Today's Headlines and Commentary

Sebastian Brady
Thursday, February 26, 2015, 3:16 PM
The number of Syrian Christians kidnapped by ISIS in northeastern Syria over the past three days has increased to 220, according to activists.

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The number of Syrian Christians kidnapped by ISIS in northeastern Syria over the past three days has increased to 220, according to activists. The Associated Press reports that the fate of the hostages remains unknown, but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed that mediated negotiations were taking place between local Arab tribes and an Assyrian representative. While ISIS continues its rash of kidnappings in Syria, it has released dozens of hostages in Iraq. Al Jazeera reports that, after capturing over 100 men and boys near Tikrit on Sunday, the group released 21 hostages earlier this week, and yesterday, released 30 more. According to one local leader, many of those kidnapped are relatives of Iraqis fighting ISIS. Despite ISIS’s recent success in capturing large numbers of hostages, the leader of the international coalition fighting the militant group claims that its leadership in Iraq has been decimated, the Washington Post reveals. In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Gen. John Allen said that half of the group’s leaders in Iraq have been killed. Gen. Allen cautioned, however, that it was impossible to entirely eradicate ISIS; instead, the goal should be to limit its operational capacity. ‘Jihadi John’, the English-speaking Westerner shown beheading hostages in several ISIS propaganda videos has been identified by friends and family as Mohammed Emwazi, the Post reports. Emwazi was raised in West London and graduated from college with a degree in computer programming. After graduating from the University of Westminister, Emwazi apparently had a series of encounters with counterterrorism officials before allegedly traveling to Syria in 2012, later joining ISIS. The Justice Department announced yesterday that it has arrested and charged three Brooklyn residents with plotting to join ISIS in Syria. CNN details the arrests and the plot. The New York Times has a digital copy of the official complaint. The chaos in Syria has driven millions from their homes, and a plan to resettle some of them in the United States is facing pushback. The AP notes that the Obama administration’s plan to take in perhaps thousands of refugees is raising fears among law enforcement officials and some Republican congressional representatives that a lack of information on the refugees may allow extremists into the United States. A French lawmaker who recently traveled to Syria with three other French parliamentarians to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may face sanctions and possible expulsion from his party. Reuters reports that the leader of the Socialist Party has promised to sanction Gerard Bapt, who took part in the four-man delegation without the approval of the foreign affairs committee of the French parliament. A recent spate of extremist attacks in Egypt continued today, as a series of explosions in Cairo killed one person and wounded at least seven more. The AP has more on the attacks, which Egyptian authorities blame on Islamic militants. In Afghanistan, a suicide attack on a NATO convoy killed a Turkish soldier in Kabul. Reuters explains that the Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for the attack but said its militants meant to attack a U.S. convoy. For the second straight day, the Ukrainian military reported that it went without a combat casualty, Reuters reports. The statistic indicates that a ceasefire agreement with pro-Russian separatists reached earlier this month may finally be taking hold. The separatists, who initially ignored the agreement and opened a major offensive last week, have been withdrawing heavy weapons from the front for the past two days. Reuters notes that a Ukrainian military spokesman announced it will begin doing the same today. In Washington yesterday, U.S. politicians heard a much less promising assessment of the Ukrainian crisis from the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Europe, Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove. The Post reports that, in testimony on the Hill and at a press conference at the Pentagon, Gen. Breedlove warned of a deteriorating situation in Ukraine while expressing uncertainty regarding the efficacy of arming its military. “It could cause positive results. It could cause negative results. But what we’re doing right now is not changing the results on the ground.” DefenseOne notes that Gen. Breedlove added that arming the Ukrainian army would not by itself enable it to halt a Russian advance in eastern Ukraine. Moreover, the Post adds that Gen. Breedlove also expressed concern that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s success in destabilizing Ukraine may encourage him to employ similar tactics elsewhere in Europe. Russia continues to fuel fears of such further aggression. Reuters reports that it has announced plans to deploy fighter jets to the Barents Sea for military exercises. The exercises in the waters off Norway’s and Russia’s coasts are the latest in a series of actions by Russian jets perceived as threats by the West. Earlier today, two people in Niger were killed by the explosion of a mine thought to have been placed by Boko Haram. Reuters notes that as Boko Haram continues to be pushed back by a regional military coalition, the militant group has begun employing mines and roadside bombs more often. The paradoxical result of these militaries’ successes, the Daily Beast’s Nancy Youssef explains, is that the more Boko Haram is weakened, the more acts of indiscriminate violence it will commit. As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial speech before a joint session of Congress nears, the conflict between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations continues to escalate. The Wall Street Journal reports that Secretary of State John Kerry followed Tuesday’s sharp comments by National Security Adviser Susan Rice by adding that, in his view, the Prime Minister is mistaken in his criticism of the Iranian nuclear talks, just as he was mistaken in his support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. For his part, Prime Minister Netanyahu said Wednesday that, while unspecified “superpowers” had once committed themselves to keeping Iran from gaining nuclear weapons, “from the agreement that’s being formulated, it appears that they have given up on this commitment.” The comments are indicative of a relationship that former Israeli national security adviser Giora Eiland said “has never been so terrible as it is today.” The Times covers the faltering relationship and provides a useful timeline of its recent deterioration. The European Court of Justice ruled today that a U.S. deserter can only gain asylum in Germany if he can prove that he would have been involved in war crimes had he not deserted, Reuters reports. After being ordered to redeploy to Iraq in 2007, Andre Shepard deserted his post in Germany because he viewed the Iraq War as illegal. He applied for asylum in Germany and was rejected; after Shepard took legal action in Germany, a German court asked the European high court for guidance. The U.S. Navy acknowledged today that it has begun flying the most advanced U.S. surveillance aircraft over the South China Sea, according to Reuters. The P-8A Poseidon is flying out of the Philippines, with whom the United States has promised to share the intelligence gathered on China’s increased activity in the sea. Pretrial proceedings in the 9/11 case at Guantanamo Bay were halted yesterday by the chief judge of the Guantanamo military commissions. The move came after the judge, Col. James Pohl, found that the Obama administration may have improperly interfered with the case by ordering military commission judges to move to Guantanamo for the duration of their cases. The Wall Street Journal notes that the decision is just the latest setback for the commissions: last week, a military appeals court voided the first successful Guantanamo conviction. Also yesterday, the Periodic Review Board, a national security parole board that evaluates Guantanamo detainees, approved for release Tariq el Sawah, the Miami Herald reports. The PRB described Sawah, who was picked up in Afghanistan in 2001 and was once considered eligible for a war crimes trial, as “one of the most compliant detainees” at the facility. In its decision, the PRB considered Sawah’s purported change in ideology and his failing health. In a report submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper asserted that a single crippling cyberattack on the United States is less likely than a costly series of smaller cyberattacks. The remark signaled a shift in strategic position on cybersecurity; in 2012 then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned of a “cyber Pearl Harbor” that could cripple the country. Bloomberg covers the wide-ranging report, which assesses issues from cybersecurity to extremism in Iraq and North Korean nuclear capabilities. USA Today reveals that the FCC has voted 3-2 to approve new net neutrality rules meant to make Internet service providers treat all legal content equally. The new proposal treats ISPs as public utilities in order to subject them to rules mandating that all their consumers have fair access to their services.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Wells broke the news that a military commission judge has barred the 9/11 case at Guantanamo Bay from proceeding until the Defense Department rescinds its order commanding all military commission judges to move to the base during their cases. Matt Danzer rounded out our Guantanamo coverage with a summary of Monday and Tuesday’s proceedings in the al Nashiri pre-trial hearings. Bruce Riedel reviewed The China-Pakistan Axis: Asia’s New Geopolitics by Andrew Small. Finally, Stewart Baker brought us the newest Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast (Episode #55). 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.

Sebastian Brady was a National Security Intern at the Brookings Institution. He graduated from the University of California, San Diego with a major in political science and a minor in philosophy. He previously edited Prospect Journal of International Affairs.

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