News Roundup and Notes: June 2, 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.

American prisoner exchange

On Saturday, the White House announced that Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the American prisoner of war held by the Taliban for almost five years, was released in exchange for five Taliban detainees held at Guantánamo Bay [New York Times’ Eric Schmitt and Charlie Savage]. The Taliban prisoners have been transferred to Qatar, where they will be subject to security restrictions, including a one-year travel ban. Just Security’s Marty Lederman covers the development and considers whether Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel complied with the 30-day notice/certification requirement of Section 1035 of the 2014 NDAA.

The deal, which Taliban leader Mullah Omar welcomed as a “great victory” [NBC News’ Tim Stelloh], has been criticized by Republicans. The Hill (Kevin Cirilli) covers the reaction of Republican lawmakers on the Sunday shows—who described the prisoner exchange as “disturbing” and “dangerous”—as well as the remarks made by administration officials, who sought to push back against the criticism.

The Afghan government protested against the deal, which, it argued, violated international law by transferring the Taliban detainees “to a third country as prisoners” [Reuters’ Jessica Donati and Mirwais Harooni]. Senior officials were also concerned that the detainees will return to the battlefield. However, some officials in Kabul are hopeful that the prisoner swap could revive peace talks between the militant group and the Afghan government [Wall Street Journal’s Nathan Hodge and Maria Abi-Habib].

The prisoner exchange received further mixed reactions from current and former U.S. service members, some of whom consider Bergdahl a deserter, and want him to be held accountable for his choices, reports the Washington Post (Dan Lamothe and Kevin Sieff).

The Daily Beast (Josh Rogin) considers whether the weekend’s prison exchange “could be the first step to emptying Gitmo … [n]ow that President Obama has proven Congress can’t stop him from releasing terrorists.”

The Wall Street Journal editorial board argues that the prisoner deal “will encourage terrorists to kidnap more Americans to win the release of more prisoners.” However, the board does not believe that Obama violated the law by failing to inform Congress 30 days in advance of the prisoner release.

CNN reports on the profiles of the five released detainees, who were mid- to high-level officials in the Taliban.

The Wall Street Journal (Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes) provides details of the negotiations between the two sides, which took three years to secure Bergdahl’s release. Reuters (Missy Ryan and Warren Strobel) notes that according to U.S. officials, the prisoner exchange became possible after hardline factions of the Taliban reversed their earlier position and decided to support the exchange. And The Express Tribune (Kamran Yousaf) reports that Pakistan may have played a role in persuading the two sides to establish initial contact, according to a Pakistani official.

Surveillance, Privacy, & Technology

The New York Times (James Risen and Laura Poitras) reports that the NSA collects “millions of images per day” from intercepted communication, including emails, text messages and videoconferences, for use in “sophisticated facial recognition programs,” according to documents obtained from Edward Snowden.

Syria

France has arrested four individuals suspected of connections to a jihadist network that recruits fighters for the Syrian civil war [France 24]. This follows the arrest of a French citizen suspected of carrying out a recent shooting in Belgium, who prosecutors say spent a year in Syria alongside jihadist terrorist groups.

The Wall Street Journal (Arian Campo-Flores) covers the American citizen, Moner Abu-Salha’s journey from suburban Florida to Syria, where he reportedly died while carrying out a suicide bombing last week.

CNN (Fred Pleitgen and Jethro Mullen) reports that the Syrian government is prepared for Tuesday’s presidential election, which has been dismissed by foreign governments as “a grotesque parody of democracy.”

Ukraine

Heavily armed fighters in eastern Ukraine have attacked border guards in the province of Luhansk, reports Kyiv Post’s Christopher Miller.

President Obama will come face-to-face with Russian President Vladimir Putin this week for the first time since the beginning of the Ukraine crisis [Wall Street Journal’s Carol E. Lee]. Obama is likely to use his Europe trip to urge allies to maintain pressure on Russia, while also reassuring them of U.S. support.

Russia’s Gazprom has offered Ukraine an extension into next week to resolve the gas dispute, a day before Moscow had planned to halt supplies to Kiev [Reuters’ Vladimir Soldatkin and Katya Golubkova].

Other developments

According to Pentagon officials, President Obama’s decision to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan until 2016 is likely to involve two more years in detention for those held at the U.S. prison in Bagram [The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman].

A staff member of the Senate Intelligence Committee told the Miami Herald (Carol Rosenberg] that the committee has “not been asked for a copy of the [CIA detention and interrogation] report for military commission purposes.” Meanwhile, prosecutors in the al Nashiri military commission trial met privately with the judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl on Friday in an attempt to persuade him to reverse his ruling on disclosure of the details of the CIA’s post-9/11 program.

A former Fox News journalist disclosed last week that he had been subpoenaed in 2011 for testimony identifying confidential sources in a leak investigation [New York Times’ Charlie Savage]. Meanwhile, the House voted to approve an amendment to an appropriations bill preventing the Justice Department from compelling reporters to testify about confidential sources.

The Washington Post (Karen DeYoung) reports on China’s strong reaction to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s comments at an Asian security conference, which criticized China’s “destabilizing, unilateral actions” in relation to territorial disputes. China said Hagel’s remarks were “excessive beyond … imagination” and “suffused with hegemonism . . . threats and intimidation.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas swore in a unity government earlier today [Haaretz’s Jack Khoury], which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned would “strengthen terrorism” [Ynetnews].

Violent fighting in the Libyan city of Benghazi continued today, reportedly between the armed group Ansar al-Shariah and forces loyal to former army general Khalifa Haftar [Al Jazeera].

Violence in Iraq claimed the lives of 799 individuals in May, making it the deadliest month so far this year [Associated Press].

Suspected Boko Haram militants killed at least 14 people in an explosion in northeast Nigeria last evening [Al Jazeera America].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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