Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Elina Saxena, Cody M. Poplin
Thursday, October 22, 2015, 3:17 PM

An American soldier has been killed in action during a raid while attempting to free hostages held at an Islamic State compound in Iraq. The New York Times reports that the commando is “the first American soldier killed in action in Iraq since the withdrawal in 2011.” The joint raid, led by Kurdish special forces and supported by American commandos,” freed over 70 hostages, including 20 Iraqi security personnel, and left dozens of ISIS militants dead. According to the Pentagon, the captives faced “imminent mass execution.” ABC News has more on the raid.

Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s recent visit to Russia highlights the latter’s critical role in propping up the failing leader and suggests that Assad may just survive the war after all, writes the Associated Press. Reflecting on the Syrian leader’s trip to Moscow, the Times writes that the alliance between Syrian and Russian forces “reflects not only the urgent priority of salvaging the crumbling central government in Syria, but also each man’s eroded standing on the international stage.” Yet the Times also notes that Assad received a “chilly” reception in Moscow, and during the visit, Vladimir Putin “appeared to lay groundwork for a political settlement.”

In that vein, Defense One reports that the Russian president claimed that “any coordination on a political process in Syria would be done ‘in close contact with the other global powers and with the countries in the region that want to see a peaceful settlement to this conflict.’” Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov are scheduled to meet on Friday for the first time since Russia commenced operations in Syria. Kerry is expected to condemn Russian strikes and push for a political solution. And in a sign of the changing facts on the ground, two days ago, Turkey, a strong opponent of the Assad regime, expressed willingness to allow Assad to stay for six months if there is a guarantee of his eventual departure.

About those facts on the ground: Reuters tells us that 80% of the 780 Russian sorties flown in Syria have targeted non-Islamic State actors. For a visual, the AFP tweeted a map showing the targets of Russian airstrikes. But lest Russia should get all the credit for Assad’s resurgence, the Guardian reports that Iran has sent more military advisers to Syria in efforts “to help defeat ‘terrorism.’” Iranian deputy foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian confirmed the role of the Iranian military advisors but curiously denied the presence of Iranian troops in Syria despite reports to the contrary. McClatchy writes that “the recent influx of foreign fighters – mostly from Hezbollah in Lebanon and Shiite Muslim communities in Iraq [...] comes at a time that the Syrian government has found itself short of the manpower needed to reconquer vast areas of its country.”

Secretary of State John Kerry met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Berlin as violence continued to ripple across Israel. According to the Wall Street Journal, Kerry pushed for de-escalation, declaring that “it is absolutely critical to end all incitement and all violence” in order to create the possibility for “a larger process.” Following the meeting, Kerry expressed “a cautious measure of optimism” despite having previously limited expectations, the Times writes. Kerry will visit Amman to speak with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the Jordan’s King Abdullah II on Saturday. U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-moon expressed a pessimistic outlook on the prospect of peace in the region after his own visit to Israel.

The Times reports that UNESCO adopted a resolution criticizing “Israeli aggressions and illegal measures against the freedom of worship and Muslims’ access to their holy site, Al Aqsa Mosque.” The Israeli government, in turn, condemned the resolution as “yet another step in the continuous Palestinian endeavor to rewrite history.” Al Aqsa Mosque has been at the center of the recent tensions. The BBC has more.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, Reuters tells us that the Taliban’s presence in the outskirts of Kabul has raised questions about the threat the group presents to the capital itself following the fall of Kunduz, an attack that “highlighted the vulnerability of major urban centres.” Following the brief Taliban takeover last month, the Washington Post highlights the difficulty that Kunduz has faced recovering in the wake of mass looting and damage left by the insurgents. As the country faces a rising threat from the Taliban, Afghan security forces have launched offensives against the militant group in both the north and south of the country.

Across the Durand line, a bombing of a Shiite mosque in Quetta, Pakistan has killed 10. The AP reports that no one has claimed responsibility for the attack.

And with Washington set to greet Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif this week, Voice of America predicts talks between Sharif and Obama are not likely to get very far. While the Times tells us that the Obama administration is planning to sell Pakistan eight F-16 fighter jets in order “to bolster a tenuous partnership,” Pakistan is expected to reject American attempts to limit its nuclear arsenal. The Journal writes that next month’s visit by Pakistani Army Chief General Raheel Sharif will eclipse the prime minister’s visit, as Sharif’s authority “on critical security-policy matters, including the fight against Islamic extremists, the Afghan peace process, and the country’s nuclear-weapons program” is largely curtailed by the army. Analysts say that the military's hold on power has grown, particularly in issues related to foreign policy and national security.

Struggling to cope with the influx of refugees, Slovenia has turned to the European Union to for additional police forces. Tens of thousands of refugees have entered the country since Friday. The BBC reports that refugees in the French port city of Calais will receive new tents to deal with the impending cold weather.

As Chinese President Xi Jinping visits Britain, Foreign Policy discusses the dilemma facing the United Kingdom as it attempts to deepen relations with China without pushing away Western allies. Yesterday, China announced that it will invest almost $40 billion in a nuclear power plant in the island nation, prompting fears from the United States that London and Beijing may be growing too close.

Yet the allies are united at the United Nations, where the United States, France, Britain and Germany have urged the Security Council to investigate Iran's ballistic missile test from last week, which they argue violated the terms of a 2010 UNSC resolution banning Iran from conducting such tests. On Lawfare, Yishai Schwartz discussed the legal issues at play in the potential violation.

Russia announced plans to build five military bases, including four Arctic bases and another base on the contested Kurile Islands. Japan and Russia have disputed who has control over the island chain since the end of the Second World War.

The Department of Homeland Security informed Congress yesterday that it will choose not to get a warrant to use stingrays, or “secret cellphone-scanning technology,” in cases where it is protecting the president. That said, presidential security will be the only exception to the new rules released by the department about how it will use the devices moving forward. As the Wall Street Journal notes, those new rules largely mirror ones released by the Department of Justice in September, and in almost all cases will require law enforcement to get warrants to use the devices.

New charges were filed against five Minnesota men who had previously been indicted on charges of material support for terrorism after they attempted to join the Islamic State. The five are now also charged with conspiracy to commit murder overseas. The men were part of a larger group of nine Minnesotans, three of whom have already pled guilty.

Yesterday, FBI Director Jim Comey told Congress that fewer Americans are defecting to ISIS. The Hill suggests that the decline in defectors could be a sign that policies to prevent people from joining ISIS are working or, alternatively, that U.S. officials are not aware of the people who are still joining.

The Wall Street Journal reports that President Barack Obama is expected to veto the $612 billion NDAA today based on objections to how the military is funded and measures designed to block the closure of the detention facility on Guantanamo Bay. The move will likely spark another round of contentious wrangling on Capitol Hill.

We certainly do hope Julian Assange is comfortable in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Yesterday, Wikileaks chose to doxx CIA Director John Brennan and his family, releasing the entirety of his SF-86 security clearance application and all corresponding personal information, including his social security number, his home address, and the addresses of his friends and family. Shane Harris of the Daily Beast notes that the dump “had no obvious public policy value” while Foreign Policy tells us the release was a “snoozefest.” But perhaps the the CIA says it best, “the hacking of the Brennan account is a crime.”

The Post’s Craig Whitlock carries a piece on the pending promotion of Rear Adm. Brian L. Losey, an admiral in charge of elite SEAL teams who Pentagon investigators have determined illegally retaliated against whistleblowers. Instead of punishing him though, the Navy has thrown out the findings, determining that none of the allegations “rose to the level of misconduct.” Some activists, such as Mandy Smithberger, a military reform analyst at the Project on Government Oversight, have said that the move proves whistleblower protections have “no teeth” and instead essentially function as “a trap.”

In Foreign Affairs, Julius Taranto previews the Supreme Court’s hearing of Bank Markazi v. Peterson, noting that such cases complicate the executive branch’s ability to conduct foreign affairs and proposing a mechanism for limiting the damage done to the president’s negotiating powers.

Today’s long read: Richard Posner review’s Justice Stephen Breyer’s book The Court and The World in the latest edition of Foreign Affairs.

Parting shot: Beating the likes of Bill Gates and South Korean President Park Geun-hye, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has been award a peace prize! No joke. The chairman of an award dubbed China’s peace prize has come under fire for recognizing Mugabe---who has been accused of systematic torture and violence---for his efforts to “bring political and economic order” to Zimbabwe.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Ben reiterated his challenge to Vladimir Putin, declaring that he will fight him any time and in any place where he can’t have him arrested.

Francesca Procaccini continued her coverage of this week’s hearings in the 9/11 trial at the Guantanamo military commissions, explaining how the question of pro se representation has opened a pandora’s box.

Ingrid Wuerth walked us through the foreign relations and national security cases on the Supreme Court’s October Term docket.

Stewart Baker shared episode #85 of the Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast, featuring an interview with General Michael Hayden.

Herb Lin looked into claims that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act would prevent law enforcement from legally hacking back as part of an authorized investigation.

Cody linked to the video from a Q&A with Giovanni Buttarelli, the European Data Protection Supervisor, on the state of play following the ECJ’s decisions in Schrems v. Data Protection Commissioner.

Finally, Tim Edgar explained how standing issues complicate the United States’ potential to accommodate European demands for judicial redress for data collection.

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