Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today’s Headlines and Commentary

By Jane Chong
Monday, November 18, 2013, 10:11 AM
This weekend saw some logistical hurdles in an otherwise surprisingly smooth road to Syrian chemical weapons elimination. A newly developed plan to transport the weapons out of the country by roads that could be attacked by opposition forces linked to Al Qaeda has raised concerns for analysts and officials who remind us that "no one has attempted this before in a civil war." Here's the story from David E. Sanger, Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt of the New York Times. Meanwhile, Joby Warrick of the Washington Post writes that the government of Albania has bowed to pressure from demonstrators protesting the country's planned acceptance of hundreds of tons of toxins from Syria for elimination at its chemical-weapons destruction facility.
As for developments on the ground: Abdul-Qadir Saleh, a prominent Syrian rebel leader, has died of shrapnel wounds sustained during government shelling, reports the Associated Press. The BBC has more. On Sunday, activists stated that a town in the Qalamoun mountains is under siege by Syrian forces; one thousand families have left Qara for the Lebanese border, reports Reuters. Over at Foreign Policy, Colum Lynch asks why the UN has kept mum on Bashar al-Assad's campaign to block humanitarian assistance from reaching Syrian civilians.
Jay Solomon and Carol Lee of the Wall Street Journal write that Iran-U.S. developments are putting extraordinary strain on the U.S.'s relationship with Israel. Robert Satloff of Politico worries that things between the U.S. and Israel will only get worse.
Samir al-Baraq, a Palestinian man accused of planning biological weapons attacks against Israeli targets as a member of Al Qaeda, is challenging his detention in Israel's highest court. Baraq has been held in an Israeli jail without charges for over three years. Here is the Guardian with details.
Eighteen human rights organizations---including the ACLU, Amnesty, HRW, HRF, and CCR---have sent this joint letter to senators asking them to:
[S]upport the Guantanamo Bay detainee transfer provisions included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2014 as reported out of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC). We also urge you to oppose all amendments that restrict transfers beyond provisions in the current bill. The Guantanamo provisions in the SASC version of the NDAA (Senate NDAA) will help protect American values and human rights and will facilitate the end of indefinite detention without charge or trial at Guantanamo Bay.
Four civilians were killed in two separate bomb blasts in Kandahar and Zabul provinces on Monday, reports Pajhwok Afghan News.
In circulation: A draft of a U.S.-Afghanistan security agreement that will extend the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan beyond next year's scheduled troop withdrawal. The agreement resolves a major sticking point in negotiations thus far by stipulating that the U.S. will have exclusive legal jurisdiction over American military personnel---but it clarifies that no one is exempt from prosecution for wrongdoing. Karen DeYoung, Anne Gearan and Ernesto Londoño of the Washington Post have the story.
Hundreds of aid projects are transitioning into the hands of Afghan ministries as the United States plans its drawdown, but confidence in the Afghan government's fiscal accountability is low. Kevin Sieff of the Posreports that a state-of-the-art medical clinic in Afghanistan, launched by the Pentagon in 2007, will shut down next month due to lack of government support.
The international community has pledged or sent a total of $248 million to the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyun. The typhoon has claimed at least 3,974 lives and displaced an estimated 4 million people, Reuters reports. Over at Foreign Policy, Patrick Cronin argues that the disaster is "an opportunity to re-up the pivot" to Asia.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is short on votes for her proposal to give victims of rape and sexual assault in the military a route outside the chain of command for prosecuting their attackers, writes Donna Cassata of the Associated Press. Reports of sexual assault increased by 46 percent during the last budget year. That's a total of 3,553 complaints out of 26,000 possible assaults, as estimated by the Pentagon.
The military justice system is also under other pressures. Ernesto Londoño and Ellen Nakashima of the Post describe the controversy over how the Marine Corps has handled the case involving U.S. Marines urinating on the corpses of suspected Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.
And the military may be cutting down on the growth of pay and benefits in the face of the defense budget squeeze, reports Julian Barnes in the Journal.
Representatives from the Justice Department and the SEC suggested in a letter to the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, in advance of today's hearing, that bitcoins are legitimate currency, reports Max Raskin of Bloomberg. Natasha Lomas of Tech Crunch observes that Chinese investors are driving the value of bitcoin to new heights---and prompting concerns about a "Bitcoin Bubble."
Now allow me to drone on a bit about drones.
Iran has just unveiled what it describes as its biggest drone yet. This reconnaissance and combat drone can stay aloft for up to 30 hours and has a range of 1,250 miles. Here is Ali Akbar Dareini for the AP.
Stateside, an unmanned drone malfunctioned during a training exercise on Saturday and crashed into a U.S. Navy ship off the coast of southern California, leaving two sailors with minor injuries, notes Reuters.
Marjorie Cohn has a piece in the Huffington Post reflecting on the 2013 Drone Summit this past weekend, sponsored by CODEPINK and the Center for Constitutional Rights, among others.
Nearly 400 people from many countries came together to gather information, protest, and develop strategies to end targeted killing by combat drones. I found the most compelling presentations to be first-hand accounts by those victimized by U.S. drone attacks, and a former military intelligence analyst who helped choose targets for drone strikes.
Last but certainly not least: The Riddler and the Penguin have just been indicted for "well, basically" the best thing you'll read all week. Love it? Thank Batkid.
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