News Roundup and Notes: December 15, 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. 

SYDNEY HOSTAGE SITUATION

Gunman holding hostages at a café in Sydney, Australia. The hostage taker has displayed a black Islamic flag in the window and it is unclear how many people are being held. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott described the ongoing events as “profoundly shocking” and cited political grievances as the motive for the incident. [BBC]

Local Islamic leaders have distanced themselves from the incident, with one spokesperson describing those responsible as a “disgrace to their country and their religion.” [Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Stacey]

Check out the Sydney Morning Herald and The Guardian for live updates as the situation unfolds. 

SENATE TORTURE REPORT

The Sunday political shows focused on the Senate Intelligence Committee’s findings on the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation and detention program. The Hill offers a wrap-up of the debate, which included several senior Bush administration officials pushing back against the panel’s conclusions. Citing the 9/11 attacks as torture and defending the interrogation program, former Vice President Dick Cheney said he “would do it again in a minute.” [NBC’s “Meet the Press”]  On ABC’s “This Week,” former CIA Director Michael Hayden said that he is not sure he would have authorized the use of waterboarding, but said it’s “really important to distinguish Abu Ghraib and what happened to the CIA detention facilities.” [The Hill’s Alexander Bolton]  And Sen. Ron Wyden said he intends to introduce legislation to ensure prosecution for future instances of torture. [NBC’s “Meet the Press”]

Some interrogation practices “were not supposed to be done,” according to Former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, who stated that the individuals involved were “at risk legally because they were acting outside their orders.” [Reuters] 

Lawmakers on both sides appear opposed to prosecutions for CIA officials for their role in the agency’s post-9/11 program, writes Julian Hattem. [The Hill]

“Few presidents have had as close a bond with their intelligence chiefs” as President Obama with CIA Director John Brennan, leading to a president who condemns torture, but not those who inflicted it, report Peter Baker and Mark Mazzetti. [New York Times] 

The Obama administration is withholding hundreds of photographs depicting the brutal treatment of detainees, “all with the help of a willing Congress,” report Noah Shachtman and Tim Mak. [The Daily Beast]

The report has details on the 26 prisoners who were wrongfully detained by the CIA. [New York Times’ Scott Shane]

The Senate report’s release should make the military commission trials more transparent, Guantanamo’s chief war crimes prosecutor Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins said yesterday. Meanwhile, Judge Army Col. James L. Pohl ordered a review of classified filings in the 9/11 trial for potential declassification of information about the interrogation tactics used by the CIA. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

British lawmakers are seeking the U.K.-related intelligence that was redacted from the Senate’s report, amid growing pressure on the government over Britain’s complicity in the CIA program. [The Observer’s Mark Townsend and Jamie Doward]

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY, and TECHNOLOGY

Newly declassified documents shed light on why the FISC shut down the Bush-era surveillance program. Judge Roger Vinson denied the government’s request to spy on foreigners through U.S. companies as it failed to meet the required probable cause standard. [Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima]

British spy agency GCHQ hacked Belgium’s largest telecommunications provider, Belgacom, in an operation codenamed Operation Socialist in 2012. Ryan Gallagher details the revelations confirmed by the Edward Snowden leaks. [The Intercept]

IRAQ and SYRIA

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and partner nations conducted seven airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria from Dec. 10-12, five of which struck close to Kobani. Separately, U.S. and partner nations carried out 20 airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

The Syrian government army recaptured an area north of Aleppo yesterday. Syria’s second largest city is at the center of fighting between pro-government forces, al-Qaeda’s Syrian wing, Islamist units, and Western-backed rebels, Reuters reports.  Jihadist militants captured a Syrian army base today in Idlib province. [AP]

The Islamic State takes a “bureaucratic, systematized approach to maintaining power” making it more like an established government than a “fly-by-night band of extremists,” write Jacob N. Shapiro and Danielle F. Jung. [Boston Globe]

The Washington Post editorial board argues that putting off an Islamic State war authorization “makes both the Obama administration and Congress less accountable for what is likely to be a long and difficult conflict.”

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

The Palestinian Authority intends to submit a draft resolution to the UN Security Council calling for the recognition of Palestinian statehood and placing a two-year deadline on ending the Israeli occupation. [Haaretz’s Jack Khoury and Barak Ravid]

Secretary of State John Kerry will spend the coming days meeting Israeli and Palestinian leaders in an attempt to find a compromise that the parties, and Washington, find palatable. [New York Times’ Steven Erlanger]  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that during talks with Kerry he will make clear that Israel will rebuff any attempts at the UN to set a timeframe for withdrawal from occupied territory. [Reuters]

The U.S. is reluctant to act in any way that could be viewed as interference in Israel’s elections while being pushed by allies to recommend an Israeli-Palestinian negotiating framework, reports the AP, explaining the “diplomatic bind” the Obama administration finds itself in.

The number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank has “surged” while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has held office, reports the AP.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

FBI efforts to infiltrate defense teams will be the focus of a Guantanamo Bay military court hearing for suspects in the 9/11 attacks starting today. [Reuters]

Deadly attacks across Afghanistan on Saturday killed at least 20 people. The attacks included a suicide bomb targeting an Afghan military bus in Kabul for which the Taliban have claimed responsibility. [Wall Street Journal’s Margherita Stancati and Habib Khan Totakhil]

“Are security forces going too far” in European efforts to crack down on terrorism? Griff Witte talks to former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg and analyzes the impact of tightening laws across the continent. The full Q&A with Begg is available here. [Washington Post]

It is unlikely that President Obama will unilaterally close Guantanamo Bay prison by going against the will of Congress, reports Martin Matishak in light of predictions from lawmakers on both sides. [The Hill]

The U.S. “scuttled negotiations” to ensure the release of American hostage Luke Somers in Yemen, according to Casey L. Coombs et al, who detail the various blunders in the U.S. strategy. [The Intercept]

The Dawn editorial board questions why Pakistan is still reliant on U.S. funds to fight militancy inside the country, as Congress sanctions $1bn in military aid for the coming year.

Al-Shabaab militants killed 10 Somali soldiers in an attack on a military base in southern Somalia early today. [Reuters]

Egypt has referred 439 people to military tribunals; the top prosecutor’s referrals on Saturday were for acts of violence including the killing of three police officers last year. [AP]

Mali’s government says it exchanged four prisoners to ensure the release of a French hostage held by al-Qaeda’s North African branch for three years. [AP]

Moscow refuted Sweden’s accusation that a Russian military aircraft nearly collided with a Swedish passenger plane on Friday. [AP’s Lynn Berry] 

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security