News Roundup and Notes: February 6, 2015

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.

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY, and TECHNOLOGY

British intelligence services acted unlawfully in accessing bulk data obtained by the NSA before December 2014, the U.K.’s Investigatory Powers Tribunal has ruled. [The Guardian’s Owen Bowcott]

Britain has threatened to end intelligence sharing with Germany if the country’s parliamentary inquiry into American and British spying proceeds, a threat which German officials are reportedly taking seriously. [The Telegraph’s Justin Huggler]

IRAQ and SYRIA

The White House will seek congressional authorization for the fight against the Islamic State within days. Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the administration is preparing to send Congress “specific legislative language” for the AUMF. [Wall Street Journal’s Michael R. Crittenden and Carol E. Lee]

The Syrian government air force killed at least 82 people in an opposition-held district outside Damascus today, following rebel attacks on the government-controlled city center, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [Reuters]

Jordan has begun retaliatory air strikes against the Islamic State, targeting the group in Syria and, for the first time, Iraq. Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said the strikes are just the “beginning of our retaliation” for the killing of a captured Jordanian pilot. [BBC]  The AP offers a Q&A on Jordan’s current and potential contribution to the fight against the Islamic State.

Was a Jan. 1 assault on the Islamic State’s de facto capital, Raqqa, a rescue mission? Jacob Siegel and Kevin Maurer consider the evidence that the Jordanians had tried to rescue their captured pilot, following claims by Abu Ibrahim Raqqawi, a Syrian activist. [The Daily Beast]

The Islamic State is under increasing pressure in Syria but is far from collapse as the group has faced less military pressure than in Iraq; the group still holds a firm grip in Raqqa province and other territory. [Reuters’ Tom Perry and Mariam Karouny]

Despite the Kurdish victory in Kobani, their campaign to strengthen autonomy in the north of Syria is far from certain, amid objections from Turkey and the U.S. among other challenges. [Reuters]

Coalition airstrikes continue. On Wednesday, U.S. and Coalition forces carried out three airstrikes in Syria targeting ISIS, and a separate nine strikes in Iraq against the terrorist group. [Central Command]

The Islamic State’s objective in burning alive the Jordanian pilot appears to be to “destabilize Jordan by drawing it deeply into the conflict,” writes Charles Krauthammer. [Washington Post]  The video of the Jordanian pilot is a sign that the Islamic State intends to “raise the stakes in their propaganda efforts,” according to experts speaking to the AP.

The New York Times editorial board considers that if the widespread outrage on display in the Middle East “translates into a broader fight against barbaric jihadism” then the “cruel” death of Jordanian Lieutenant al-Kasasbeh may not have been in vain.

ISIS is subjecting children to horrific abuses, according to a UN report released this week. [CNN’s Faith Karimi]  Female supporters of the group have published a guide for female jihadis, serving as recruitment propaganda, according to a London-based think tank. [NPR’s Jackie Northam]

A British jihadist who travelled to Syria and joined a group linked to ISIS has been sentenced to 12-years. [BBC]

U.S. MILITARY ABUSE

A federal judge has asked the government to explain, photo-by-photo, why it cannot release hundreds of pictures, or possibly more, depicting the abuse of detainees by U.S. forces at military detention sites in Afghanistan and Iraq. [The Intercept’s Cora Currier]

The New York Times editorial board asks whether anyone will be held accountable for the abuse committed in Abu Ghraib, noting that the “accountability gap becomes a bigger concern as the military relies increasingly on contractors.”

UKRAINE and RUSSIA

The French and German leaders are due to hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin today, after five hours of discussions with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko yesterday evening. The latest peace efforts appear to be sparked by concerns that Washington is moving toward arming Ukrainian troops, a move opposed by the European leaders. [Financial Times’ Roman Olearchyk and Stefan Wagstyl]

Providing military support to Ukraine “could push Putin into a regional war,” write Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy, who explore the consequences of this “dangerous trajectory.” [Washington Post]

Kiev and separatist rebels have agreed on a humanitarian corridor enabling the evacuation of civilians from the center of fighting in the town of Debaltseve. [AP]

NATO’s defense ministers agreed on the details of its Spearhead Force, allowing for rapid development, yesterday. The Wall Street Journal’s Naftali Bendavid provides more details on the alliance’s plans announced in response to Russian aggression.

GUANTÁNAMO BAY

Debate over closing the Guantánamo prison continued at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing yesterday, with discussion focused on the Republican-backed bill that would restrict the transfer of detainees from the prison. [AP’s Deb Riechmann]

The conviction of Australian David Hicks by the Guantánamo military commission may no longer be valid, prosecutors have accepted in a legal filing, but they argue that Hicks’ conviction should be upheld as the former detainee was not allowed to appeal as part of his plea deal in 2007. [AP’s Ben Fox]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

President Obama will release his final national security strategy today, presenting a blueprint for the remainder of his time in office while acknowledging the limits of America’s influence on world events, report Peter Baker and David E. Sanger. [New York Times] The strategy will defend the Obama administration’s approach, describing it as “strategic patience” and aiming to rebut criticism that the president has consistently waited too long to tackle challenges such as the Islamic State and Russian aggression in Ukraine. [Foreign Policy’s Gopal Ratnam]

Ashton Carter is expected to be confirmed as the new Defense Secretary by the end of next week, according to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain. [The Hill’s Martin Matishak]

A U.S. drone strike in Yemen killed a senior AQAP official last week, the group confirmed yesterday, as it vowed that the death would not impact their operations. [Wall Street Journal’s Maria Abi-Habib and Asa Fitch]

Hundreds of Boko Haram fighters rampaged through a Cameroonian town close to the Nigerian border on Thursday, killing at least 91 villagers and wounding over 500, as well as razing mosques and churches. The attack came after the group warned Nigeria’s neighbor not to become involved in the battle against the group, reports the AP.  Adam Nossiter describes Boko Haram’s massacres in northeastern Nigeria. [New York Times]

The U.S. is pressing Cuba to allow it to open its embassy in Havana by April, despite demands from Cuba that it first be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, officials have told Reuters.

The implications of a nuclear accord between Iran and the P5+1 was hotly debated in Iran’s parliament as hard-liners expressed concern over the direction of the relationship with the U.S. [Wall Street Journal’s Bill Spindle]  The Washington Post editorial board shares concerns with numerous members of Congress and other officials over the contours of the emerging nuclear deal, and urges further debate on them now.

An explosives laden car detonated in Benghazi, Libya today, killing two people and wounding at least 20 others; the car exploded as it approached an army tank base and ammunitions store, military officials told Reuters.

The House Benghazi committee is operating outside the rules required of other House committees on the public disclosure of spending and issues to be pursued, according to Democrats on the panel. [Washington Post’s Greg Miller]

The resignation of the chair of the UN inquiry into the 2014 Gaza conflict “won’t salvage the credibility of a commission that has been politicized from the start,” according to the Wall Street Journal editorial board, which argues that a “genuine” investigation would also cover Hamas’ strategy during the war.

Democrats are invoking the threat of the Islamic State to pressure the GOP into funding the Department of Homeland Security without the stipulations pushed for by the Republicans. [Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan]

One of Southeast Asia’s most wanted terror suspects may have been killed in the Philippines during clashes between Muslim rebels and authorities. The FBI has said that DNA analysis suggests that the Malaysian suspect – known as Marwan – was apparently killed in late January. [AP]

The UN Secretary General is calling for 1,000 additional peacekeepers to assist the Central African Republic in bringing violence between Muslims and Christians under control. [AP]

Qatar is attempting to mend relations with Arab neighbors by publicly distancing itself from Islamist organizations like Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon]

Uruguay expelled a senior Iranian diplomat from the embassy in Montevideo two weeks ago, in light of suspicions over the official’s involvement in planting an explosive device at the Israeli embassy in the city early last month. [Haaretz’s Barak Ravid]

U.S. lawmakers are pushing for increased sanctions on North Korea, introducing new legislation that strengthens punishments on foreign companies doing business with Pyongyang. [Reuters’ Patricia Zengerle]

Concerned that its service is facilitating the transfer of funds to al-Shabaab militants in Somalia, the Merchants Bank of California is halting transfers between U.S.-based Somalis and their families in east Africa. [BBC]

U.K. authorities have spent over £10 million providing 24-hour guard at the Ecuadorean embassy in London since Wikileaks founder Julian Assange claimed asylum there in 2012. [BBC]

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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