News Roundup and Notes: May 22, 2014

Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.

Guantánamo Bay

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler has ordered the government to hand over 34 videotapes that document the repeated force-feeding of a Guantánamo detainee who has been on hunger strike [McClatchy Washington Bureau’s Michael Doyle]. Kessler’s order comes five days after her previous ruling, requiring the government to temporarily halt the detainee’s force-feeding.

A Justice Department official has told the Guantánamo military commission that an F.B.I. investigation into a member of a defense team for detainee Ramzi bin al-Shibh has been closed without charges [New York Times’ Charlie Savage]. According to a spokesperson, the FBI received information last November “that a nonattorney member of Bin al-Shibh’s defense team may have been involved in facilitating unauthorized communications with Bin al-Shibh and unknown individuals located abroad.”

In a statement last evening, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said that if this year’s defense authorization bill “continues unwarranted restrictions regarding Guantánamo detainees, the President will veto the bill” [Politico’s Josh Gerstein]. The statement also expressed support for the amendment offered by Rep. Adam Smith, which would end current restrictions on transferring prisoners out of the detention center.

Surveillance, Privacy, & Technology

German lawmakers may ask heads of U.S. tech firms—such as Facebook, Apple, and Google—to testify before their investigation into NSA surveillance [Wall Street Journal’s Harriet Torry].

The Washington Post editorial board welcomes the espionage indictments against China, and notes that while “prosecution may be difficult, at the very least these charges can expose the perpetrators and perhaps deter some of them in the future.” And the New York Times (Mark Landler and David E. Sanger) covers how the timing of the indictments will cause further damage to Chinese-American relations.

Syria

Russia’s ambassador to the UN has denounced the French initiative to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court as a “publicity stunt,” repeating that Russia will veto the Security Council resolution, which is scheduled to be put to a vote today [Al Jazeera].

In an op-ed in the New York Times, Jonathan Stevenson argues in favor of “limited, discreet military assistance to the Syrian opposition [that] could enhance American security and make diplomacy more likely to succeed.”

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has issued a statement condemning the “flagrant disregard for international human rights and humanitarian law–both by the Government and by some armed groups–that has led to tremendous suffering for civilians in Aleppo Governorate in Syria.”

Syrian forces have ended a months-long rebel siege of a prison in Aleppo, according to an activist group and pro-government television stations [Associated Press].

Afghan lawmakers have criticized what they consider to be exploitation by Iran in sending Afghan refugees to fight for the regime in Syria, in response to a report in the Wall Street Journal last week [Wall Street Journal’s Farnaz Fassihi and Ehsanullah Amiri]. The lawmakers have called on the Afghan government to investigate the situation.

Nigeria

President Obama has notified Congress that the administration has deployed 80 troops to Chad as part of the U.S. efforts to rescue the missing Nigerian school girls [Washington Post’s Ernesto Londoño].

CNN’s Tom Lister reports that the latest attacks in Nigeria highlight Boko Haram’s likely goal of stretching the country’s struggling security troops, possibly combining forces with another Islamic militant group, Ansaru.

Veterans Affairs

President Obama addressed the VA scandal at a press conference yesterday, stating that “if these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable, it is disgraceful, and I will not tolerate it” [Politico’s Edward-Isaac Dovere]. His remarks were immediately criticized as insufficient by Republican lawmakers [The Hill’s Rebecca Shabad]. Meanwhile, the House approved a bill that grants the VA Department greater power to fire or demote executives over the reported performance problems [Washington Post’s Josh Hicks].

The New York Times and Washington Post editorial boards offer their take on the problems with veterans’ health care, while NBC News (Rich Gardella et al.) reports on what appears to be a “culture of deceit” at veterans’ medical facilities.

Ukraine

White House press secretary Jay Carney said the U.S. has seen “some indications” of movement on the Russia-Ukraine border, but that it is still early to say if Russia is pulling back its troops [The Hill’s Justin Sink]. A defense official also told CNN (Barbara Starr) that “[t]here is some evidence of preparations for potential movement” at a few locations along the border.

At Ukraine’s third round of national unity talks, without pro-Russian insurgents, interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said he is unwilling to engage in bilateral talks with Russia, stating that Moscow has “destroyed the system of European security and breached international law and UN statutes” [Deutsche Welle].

Ukrainian servicemen have been killed in clashes with separatists in the country’s east, while the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic has declared martial law throughout the region [Kyiv Post].

A senior UN official has warned that “[t]here are more arms being used as well as numerous violations being committed” in the southern and eastern regions of Ukraine [UN News Centre].

China and Russia have signed a 30-year natural gas deal, allowing Moscow to reduce its dependence on European buyers amid increasing tensions with the West [Washington Post’s William Wan and Abigail Hauslohner].

Other developments

Eli Lake [The Daily Beast] reports that since 2012, the Obama administration has tried to scale back the U.S. fight against al Qaeda, which has met with strong opposition from, and frustration within, the intelligence community.

The Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung outlines how many of President Obama’s proposed changes to counter-terrorism strategy, announced last year, have stalled. At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing yesterday, lawmakers criticized, among other things, the administration’s lack of progress made on the AUMF.

According to a new Justice Department directive, the FBI will make audio and video recordings of almost all interrogations of suspects in custody, reversing the agency’s longstanding policy against recordings [Politico’s Josh Gerstein].

The Associated Press has learned that security forces at a nuclear missile base in Montana failed a drill last summer that required them to respond to the simulated hostile takeover of a nuclear missile.

The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court has confirmed the decision of the Pre-Trial Chamber, declaring admissible the case against Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi. The New York Times (Marlise Simons) provides more details.

House Democrats have decided to participate in the investigation into the 2012 Benghazi attacks [Politico’s Jake Sherman and Lauren French].

The Senate voted 52-43 yesterday to advance the nomination of David Barron, who authored the legal memo justifying drone strikes on U.S. citizens overseas, to serve on the First Circuit Court of Appeals [The Hill’s Ramsey Cox]. The final confirmation vote is scheduled for today.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has launched an investigation into why Secret Service agents were diverted from the White House complex to protect a friend of the agency’s then-Director Mark Sullivan [Washington Post’s Carol D. Leonnig].

FBI Director James Comey clarified at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing yesterday that he “did not say” he would change the ban on hiring people who have recently smoked marijuana; rather, he said he has to “grapple with the change in [his] workforce” [The Hill’s Julian Hattem].

The International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran have reached an agreement on five additional measures to be implemented by Tehran by 25 August 2014. The Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman covers the development.

Twenty-two Afghan police officers were killed in assaults across the country by Taliban insurgents yesterday [New York Times’ Rod Nordland].

In the latest attack, a series of explosions in the capital of the Chinese region of Xinjiang has killed dozens this morning [CNN’s Jethro Mullen].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

Former Associate Editor at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@RParekh88).