News Roundup and Notes: June 9, 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

For the second week running, the Sunday shows focused on the prisoner swap that secured the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban detainees formerly held at Guantánamo Bay. The Hill (Ferdous Al-Faruque) covers the continuing concern and criticism expressed by lawmakers, including Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein and ranking member Saxby Chambliss as well as House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Rogers.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry defended the administration’s decision on CNN’s “State of the Union” (Candy Crowley). In what appeared to be a threat of a drone attack against the freed Taliban officials [The Guardian’s Paul Lewis], Kerry said:

“I’m not telling you that they don’t have some ability at some point to go back [to the battlefield]. But they also have an ability to get killed doing that. And I don’t think anybody should doubt the capacity of the United States of America to protect Americans.”

Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey said on Fox News Sunday (Chris Wallace) that President Obama “broke the law” requiring Congress to be notified 30 days prior to the transfer of a Guantánamo detainee, but added that “the law itself is unconstitutional.”

Lawmakers and senior officials in Afghanistan and the U.S. have questioned why the prisoner swap was made without a commitment to a broader agreement, and whether the deal enhances the legitimacy of the Taliban [New York Times’ David E. Sanger and Matthew Rosenberg]. However, some current and former American officials are hopeful that the prisoner swap has created a precedent for future negotiations, which could eventually help the next Afghan president in securing a peace deal with the militant group [Washington Post’s Anne Gearan].

The Economist explores the “rights and wrongs” of the prisoner swap, noting that after the complete U.S. withdrawal planned for 2016, “Washington angst about Taliban commanders returning to the fight may be beside the point.”

An administration official has told ABC News (Byron Pitts and Seni Tienabeso) that the political backlash over the prisoner swap is complicating efforts to transfer additional Guantánamo detainees to their homeland or third countries, despite 78 prisoners being cleared for transfer by the Periodic Review Board.

In a statement issued on Friday, the recently released Taliban leaders said they would remain “steadfast and loyal” to the conditions negotiated with Qatar for their release [McClatchy DC’s Mohamed Salman].

According to U.S. officials, Bergdahl has told medical personnel that the Taliban held him in a metal cage in complete darkness for weeks at a time as punishment for attempting to escape [New York Times’ Eric Schmitt]. A U.S. official also said that Bergdahl has declined to speak to his family, highlighting “the difficult journey” he will face as he tries to adjust to normal life, reports the Wall Street Journal (Julian E. Barnes et al.).

And CNN (Jake Tapper) and Reuters (Andy Sullivan et al.) investigate the recent claims that the effort to rescue Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl led to the deaths of six soldiers from his platoon.

Pakistani Taliban attack

The Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for the five-hour attack at Karachi’s international airport last night, which left 28 people dead, including 10 militants [Dawn]. The group spokesperson said the attack had been carried out in response to the killing of former leader, Hakimullah Mehsud by a U.S. drone strike, and warned that the group intended to “take revenge for hundreds” killed by the Pakistani army’s air strikes.

Ukraine

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who was sworn into office over the weekend, issued a statement calling for the fighting in the country’s east to end “this week” [Al Jazeera].

Vice President Joe Biden announced an additional $48 million in assistance “to help the Ukrainian Government conduct key reforms, build law enforcement capacity, and strengthen national unity.”

The Washington Post (Zachary A. Goldfarb and Michael Birnbaum) reports that President Obama’s 15-minute talk with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, as well as Putin’s brief meeting with Poroshenko, is “a positive development” in the Ukraine crisis, according to administration officials.

Syria

In an interview with Susanne Koelbl [Der Spiegel], former UN special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi warned that Syria will become “a failed state, with warlords all over the place.” Brahimi also said that Russia, Iran, and Iraq “are supporting Damascus and delivering a lot of aid to them; probably money and definitely weapons.”

Meanwhile, the leader of Lebanon-based Hezbollah has called on the U.S.  to accept that “[a]ny political solution has to start and end with [President Bashar al-Assad],” following Assad’s claimed election victory last week [Washington Post’s Liz Sly].

Other developments

Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein told Bloomberg’s Al Hunt that DNI James Clapper has “assured” her that the CIA will have reviewed her committee’s report on the agency’s interrogation methods by “around the Fourth of July.”

David E. Sanger and Nicole Perlroth [New York Times] cover how tech firms, including Google, Facebook and Microsoft, are taking steps to make it more difficult and more costly for the NSA and other foreign intelligence agencies to penetrate their systems.

The U.S. is scheduled to hold bilateral meetings with Iran’s nuclear negotiators in Geneva this week, which will be followed by meetings between Iran and the other “P5+1” countries, in an effort to reach a comprehensive nuclear deal [Al-Monitor’s Laura Rozen].

The New York Times (Matt Apuzzo) reports on how military equipment is ending up in local police departments, as Obama attempts to wind down what he calls America’s “long season of war.”

In his first speech as Egypt’s President, former military leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi pledged to “defeat terrorism,” and said he was “looking to a new era built on reconciliation and tolerance … except with those who committed crimes or used violence as a tool” [Al Jazeera].

A bomb attack near a military guard in Nigeria’s Gombe State yesterday killed the female suicide bomber and a soldier [Naij].

China has accused Vietnam vessels of carrying out more than 1,400 ramming raids in the South China Sea and called on Hanoi to halt the “provocations” [BBC].

The Associated Press reports on a bomb attack at a police base in eastern Afghanistan earlier today, which killed one guard, while 25 tankers and trucks caught fire.

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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