Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Garrett Hinck
Wednesday, October 4, 2017, 2:02 PM

Defense Secretary James Mattis said that upholding the Iran nuclear deal was in U.S. interests, contradicting President Trump’s criticism of the agreement, according to the New York Times. In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mattis recommended that the president consider staying with the deal. Members of Trump’s national security team, including CIA Director Mike Pompeo and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, have pushed the president to decertify Iran’s compliance with the agreement in advance of the October 15 deadline to update Congress on the deal’s status, the LA Times reported. Separately, Politico reported that Trump’s national security advisors have recommended decertification without full withdrawal from the deal. The plan would be to impose new sanctions on Iran’s non-nuclear activities, in concert with European allies, to put pressure on Iran to accede to more restrictive terms in a renegotiated deal.

Secretary Mattis also testified that the Pentagon will no longer disclose the numbers or destinations of troops headed to Afghanistan, Foreign Policy reported. Mattis said detailing specific numbers would help the Taliban. He ran into opposition from lawmakers as Senator John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, reprimanded him for failing to provide details on the administration’s Afghanistan strategy to Congress. Mattis also downplayed the split between Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the president, saying he did not see as much of a “divergence” as others, Reuters reported. Jeffrey Lewis speculated  in Foreign Policy that misleading reporting and confusion concerning direct channels to Pyongyang could spark a war with North Korea.

A number of Russian-linked Facebook ads specifically targeted voters in Michigan and Wisconsin, key swing states in the 2016 election, CNN reported. Congressional investigators are now examining the content of thousands of ads Facebook said have links to Russia. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, said investigators are still determining the full extent of the targeting operations the ads used.

Spanish authorities called for Catalan police officials and politicians to testify in a sedition investigation following Catalonia’s chaotic independence vote, the Wall Street Journal reported. On Wednesday, Spain’s National Court ordered the head of Catalonia’s police force and two separatist leaders to give testimony about attempts to prevent the arrest of organizers of the referendum last month. King Felipe VI of Spain denounced the government of Catalonia as acting “totally outside the law and democracy,” the Washington Post reported. In a rare address to the nation, the king said that Madrid must protect Spain’s constitutional order. Catalan leader Carlos Puigdemont said that the region would declare independence as soon as the results are officially tallied.

Negotiations between Fatah and Hamas to reconcile the long-estranged Palestinian factions stalled over Hamas’s refusal to disarm, the Journal reported. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas specified the disarmament of Hamas is a key condition for the deal to unite the administration of Gaza and the West Bank under the control of the Palestinian Authority. A Hamas spokesperson said that the group would never accept the dismantlement of its fighting wing.

Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher met the Kremlin-linked lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya two months before she participated in a meeting with senior Trump campaign officials in 2016, Foreign Policy reported. Rohrabacher, a noted advocate of closer ties with Russia, met with Veselnitskaya during an official congressional visit to Moscow in order to discuss an American sanctions law that targets Russian officials. Veselnitskaya lobbied strongly against the law, known as the Magnitsky Act, and attempted to convince Rohrabacher to repeal the legislation.

Iraqi forces began their final assault to retake the town of Hawija from the Islamic State, Reuters reported. Government troops and Shiite militias surrounded the pocket of territory near the Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk and commenced their offensive on Wednesday. The area is one of the last under Islamic State group control in Iraq.

Tensions have calmed in the wake of the Iraqi Kurdistan referendum, the Times reported. No declaration of independence has come from the Kurdistan Regional Government nor have Iraq’s neighbors intervened militarily. Iraqi authorities announced they would soften the ban on international flights to Kurdistan by allowing transit through Baghdad. A key Sunni cleric called for dialogue, lessening political divisions between the Kurdish government and Baghdad.

Swedish authorities convicted a Syrian soldier who fled to Sweden of a war crime, the Times reported. The former soldier’s 8-month prison sentence for violating human dignity by posing for a picture with his boot on a corpse is the first conviction of any person fighting for the Syrian government for war crimes.

Yahoo’s parent company Verizon said on Tuesday that the previously reported hack of Yahoo affected every one of Yahoo’s three billion user accounts, making it the largest known hack in history, according to the Times. Yahoo said last year that only one billion accounts were compromised in the 2013 hack.

Western officials said that Russia carried out a campaign to target NATO soldiers’ smartphones to operational information about NATO activities, the Journal reported. U.S. soldiers among NATO contingents in the Baltic states reported that their cellphones were compromised and that hackers were trying to geolocate them. Western military officials said the equipment involved in the hacks, including drones armed with surveillance electronics, indicated state-level coordination.

In the second day of the trial of Benghazi suspect Ahmed Abu Khattalah, the jury at the D.C. District Court heard testimony from witnesses present during the 2012 attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, the Times reported. Two State Department Diplomatic Security officers testified about their roles during the attack.

The lower house of the French Parliament passed a sweeping counterterrorism law that would make permanent some of the emergency measures put in place after the 2015 terror attacks, according to the Times. French President Emmanuel Macron advanced the law to codify expanded police powers to surveil and prosecute suspects that the president argued was necessary to lift the state of emergency imposed in 2015. Critics say the measures lack judicial oversight. 

 

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Robert Chesney examined the Pentagon’s policy for detention operations.

J. Dana Stuster updated the Middle East Ticker, covering driving rights for Saudi women, international pressure on Iraqi Kurdistan after the referendum, and Egypt’s crackdown on dissident and minorities.

Harry Graver analyzed the military commissions cases before the Supreme Court.

Garrett Hinck asked whether the State Department reorganization effort is undermining effective U.S. cyber diplomacy.

Vanessa Sauter shared a bonus edition of the Lawfare Podcast, featuring an interview by Benjamin Wittes with Jack Goldsmith about his article in the Atlantic on the Trump’s attack on the institution of the presidency.

 

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