Today's Headlines and Commentary

Alex R. McQuade, Cody M. Poplin
Tuesday, February 23, 2016, 6:19 PM

President Obama announced earlier today that he had submitted his plan to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility to Congress. In his statement announcing the plan, President Obama

Published by The Lawfare Institute
in Cooperation With

President Obama announced earlier today that he had submitted his plan to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility to Congress. In his statement announcing the plan, President Obama stated that “This is about closing a chapter in our history. It reflects the lessons that we have learned since 9/11, lessons that need to guide our nation going forward.”

Although the president may have a vision to “guide our nation forward” with the closing of the military prison, Congress may not share that vision. The New York Times writes that the fate of President Obama’s plan is an uncertain one due to Congress’ ban on transferring detainees from the prison to the United States. Additionally, its does not seem that the GOP-led Congress will change the law any time soon.

Still, key questions remain. Even if the detention facility is indeed closed for good, where will the United States send future militants captured on the battlefield? Who will hold them? And, where will they be tried? If the United States is to continue counterterrorism operations abroad, it would have to consider what exactly to do with possible detainees. The Associated Press has more.

In other GTMO news, the Miami Herald tells us that attorneys for news organizations and the alleged 9/11 plotters have asked the trial judge to make the full transcript of an initially-open hearing on "an unpopular order" involving female bodyguards available to the public. The hearing was retroactively censored by security officials. Chief war court prosecutor, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, has urged the trial judge, Col. James. L. Pohl, to continue the detention center’s secrecy on the testimony. The unpopular order refers to a decision by Judge Pohl to bar female guards from transferring Guantanamo detainees around the camp.

Attorney David Nevin, a defense lawyer for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, has requested that Judge Pohl allow testimony by a witness who will say that Mohammed and other alleged 9/11 conspirators “were subjected to handling by female guards that caused psychological trauma and violated their Muslim belief.” Medill News Service reports that a request was made for Dr. Pablo Stewart to testify about the health consequences of the defendants’ “sexualized torture and naked touching by women.”

The dispute between Apple and the FBI continues to play out on public display, with Apple once again on Monday calling on the government to withdraw its demand that the tech company write code to circumvent security measures on a San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone. Following FBI Director James Comey’s public appeal on Lawfare, Apple released an FAQ of sorts, providing their answers “about Apple and Security.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg came out yesterday in support for Apple, saying that he was “sympathetic with Apple” and that requiring back doors into encryption is likely to be ineffective. This morning Financial Times reports that Microsoft founder Bill Gates had broken ranks with the tech community, saying they should cooperate with law enforcement in terrorism investigations. However, by this afternoon, Mr. Gates had challenged that headline, saying that the courts would decide in this case who was right.

The FBI has said that this case is a “narrow” attempt to gather data on one phone. Yet the Wall Street Journal reports that the U.S. Department of Justice is pursuing court orders to make Apple help investigators unlock no fewer than 12 other iPhones around the country. According to a newly unsealed court document, the FBI has attempted to use the All Writs Act to compel Apple to provide software to bypass passcode security features in Illinois, New York, California, Ohio, and Massachusetts. Since not every phone is running the same version of iOS, it is not clear that Apple would need to write a software program in each of those cases or whether they may be accessible by some other technical means. Over at the Intercept, Jenna McLaughlin provides a roundup of law enforcement officials around the United States, with one police office in Eau Claire, Wisconsin saying the San Bernardino case is “going to have significant ramifications on us locally.”

In the Guardian, Alex Hern explains that the war between the FBI and Apple isn’t really even about encryption. In this instance, the FBI is not asking Apple to build a back door into the encryption protocol, but to instead to “turn off the anti-brute force features” and would leave the “security of other devices unaffected.” And in another surprise, the Guardian editorial board has backed the FBI, saying that “Apple’s stand against the American government takes an important principle a step too far.” And according to Pew, more than half of Americans agree.

The United States and Russia announced yesterday that they have agreed on the parameters of a partial truce in Syria. The Times writes that, as part of the agreement, the United States is in charge of bringing the multiple opposition groups in line while the Russians will take the lead on placing pressure on the government. However, the “cessation of hostilities” does not apply to the two lethal extremist groups, the Islamic State and al Nusra Front. Still, the United Nations’ Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria has warned that the same powers that are pushing for a peaceful solution in Syria are the same nations that are continuing “to feed the military escalation.”

Adding to the questions on whether the cease-fire plan will even be effective, Foreign Policy writes that the newly penned agreement could fall prey to a familiar problem: The question is who’s a terrorist in Syria, and who’s not. Read the rest from Foreign Policy here.

During an interview, Syrian President Bashar Assad stated that he wanted to be “the one” that saves his country. According to NPR, Assad said that the Syrian government was willing to support a truce. However, President Assad included a list of conditions, among them being Syria’s right to attack factions that he calls terrorists.

Speaking of terrorists, the Islamic State continues to suffer a series of financial woes. Reuters reports that the pseudo-state is now manipulating the currency rate between U.S. dollars and Iraqi dinars in order to squeeze money out of local people. The move comes after the United States increased its campaign against Islamic State financial targets, which has already destroyed hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Islamic State has lost forces in Afghanistan after assaults by Afghan forces aided by U.S. airstrikes. Reuters writes that more than 30 militants were killed in the most recent fighting in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province. The Afghan forces’ recent push into areas controlled by the Islamic State are a part of a months-long effort to dislodge the militant fighters from the area.

A suicide bomber riding a motorcycle killed 14 people and wounded another 11 at a clinic in a town north of Kabul. The Taliban claimed credit for the attack, which targeted a local police commander, making it the latest attack on police forces in recent months. The attack occurred just a day before officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States, and China met to discuss peace between the Taliban and Afghan government.

During those peace talks, officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States, and China decided that direct talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government will occur next week. The talks will be the first of its kind since the peace process was reinstated last month.

The Pentagon’s Inspector General is launching a full investigation into how U.S. troops and commanders in Afghanistan handled and responded to allegations that Afghan military and police leaders sexually abused children. According to the Military Times, the Inspector General’s research project into the allegations began in October and has revealed “sufficient information to warrant conducting a full assessment.”

Sailing over to the South China Sea, the Washington Post reports that satellite images indicate that China might be building a powerful radar system on one of the disputed islands. Gregory Poling, head of the Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, contends that “if it is an HF radar, then it would enormously boost China’s capacity to monitor ships and aircraft in the South China Sea.”

Adding to the mounting tensions in the South China Sea, the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Monday signaled that China’s South China Sea military deployments are no different than U.S. deployments in Hawaii. The combative statements from China’s foreign ministry come just days before the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, is set to visit the United States. Reuters reports that, when asked whether China’s operations in the South China Sea would come up during Wang’s meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry, a foreign ministry spokeswoman stated that the United States should not use the issue of military facilities on the islands as a “pretext to make a fuss.”

A new report issued by the Center for a New American Security suggests that the Navy’s aircraft carrier operations are now at an inflection point. The Washington Post writes that the report, “Red Alert: The Growing Threat to U.S. Aircraft Carriers,” “focuses on China’s burgeoning military posture in the Pacific and on a term that is starting to appear with increasing urgency in defense circle: anti-access/area denial. The Post has more here.

A new report issued by the Stimson Center has concluded that President Obama and his administration have made “virtually no progress” towards increased transparency and accountability in the U.S.'s targeted killing program. NPR writes that the report said that the Administration has failed to release fundamental information about the drone program, let alone significantly overhaul it.

The Washington Post tells us that Russia has filed a request to fly a spy plane carrying advanced digital cameras over the United States as part of the Open Skies treaty. The Post has more here.

Parting Shot: Did you apply to be an astronaut during NASA’s open application call? Unfortunately, you may not stand a chance. The Washington Post reveals that NASA received more than 18,300 applications… to fill just 14 slots. Good luck applicants!

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Samm Sacks explored what Beijing actually asks of technology companies, given the recent battle between the FBI and Apple.

Mai El-Sadany examined Egypt’s recent crackdown on artistic expression.

David Ryan covered the 2/18 session of the 9/11 military commissions case.

Michael O’Hanlon detailed three steps on what to do when containment does not work in Syria.

Cody outlined this week in The Week That Will Be.

Email the Roundup Team noteworthy law and security-related articles to include, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for additional commentary on these issues. Sign up to receive Lawfare in your inbox. Visit our Events Calendar to learn about upcoming national security events, and check out relevant job openings on our Job Board.

Alex McQuade was a national security intern at the Brookings Institution. He recently graduated with a master’s degree in Terrorism and Homeland Security Policy from American University. Alex holds a BA in National Security Studies and Justice and Law, also from American University.
Cody Poplin is a student at Yale Law School. Prior to law school, Cody worked at the Brookings Institution and served as an editor of Lawfare. He graduated from the UNC-Chapel Hill in 2012 with degrees in Political Science & Peace, War, and Defense.

Subscribe to Lawfare