Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentery

By Cody M. Poplin
Tuesday, December 16, 2014, 2:36 PM

A devastating attack on a school in Pakistan by the Pakistani Taliban has left 145 dead. Nine attackers stormed a military-run school in Peshawar, open to both the children of civilians and military members, in what a spokesman for the militant group said was retaliation for the ongoing military offensive in North Waziristan. As the militants proceeded through the school, they methodically shot children in the head and forced students to watch as they set fire to their teachers, according to witnesses. The Wall Street Journal reports that of the dead, 132 were children. Another 121 from the school were wounded, and while the severity of those wounds could not be confirmed, the death toll is expected to rise. The assault lasted for nine hours before the military declared it had regained control.

Malala Yousafzai, who recently accepted the Nobel Peace Prize and was herself a victim of an attempted TTP assassination plot, said in a statement, “I am heartbroken by this senseless and cold blooded act of terror.” She continued, saying “innocent children in their school have no place in horror such as this.”

Pakistani security officials have long feared retaliatory attacks for its ongoing operation in Waziristan. In recent weeks, the TTP had come under even more pressure on both sides of the Durand Line, squeezed by drone strikes and tribal uprisings that many thought were hampering its ability to operate. According to Dawn, the Pakistani military hit back hard today, executing 10 airstrikes in Khyber province.

The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Pakistani newspaper Dawn have more on the attack. Reuters carries the accounts of pupils who escaped the attack. Follow the BBC for live updates.

Today, India declared a ban on the Islamic State, just a few days after it detained an engineer for running a popular pro-ISIS account from Bangalore. Police are currently reviewing 129,000 tweets to determine if the man behind @ShamiWitness, Mehdi Masoor Biswas, was just a cheerleader or an active online recruiter.

New details are still arising from yesterday’s hostage situation in Sydney that left two captives and the gunman dead. A police statement said that the two hostages, a 34-year-old man and a 38-year-old woman, died during the police operation. Four others were injured, including one police officer who was suffered a gunshot wound to the face. The operation was approved after police noticed that the gunman, an Iranian born man named Man Haron Monis, was agitated and cordoning captives into one section of the cafe.

The Wall Street Journal writes that Mr. Haron became frustrated as media companies refused to broadcast his message or meet his demands, and his website was taken down almost immediately by authorities after he was identified. Mr. Haron then forced hostages to film and post Youtube videos in an attempt to gain wider coverage, but the videos were quickly deleted. Copies of those videos, confirm that Mr. Haron demanded to meet with Australia’s prime minister and that Australian politicians declare the siege an official Islamic State attack. The Journal carries more on the siege and police operation that ended it.

The Washington Post shares new information on the assailant, including that he had been convicted last year of sending hate mail to the families of Australian troops killed in Afghanistan. Mr. Haron also faced charges in connection with the killing of his former wife.

And, in SSCI Report news today, the New York Times has more details on the early days of the CIA interrogation program, and the decision to choose haste over analysis. Elsewhere, Dan De Luce outlines his experience at the CIA’s first “open house,” noting the CIA Director John Brennan’s speech last week was the first press conference of its kind at Langley headquarters.

Aaron Blake writes that most Americans just shrugged about the report. According to a new Pew poll, 51 percent of Americans think the CIA’s methods were justified while 56 percent think that the information gathered with them helped prevent terror attacks. CBS has more in depth coverage of its own poll, where they found that 69 percent of Americans consider waterboarding to be torture, but even so, 49 percent of Americans think that tactics like it are justified at least sometimes.

In a speech at joint military base in New Jersey yesterday, US President Barack Obama defended progress the Coalition has made against the Islamic State in first several months of fighting, saying that US forces had “blunted their momentum” and “put them on the defensive.” The New York Times has more on the speech.

The Times also reports that Iraq’s new prime minister, Haider al Abadi, is achieving early success at reforming his country’s sectarian political system. Calling Mr. Abadi a “different leader than his predecessor,” the Times writes that Mr. Abadi has already chalked up major successes, appealing three times before Parliament, firing incompetent and corrupt military leaders, rooting out 50,000 “ghost soldiers,” and signing an oil revenue sharing deal with the Kurds. The Washington Post has more on Mr. Abadi’s battle against the “ghost soldier” corruption. Even so, Mr. Abadi, Iraq, and the American Coalition face enormous challenges ahead.

In Syria, the situation continues to devolve, and the New York Times reports that two Syrian military bases in Idlib Province fell to the al Nusra Front on Monday. According to both the Times and the Washington Post, the fighters appear to have achieved victory using American TOW antitank missiles they captured from American-vetted moderate fighters.

Back on the homefront, Reuters highlights the scrambling at the Pentagon in light of Congress’s recent decision to provide only $3 of the $4 billion requested for the new Counterterrorism Partnership Fund. The Fund is designed to allow the Pentagon to more flexibly fight al Qaeda affiliates in Africa and to train Syrian moderate rebels to fight ISIS.

Bloomberg shares that Russia has taken its biggest step yet to shore-up the plummeting Ruble, raising its key interest rate from 10.5 percent to 17 percent at 1 am last night. If sustained, Bloomberg notes that the interest rates could squeeze an already stricken economy, which has suffered a one-two punch from Western sanctions and free-falling oil prices. One analyst suggested “this move symbolized the surrender of economic growth for the sake of preserving the financial system.”

For his part, Russian President Vladimir Putin remains in denial and defiance. Yesterday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia had the right to deploy nuclear weapons to Crimea. There is no strategic reason for Russia to actually move its nuclear weapons to Crimea, and it is likely that the statement was designed to signal resolve and to convince the public at home “that they are living in a besieged fortress,” according to one analyst. The Los Angeles Times has more.

Yesterday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that tens of thousands of people have died in South Sudan during the past year of warfare. The UN also said that over 1.9 million people have been displaced by the violence.

The New York Times reports that federal prosecutors are seeking to use letters seized from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad to reveal “powerful direct proof” of Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai’s “knowing and international participation” in al Qaeda’s plots to kill Americans.

Howard LaFranchi details how a murder in the Philippines by a U.S. Marine could impede America’s Asia “pivot.” According to LaFranchi, the alleged murder of a transgender woman has reignited opposition to an expanded presence of American military in the country. The increased tensions come as an anti-US party swept elections on Japan’s Okinawa Island, complicate the U.S.’s role in the northeast Asian country.

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) blocked a comprehensive veterans suicide prevention bill. According to the Military Times, the move will most likely end the chance for the bill’s passage this year. The bill will create “new peer support programs for trouble veterans, mandate new online mental health resources, repay student loans for psychiatrists willing to work at Veteran Affairs facilities, and evaluate existing suicide prevention programs.” Coburn said that the bill “throws money and doesn’t solve the real problem.” Veterans groups had vocally supported the passage of the bill.

A U.S. Army Lieutenant, who graduated near the top of his class at West Point, went on three deployments, received commendations for exceptional service, and a letter of appreciation from the military’s top general, has been sentenced to four years in prison and dismissal from the Army. The charge? None of Lieutenant Lawrence J. Franks Jr. service was with the U.S. military. Instead, he disappeared in 2009 and joined the French Foreign Legion, with whom he fought in Mali. The New York Times carries the confusing story.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Ben Wittes provided part 1 of this thoughts on the SSCI report.

Bruce Schneier writes that over 700 million people are taking steps to avoid NSA surveillance.

Charles Fried addressed our collective privacy panic.

Cody Poplin alerted us to six newly declassified documents that documents shed new light on the legal debate and disagreements over the United States government’s authority to conduct warrantless wiretapping.

Wells noted that yesterday’s 9/11 hearings were cancelled and authorities did not give a specific reason.

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