Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Quinta Jurecic
Monday, June 15, 2015, 1:49 PM

A U.S. airstrike in Libya conducted Sunday may have killed Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a former al Qaeda leader responsible for the 2013 seizure of an Algerian gas plant that resulted in the deaths of 38 hostages. The Pentagon confirmed that Belmokhtar was targeted by the strike, which killed at least 16 others, and the Libyan government initially confirmed his death; however, there remains some ambiguity over whether or not he was actually killed in the operation and the Defense Department has yet to comment. The Washington Post has more.

Senior Afghan Taliban leader Maulvi Mir Amad Gul Hashmi has been assassinated in Peshawar. Hashmi had taken a leadership role in organizing Taliban activity along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. No group has yet come forward to take responsibility for the death.

One year after beginning a military offensive in the northwestern tribal areas, Pakistan is seeing some success: The Post reports that Pakistani deaths from terrorist attacks are at an eight-year low. Yet the Post also notes that Pakistan may have simply pushed much of the extremist activity across the border into Afghanistan, where the Haqqani Network and the Afghan Taliban still present serious problems.

Houthi rebels seized a Yemeni provincial capital that borders Saudi Arabia despite a Saudi-led bombing campaign over both the provincial capital and the Houthi-held capital city of Sanaa. Meanwhile, talks over a cease-fire in Yemen have been delayed by both logistical difficulties and the initial refusal of the Houthi delegation to board their flight to Geneva. Describing Yemen as a “ticking bomb,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon stated that the talks, which were originally scheduled to begin Sunday, will start later today.

Thousands more refugees have fled from Syria into Turkey as fighting continues in northern Syria between ISIS and Kurdish forces. The Kurds may be nearing a major victory as they attempt to capture Tal Abyad, a Syrian border city and ISIS stronghold. Yet the Syrian rebels fighting alongside the Kurds probably won’t be getting much more U.S. money, given that the House Intelligence Committee voted unanimously to cut funding for a major covert CIA program seeking to train and arm rebel groups in Syria. The Wall Street Journal reports on the CIA’s struggle to reorganize itself in order to better combat ISIS. Meanwhile, the Post describes a reluctant military that has pushed for caution in Iraq, searching for an “endgame” in a conflict that may seem to have no end in sight.

Two simultaneous suicide bombings struck Chad’s capital, killing at least 23 people, reports the Post. The Guardian reports that the bombings were likely targeted at Chadian police. Given Chad’s recent engagements in the fight against Boko Haram, the militant group’s involvement is suspected, though the group has yet to claim any responsibility for the attacks.

According to Reuters, Tunisia also experienced an attack, with three police officers killed in a clash with militants at a security checkpoint. While many militant groups are present in Tunisia, none have yet declared themselves responsible.

Kenya’s military has killed a regional commander of al Shabaab in a major setback for the extremist group. A British citizen who had left the United Kingdom to fight alongside al Shabaab may also be among the dead.

The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris reports on an Iranian spy organization’s attempt to recruit him as a propagandist.

On Friday, the Obama administration transferred six Yemeni detainees from Guantanamo to Oman. The New York Times cites anonymous officials as stating that the transfers do not represent anything more than the conclusion of a deal with Oman negotiated last year. In other words, the remaining 116 detainees at Guantanamo (out of the 242 detained there at the beginning of President Obama’s time in office) may remain there for a long time to come.

The Guardian has released a previously classified CIA document that sets out guidelines on human subject research, so as to limit the implementation of “enhanced interrogation techniques.” (The document itself can be found here.)

President Omar Hassan al Bashir of Sudan, who has long faced charges in the International Criminal Court, left South Africa unencumbered by attempts to ensure his arrest. Though the ICC has charged President Bashir with genocide and crimes against humanity for his involvement in the conflict in Darfur, the president has continually and successfully evaded the court. The Guardian analyzes South Africa’s role in allowing Bashir to leave the country as an “enormous V-sign to key allies”--or, as Americans might call it, a flip of the bird.

After discovering suspected explosive materials in an abandoned TV studio, Hong Kong police have arrested nine Hong Kong citizens over a possible conspiracy to engineer an attack. The arrests come shortly before a vote on controversial political reforms. Democratic activists have widely opposed the proposed reforms, though they were quick to decry any connections to possible violent protests.

The new Cold War is heating up. This weekend, we learned that the Pentagon may seek to store heavy weaponry in Eastern Europe and the Baltic states, in a move designed to forestall further Russian expansion after the crisis in Ukraine.

European Union member states have unanimously agreed to develop a new framework of European data protection laws, which would increase privacy online for E.U. citizens. Relatedly, a Belgian privacy commission is suing Facebook in a Brussels court for invading the privacy of its users and for “trampling” Belgian and E.U. privacy law.

In response to a second breach of federal employees’ data at the Office of Personnel Management, the White House is weighing the possibility of financial sanctions against the Chinese hackers believed to be responsible.

Speaking of data breaches, remember Julian Assange? Swedish prosecutors are seeking to interview the WikiLeaks founder, who has been sheltering in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in order to avoid extradition to Sweden for sexual assault charges. The statute of limitations will expire in August for some of the crimes with which Assange has been charged.

The Sunday Times writes that documents obtained by Edward Snowden have been used by the Russian and Chinese governments to compromise MI6 agents working for the United Kingdom. The Times quotes an anonymous, senior British official as saying that Snowden “has blood on his hands;” yet another said there's "no evidence of anyone being harmed." Over at The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald takes umbrage.

Victims of the 1998 al Qaeda bombings on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania are arguing that they should receive money from a $9 billion penalty placed on BNP Paribas, a French bank. The bank has been penalized for violating U.S. sanctions on Sudan, Iraq, and Cuba, all countries listed by the U.S. government as state sponsors of terrorism. Those seeking restitution argue that Sudan has been found responsible for funding the 1998 attacks, and that victims of those attacks therefore deserve a portion of the BNP payout.

In response to FOIA requests, the CIA released a 500-page inspector general report on the agency’s failures and shortcomings preceding 9/11. The report was published in 2005 but, after a decade, has only just been made available to the public.

Parting Shot: Concerned about the security of your PIN code? A British company has developed a service that will let you use emojis rather than numbers while signing into your bank account. Thumbs up.

ICYMI: This Weekend, on Lawfare

Jack questioned the Obama administration’s “weak and hesitant” response to the hacking of the Office of Personnel Management.

John Bellinger also considered the OPM data breach and the role of Congress in protecting (or endangering) the data of federal employees.

Cody posted the Lawfare Podcast, which featured a conversation between Jack and Marty Lederman on Zivotofsky.

Faysal Itani wrote this week’s Foreign Policy Essay, studying possible limitations on ISIS’s territorial expansion.

Peter Margulies discussed the D.C. Circuit’s opinion in al Bahlul v. United States, arguing that the majority took too narrow a view of Congress’s Article I authority over military commissions.

Partially in response to Peter’s post, Steve Vladeck provided another perspective on al Bahlul.

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