News Roundup and Notes: June 3, 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

The White House sought to defend its prisoner exchange deal yesterday, which secured the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban detainees formerly held at Guantánamo Bay [The Hill’s Justin Sink]. White House press secretary Jay Carney said that under the “unique and exigent circumstances,” giving Congress 30 days’ notice was “not an option.” Carney also said that owing to security assurances, “the threat posed by the detainees to the United States would be sufficiently mitigated.”

However, Republicans have called for an open hearing on the prisoner exchange, demanding further information on Obama’s motivation in making the deal and why Congress was not given advance notice about the release of the Guantánamo detainees [Politico’s Burgess Everett].

The New York Times editorial board argues that the administration’s prisoner exchange “raises significant concerns,” particularly regarding Obama’s failure to comply with the law requiring him to notify Congress in advance. The board also writes that the decision to free five Taliban prisoners is “likely to make it harder for the United States to implore other countries not to negotiate with terrorists in the future.”

The Washington Post editorial board similarly finds that the deal raises “some troubling questions,” including over the legal requirement for advance notification as well as a potential breach of the administration’s policy of refusing to negotiate with terrorists. The board argues that the release of the Taliban also makes clear to the Afghans “that U.S. backing for their fragile state is anything but firm.”

The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake reports on how Obama convinced leaders of the intelligence community and military, who previously opposed the prisoner swap, to support his deal. Current intelligence and defense officials told The Daily Beast that the negotiation process was rushed and was “an example of forcing the consensus.”

The New York Times (David E. Sanger and Ashley Parker) notes how the administration’s objectives in Afghanistan narrowed over time, with hopes for a broader peace process for Afghanistan replaced by the narrower prisoner swap.

U.S. officials have told the Associated Press (Ken Dilanian and Deb Riechmann) that the U.S. was recently working to split the Taliban network in an effort to secure the prisoner exchange. A former military official also said that a Pentagon investigation concluded in 2010 that there was “incontrovertible” evidence that Bergdahl walked away from his unit, but did not formally accuse him of desertion.

While defending the U.S.’s effort to recover Bergdahl, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey has pledged that the army “will not look away from misconduct” in his case [Defense One’s Kevin Baron].

Josh Rogin [The Daily Beast] comments on how several senior administration officials have referred to Bergdahl as a “prisoner of war” since Saturday, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who said that this was a “prisoner of war exchange.” Rogin notes that the use of the term, long avoided by the administration, has caused some to worry that the Taliban will also refer to its captured fighters as prisoners of war, raising broader implications for their treatment.

The Miami Herald (Carol Rosenberg) reports that the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is usually invited to interview detainees about to leave Guantánamo, was not notified in advance of the detainees’ transfer.

Josh Gerstein [Politico] covers how the prisoner exchange leading to the release of five Guantánamo detainees “sends a clear message: [a]s liberals and some conservatives have long urged, Obama is now willing to wield his executive powers to [close the detention center].”

And Jason Leopold [Al Jazeera America] reports that the release of the Taliban officers is making some human rights organizations question why the Obama administration has not acted to transfer other Guantánamo detainees who have already been cleared for release.

Surveillance, Privacy, & Technology

The Wall Street Journal (Jennifer Valentino-Devries) reports on how thousands of law-enforcement requests for electronic surveillance—including monitoring numbers dialed and received, recording the “to” and “from” lines in emails, and “tower dumps”—remain sealed indefinitely, even after the related investigations have been concluded.

In the Washington Post, Walter Pincus writes that Edward Snowden is not a “true whistleblower,” or he would have “selected the documents to be published, made certain that they didn’t harm security and remained in the country to face the consequences of his actions.”

Syria

The Washington Post (Greg Miller et al.) reports how the case of the American suicide bomber in Syria highlights what U.S. officials worry is a “black hole” for intelligence agencies, which are straining to monitor the flow of foreign fighters into and out of the Syrian conflict.

National European agencies are similarly struggling to coordinate intelligence and surveillance of Europeans who have traveled to Syria to fight alongside Islamist rebels, reports the Wall Street Journal (Inti Landauro).

As voting begins in government-controlled territories in Syria [Al Jazeera], Syrian Opposition Coalition president Ahmad al-Jarba, writing in the Washington Post, condemns Assad’s “blood election.” Jarba also calls on the U.S. and other international supporters to “step up assistance … on the ground, [which] will level the playing field and put the moderates of Syria in a position to negotiate a lasting political solution to the conflict.”

Ukraine

As President Obama arrived in Poland for his four-day Europe trip, he pledged solidarity with central and eastern Europe and announced he would ask Congress for $1 billion to bolster security in the region [New York Times’ Peter Baker; Wall Street Journal’s Carol E. Lee].

Russia circulated a draft UN Security Council resolution yesterday, calling for safe humanitarian aid delivery in eastern Ukraine, but said council members from the West raised too many questions, forcing Moscow to rethink its next move [Reuters’ Steve Gutterman and Michelle Nichols].

Tensions remain high in eastern Ukraine as the military resumes its “active offensive phase,” a day after heavy fighting in the Luhansk province killed at least 12 individuals [Kyiv Post’s Christopher J. Miller]. And the Washington Post (Griff Witte and Carol Morello) reports how yesterday’s attack by pro-Russian rebels reflects the “insurgency’s growing strength.”

Ukraine and Russia have moved closer to an agreement over the gas price feud after agreeing on proposals including a new price and repayment plan, reports the Wall Street Journal (Vanessa Mock).

Polish Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that U.S. and European action “possibly prevented a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.”

NATO defense ministers are scheduled to discuss the long-term security impact of Russia’s actions in Ukraine at a September summit [BBC].

The White House announced that Vice President Joe Biden will attend the June 7 inauguration of Ukrainian President-elect Petro Poroshenko.

Other developments

The Pentagon has approved for prosecution the case of Guantánamo detainee Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, who allegedly ran al-Qaeda’s army between 2002 and 2004 [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]. Prosecutors at the military commission are seeking life in prison as the maximum punishment, not military execution.

In Bond v. U.S., the Supreme Court unanimously held that a woman’s federal chemical weapons conviction for attempting to poison her husband’s mistress was invalid [Politico’s Josh Gerstein].

The Supreme Court turned down a request yesterday to intervene on behalf of the New York Times reporter James Risen, who has been subpoenaed and could face jail for refusing to identify a confidential source in the case of a former CIA analyst [New York Times’ Adam Liptak].

The Obama administration said it plans to work with the new Palestinian unity government, which at this stage, according to the State Department, is “an interim technocratic government that does not include ministers affiliated with Hamas” [Reuters’ Lesley Wroughton and Patricia Zengerle]. The decision has come under criticism from Israel and some U.S. lawmakers.

The Washington Post (Ed O’Keefe) reports on the competing plans put forward by senators to fix the problems with veterans’ access to medical care.

Ken Opalo [Al Jazeera America] covers why the U.S. military’s expansion in Africa “poses significant challenges to democratization and domestic security” in the region.

Nigerian police in the capital city have banned protests over the abducted school girls, stating that the protests are “now posing a serious security threat” [Associated Press’ Bashir Adigun].

The commander of U.S. troops in South Korea has called for the deployment of an advanced missile-defense system to the country in order to counter the growing threat from North Korea [Reuters].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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