Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Tara Hofbauer
Tuesday, May 12, 2015, 12:36 PM

A humanitarian ceasefire is set to begin in Yemen today. Fighting will stop at 11 pm local time so that shipments of food and medicine can be safely transported into the country. Reuters describes the humanitarian aid packages being prepared by the U.N. and Iran.

Despite the impending ceasefire, Arab coalition jets continue to pound the capital of Sana’a. Agence France-Presse reports that one strike hit a rebel arms depot, causing “huge explosions.” The Washington Post shares a compilation of photos and video footage of the destruction. The Post also warns that this continue fighting may jeopardize the ceasefire.

Human Rights Watch has released a report, stating that Houthi rebels are using child soldiers to fight in Yemen’s ongoing civil war. According to the international organization, the militant group “has intensified its recruitment, training, and deployment of children in violation of international law.”

The Syrian military has begun a major counteroffensive to retake Jisr al-Shughur, a strategic town that fell to rebels about two weeks ago. In particular, Syrian government forces hope to reach their comrades and fellow loyalists, who are currently trapped in a hospital complex in Jisr al-Shughur. Indeed, President Bashar al-Asad vowed, “The army will arrive soon to these heroes trapped in the Jisr al-Shughur hospital.” AFP reports.

Meanwhile, the U.S.-Turkish program to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels has been delayed once again. Turkey’s Foreign Minister notes that the delay is a result of technical issues, and not any disagreement between Ankara and Washington. The Associated Press has the story.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is in Sochi, Russia today, meeting with his Russian counterpart Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and with President Vladimir Putin. The visit constitutes the highest-level U.S. trip to Russia since violence in Ukraine first began in February 2014. The AP notes that some of the statements issued by Moscow in advance of the meeting “signaled there would be few breakthroughs, if any, on the many issues dividing the U.S. and Russia.” Still, both sides have stressed the importance of continued communication, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, U.S. and Georgian troops began joint exercises yesterday at the Vaziani military base in Georgia. In advance of the operations, both American and Georgian officials attempted to tamp down any potential Russian concerns of provocation, stating “This training is not directed at anyone,” and “This is business as usual between the United States and Georgia.” The New York Times shares more.

Russian political opposition leaders have issued a report, claiming that at least 220 Russian soldiers have died during fighting in Ukraine during the past year. The information contradicts much of the news coming out of Moscow state media. The AP has details.

Reuters reports that Tokyo is looking to increase its “maritime engagement” - the Japanese and Philippine navies held their first joint operation in the South China Sea today, while the Japanese coastguard is conducting training exercises with its counterpart in Vietnam. The drills are a response to efforts by China to expand its sphere of influence over the disputed Spratly Islands.

Another response to China’s land reclamation efforts - the Philippines seeks to develop a naval base on its western coastline, just opposite the Spratly Islands. Japanese and American vessels would be permitted to use the port, according to the Philippine armed forces chief. Reuters has that story, as well.

The Post’s Walter Pincus examines discussions about the Pentagon’s budget currently taking place before Congress, and notes that “the United States has been preparing for war or been at war for at least two generations.”

The Obama administration has dismissed investigative journalist Seymour Hersh’s controversial account of the Osama bin Laden raid. The AP quotes White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, who said the report is “riddled with inaccuracies and outright falsehoods.” Politico shares statements from former acting CIA director Michael Morell and from Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ).

Defense One examines the Second Circuit’s decision that Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act does not authorize bulk telephony metadata collection, stating that in ruling as it did, “the court recognized the constitutional prerogatives of the political branches in national security but provided rule-of-law guidance to Congress and the president in crafting new legislation the United States so badly needs.”

Section 215 is set to expire on June 1. Members of Congress are, therefore, working to approve legislation that would in some way extend authorization for the NSA’s collection of bulk telephony metadata. The White House supports the USA Freedom Act, a reform bill which failed to pass the Senate this past fall. The House appears poised to approve this legislation but, according to the Post, “that sets up a showdown in the Senate,” as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wants legislation that would preserve the NSA’s bulk collection program as it currently stands.

In the Post, Aki Peritz, a former CIA counterterrorism analyst, examines Congress’ response to the intelligence community’s annual global threat assessment, noting “there seems to be less interest than ever on the Hill in what the intelligence community has to say about worldwide threats to the United States.”

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Ben discussed the effect that Klayman v. Obama may or may not have on the current debate over the authorities contained in Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act.

Harley Geiger refuted some of the statements made by several U.S. Senators regarding the NSA’s bulk telephony metadata program.

Jack noted that twenty senior former CIA officials have criticized the New York Times’ decision to publish the names of three covert agents.

Yishai Schwartz explained why Seymour Hersh’s report on the U.S. killing of Osama bin Laden is “indefensible” and “journalistic malpractice.”

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