Today's Headlines and Commentary

Clara Spera
Friday, November 8, 2013, 9:45 AM
The Russian Foreign Ministry announced this morning that the main Syrian opposition group has refused to participate in talks with the Syrian government that would have taken place in Moscow.

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The Russian Foreign Ministry announced this morning that the main Syrian opposition group has refused to participate in talks with the Syrian government that would have taken place in Moscow. This is a serious blow to efforts by the Russian Federation and the United States to convene formal  peace talks in Geneva between the two factions in Syria. After Syrian rebels managed to capture a large weapons cache earlier this week, forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad fought back with force. But this isn’t anything particularly noteworthy anymore: after more than two years of war, Reuters reports, “the fighting has settled into a broad stalemate in which more than 100 die every day, with few significant advances by either side.” The U.N. estimates that more than 100,000 have died since the start of the conflict. Cases of polio were discovered in Syria earlier this week. The BBC takes a look at how the new outbreak of the deadly disease could affect Europe. President Obama sat down for an interview with NBC News yesterday. Though the interview focused mainly on administrative issues with the Patient Protection and and Affordable Care Act (affectionately and unaffectionately known as Obamacare), the President also addressed his involvement with NSA data collection and U.S. spying abroad. Politico picked up on those bits, including what President Obama had to say about listening in on his allies: "I can guarantee you that I've been more deeply involved in our intelligence operations on a whole set of areas where there are real threats against us than just about any president, well . . . as much as any president. When I am presented intelligence, particularly if it pertains to allies like Germany, I'm not poking and probing about where we get certain information." The former Prime Minister of France, Dominique de Villepin, has entered the debate on the United States's international spying program. The former official puts it bluntly: “America doesn’t trust its allies.” A Rolling Stone story Wednesday presents seemingly strong evidence that American troops were indeed responsible for the murder and torture of Afghan citizens in late 2012. (Graphic images accompany the piece.) Hamid Karzai forced US troops out of Wardak province in February 2013 following accusations of murders and atrocities committed by the troops; the Rolling Stone piece takes a deeper look at those accusations:
... over the past five months, Rolling Stone … interviewed more than two dozen eyewitnesses and victims’ families who’ve provided consistent and detailed allegations of the involvement of American forces in the disappearance of the 10 men, and has talked to Afghan and Western officials who were familiar with confidential Afghan-government[.] … It’s difficult to believe that dozens of illiterate Afghan villagers, scattered across Nerkh District, could have maintained an elaborate and consistent set of lies over a period of months. Most of them had also been interviewed by both the U.N. and the Red Cross, which have conducted extensive investigations into the incidents, and, according to officials familiar with the reports, have found the witnesses and their allegations credible. While the Red Cross can’t comment publicly on their findings, a U.N. report in July said that it had “documented two incidents of torture, three incidents of killings and 10 incidents of forced disappearances during the months of November 2012 to February 2013 in the Maidan Shahr and Nerkh districts of Wardak province. Victims and witnesses stated . . . that the perpetrators were U.S. soldiers accompanied by their Afghan interpreters.
Following these new, serious allegations, human rights groups are demanding a new and impartial investigation. Remember when the United States protested the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization after its members voted to make Palestine a UNESCO member in 2011?  Today, the United States officially and automatically lost its voting rights in the U.N. body after missing a deadline to pay its membership dues. Speaking of the United States’ involvement in the Israeli-Palestine conflict, Secretary of State John Kerry addressed Israel with a stronger tone than usual on Thursday. He warned the U.S. ally that it must make more of an effort in peace talks with the Palestinians, for fear of isolation and violence. Kerry has been in the Middle East all week, shuttling between Israel, the Palestinian territories, and Jordan in an effort to get meaningful peace negotiations on the table. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minster Netanyahu has said he “utterly rejects” the nuclear deal between Iran and western powers being fleshed out in Geneva this week. The Israeli leader believes that pressure should be increased on Iran, not eased. On Wednesday, Swiss scientists released a lengthy report on the circumstances of the death of the former Palestine Liberation Organization and Palestinian National Authority, Yaser Arafat. The report suggested that Arafat died from polonium poisoning. Cue: international uproar. The PLO has since called for a formal inquiry into Arafat’s death. Since then, the publishers of the report, scientists from the Vaudois University Hospital Center in Lausanne, Switzerland, have clarified that while they did find a shocking amount of polonium in Arafat’s body, they cannot definitely prove that the leader died of poisoning. Yesterday, Wells linked you to the Federal Aviation Administration’s “roadmap” for integrating American drones safely into domestic airspace. The report demonstrates that are significant hurdles to achieving widespread access for commercial drones. The Associated Press has coverage of the looming difficulties, while the Hill addresses the issue from a privacy standpoint. The Times takes a look at the rise in incidents of sexual assault in the United States military: "There were 3,553 sexual assault complaints reported to the Defense Department in the first three quarters of the fiscal year, from October 2012 through June, a nearly 50 percent increase over the same period a year earlier. Defense Department officials said the numbers had continued to rise." A Congressional panel gathered yesterday and today to hold public hearings on the worrying issue. NPR has a segment on the current situation in Libya. Militias rule segments of the country, and the government seemingly has no ability to curb their power. Militias run by former rebels also rule sections of the country’s capital, Tripoli, causing significant distress to “ordinary Libyans.” 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. Visit our Events Calendar to learn about upcoming national security events, and check out relevant job openings on our Job Board.

Clara Spera is a 3L at Harvard Law School. She previously worked as a national security research intern at the Brookings Institution. She graduated with an M.Phil from the University of Cambridge in 2014, and with a B.A. from the University of Chicago in 2012.

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