of aircraft. Why use something other than radar? The report explains:

The growth in radio and television broadcasts—especially with digital and high-definition TV—now provides an enormous amount of high-frequency radio waves which are ideally suitable for passive radar systems. Moreover, the availability of cheap and powerful computing makes it feasible to analyse the data required to build a system like MSPSR. Thales and its partners expect to be able to produce results as good as conventional radar.

The trials are designed to see how passive radar could support Britain’s air-traffic management. It could help small airports that lack radar or fill gaps in areas where coverage is currently patchy. MSPSR might also reduce the interference caused in some places by wind turbines. And because it is a networked system it could be more reliable than the present set-up, which typically depends on using just one radar at each airport.

The aviation industry is cautious about adopting new technologies wholesale, so there is a long way to go before conventional radar is turned off in favour of passive systems. But governments may be tempted to think about doing so, for reasons that go beyond passive radar’s lower operating costs. With growing demand for wireless devices, passive radar would allow the radio spectrum currently used by conventional radar to be freed up and auctioned off to mobile operators.

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