Today’s Headlines and Commentary

Ajay Sarma
Wednesday, August 11, 2021, 3:57 PM

Lawfare’s daily roundup of national security news and opinion.


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Senate Democrats pushed through a $3.5 trillion budget resolution with a 50-49 vote, triggering the budget reconciliation process, reports the Washington Post. The approval of the resolution came after the Senate passed a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill and hours of debate on the Democrats’ expansive social program spending plans. As Congress negotiates the exact terms of the budget and turns it into legislation, even with use of the reconciliation process, divisions among Democrats over the large price tag and whether to wait to consider the $3.5 trillion spending package simultaneously with the infrastructure bill could stymie progress on the budget.

The Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, Dade Phelan, signed arrest warrants for 52 Democrats who broke quorum and fled to Washington, D.C. to prevent the passage of voting restrictions, writes the Washington Post. A House motion permitted Phelan to issue the warrants and the Texas Supreme Court stayed a lower court’s ruling that protected the absent members from arrest. Texas legislators would not be jailed if arrested but could be returned to the Texas capitol in Austin. The legislators have lobbied for federal voting rights legislation during their time in the nation’s capital.

A U.S. defense official told Reuters that, in light of the Taliban’s rapid territorial gains, the Islamist militants could isolate Kabul in 30 days and seize it within 90. The official, who spoke to reporters anonymously, noted that the fall of Kabul is not “a foregone conclusion” and increased resistance from Afghan government forces could slow the Taliban’s momentum. The Taliban reportedly controls over half of Afghanistan and has gained control of or is threatening to gain control of 11 provincial capitals. The Taliban’s seizure of Faizabad, the capital of the northeastern Badakhshan province on Wednesday, has solidified the Taliban’s control over a region bordering China, Pakistan and Tajikistan.

Afghanistan’s Interior Minister, Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal, revealed that the government will arm local groups and communities against the Taliban, with the goal of eventually incorporating them into the government’s forces, writes Al Jazeera. Afghanistan also hopes to secure highways and better protect cities. President Ashraf Ghani also removed the country’s army chief and visited the city of Mazar-i-Sharif to rally ethnic leaders and warlords who have traditionally opposed the Taliban, according to the BBC.

The Oromo Liberation Army, an ethnic militia that Ethiopia’s government considers a terrorist group, has struck an alliance with Tigray rebels advancing towards the country’s capital, reports Al Jazeera. According to the group, the agreement was reached weeks ago and first suggested by Tigray forces. Kumsa Diriba, the leader of the Oromo Liberation Army, which seeks self-determination for Ethiopia’s Oromo ethnic group, claimed that the alliance was political as well and part of a larger coalition emerging against Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government.

An Amnesty International report released on Tuesday revealed widespread sexual violence against girls and women perpetrated by Ethiopia’s forces involved in fighting in the Tigray region, writes The Hill. According to Amnesty, 1,288 cases of gender-based violence were recorded in Tigray between February and April, but actual figures could be higher as some survivors reported not seeking treatment after being attacked. Amnesty’s secretary-general asserted that sexual violence was used as a psychological weapon against Tigray women and, though a researcher could not verify whether soldiers were ordered to attack women, they clearly acted without fear of repercussions.

Michael Spavor, a Canadian businessman detained in 2018 on espionage charges in China, was convicted and sentenced to 11 years in prison, reports the BBC. Spavor was arrested days after Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was detained in Canada on a U.S. extradition warrant. Yesterday, a death sentence for a Canadian convicted of drug smuggling was upheld by a Chinese court. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau slammed Spavor’s conviction as opaque and failing to comply with “even the minimum standards required by international law.” Spavor was arrested along with Canadian ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig, though a verdict has not been announced in the latter’s case.

Russia’s Investigative Committee announced new charges against Alexei Navalny, an incarcerated opposition leader, reports the Associated Press. Navalny was arrested upon his return to Russia in January, after convalescing in Germany following a nerve agent poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin. Navalny was ordered to serve a 2.5-year sentence in relation to a 2014 embezzlement conviction, but authorities now allege that his anti-corruption foundation instigated participation in unauthorized protests, which could carry a sentence of up to three years.

The United Kingdom’s High Court of Justice is allowing U.S. authorities to expand their grounds for appealing a British court’s decision to block Julian Assange’s extradition on the grounds that he may kill himself if subjected to conditions in an American prison, writes the Associated Press. Counsel for the U.S. told the High Court that Assange is not sufficiently mentally ill that suicide or an attempt to harm himself is guaranteed in U.S. facilities and his condition does not merit refusing his extradition. A lower court judge had agreed that U.S. prison conditions could be harmful to Assange, though she rejected the notion that a trial in the U.S would be unfair or violate the WikiLeak’s founder’s rights. Lawyers for the U.S. have fought against the idea that he is being prosecuted for journalistic activities, emphasizing his participation in Chelsea Manning’s theft of diplomatic cables and military files. A full appeal hearing seeking Assange’s extradition will take place in October before the High Court.

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Jen Patja Howell shared an episode of the Lawfare Podcast in which Alan Rozenshtein speaks to Ben Kaiser and Professor John Mayer, two Princeton University computer scientists, about novel methods for combatting misinformation.

Raul “Pete” Pedrozo argued that recent Chinese actions in the South China Sea demonstrate a pattern of disregard for international law.

Bryce Klehm announced this week’s Lawfare Live during which Lawfare Editor in Chief Ben Wittes and Fellow in Cybersecurity Law Alvaro Marañon will discuss the growing ransomware problem.

Klehm also shared the Director of National Intelligence’s 21st Joint Assessment of Section 702 Compliance, which covers June 1, 2018 to Nov. 30, 2018.

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.

Ajay Sarma is a junior at Harvard College studying Social Studies. He is an intern at Lawfare.

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