News Roundup and Notes: August 17, 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.

IRAQ and SYRIA

Syrian government forces killed as many as 100 people in airstrikes on the Douma area of Damascus yesterday, one of the single deadliest attacks of the country’s four-year civil conflict, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [Reuters; Washington Post’s Hugh Naylor]

The attacks followed the announcement by the largest local rebel group, the Islam Army, of a new offensive against government forces in a suburb close by, report Ben Hubbard and Maher Samaan. [New York Times]

The UN’s Special Envoy for Syria on Friday condemned the shelling of Damascus suburbs, saying that the indiscriminate killing of civilians has “no justification,” in a statement.

The US will pull two Patriot missile-defense systems from southern Turkey, an indication that the Pentagon believes the threat posed by Syrian Army missile attacks has decreased since the Patriots were deployed in 2013. Antimissile systems are said to be needed elsewhere to protect from North Korea and Iran. [New York Times’ Eric Schmitt]

Iraq’s former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki may face criminal charges for his part in the fall of Mosul to ISIS fighters last summer, after a parliamentary report named him among dozens of officials responsible for how easily the city fell. [Washington Post’s Loveday Morris and Mustafa Salim]

Jeb Bush is not “the ideal carrier” of the message blaming President Obama’s withdrawal of troops from Iraq for the rise of the Islamic State, rather than pinning it to George W. Bush’s “reckless invasion of the country,” argues James Traub. [Foreign Policy]

Iraq’s leader reduced his cabinet from 33 members to 22 yesterday, part of major reform being implemented by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in response to protests against government corruption and bad governance. [AP]

Sen Lindsey Graham would commit the full force of the US military, including boots on the ground, to the fight against the Islamic State were he to become president, he said on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.”

GUANTÁNAMO BAY

The pre-trial hearing for suspects in the 9/11 attacks has been canceled, a US military spokesperson said yesterday, another setback to the “complex, slow-moving case” against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four alleged co-conspirators. [Reuters]

Pentagon teams are looking into alternative detention facilities to Guantánamo Bay, including Fort Leavenworth in Kansas and the Charleston, S.C., brig, part of the groundwork of the Obama administration’s closure proposals for the prison. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

The Obama administration has urged a federal jury not to order the release of a Guantánamo Bay detainee whose eight year hunger strike has left him in a condition described as close to imminent death by his lawyers. [Miami Herald]

Evidence of carcinogens have been found at the war crimes court compound at the Navy base at Guantánamo Bay by a public health team, however it has so far been concluded that the property is safe for occupancy. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

IRAN

Iran will not be influenced by the US and will continue to oppose American policies in the Middle East despite the nuclear accord reached between Tehran and world powers, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said. [Reuters]

“Possibly the only Republican” in Congress who could have supported the Iran nuclear agreement has said he won’t; Sen Jeff Flake issued a statement explaining his reasons for doing so. [Politico’s Nahal Toosi]

Presidential candidate Donald Trump said the Iran deal would “lead to a nuclear holocaust” and accused Secretary of State John Kerry, who negotiated the deal, of being “incompetent,” on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.” [The Guardian’s Martin Pengelly]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The NSA has maintained an “extraordinary, decades-long partnership” with AT&T, a relationship which facilitated the agency’s ability to spy on huge quantities of Internet traffic traveling through the US. Julia Angwin et al report on the revelation arising out of documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, jointly reviewed by the New York Times and ProPublica. [New York Times]

Egypt’s president Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has imposed controversial new counterterrorism legislation, establishing special courts and offering additional protection from legal consequences for security officers who have used force. [BBC; Reuters]  And Egypt’s ousted president Mohamed Morsi will appeal against the death sentence and life-in-prison term upheld against him by an Egyptian court in June. [Al Jazeera]

The Obama administration has given a warning to the Chinese government over the presence of covert Chinese agents operating in the US. US officials say that law enforcement agents are secretly trying to hunt down and repatriate Chinese fugitives, an effort named Operation Fox Hunt. [New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti and Dan Levin]

Fighting in Ukraine escalated between government forces and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine overnight, leaving a number of civilians dead. [Reuters]

Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton must answer “all questions” put to her by the House Benghazi Committee during testimony scheduled for Oct. 22, and the hearing will take as long as necessary, chairman of the committee, Trey Gowdy said yesterday. [Politico’s Jennifer Shutt]  And Michael B. Mukasey analyzes the “potentially applicable criminal laws in order of severity” relevant to Clinton’s use of a personal email server. [Wall Street Journal]

Fighters allied to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen have extended a series of victories, capturing a province and making progress in Taiz, a strategic southern city which has been under Houthi control since March. [Wall Street Journal’s Mohammed al-Kibsi and Asa Fitch]

The number of US drone flights will increase significantly over the next four years, facilitating access to more intelligence and greater military power aimed at tackling a growing number of global areas of concern, according to a senior defense official. [Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold]

Should the Taliban “be considered a terrorist organization on par” with other groups tracked and killed by US Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC? Sean D. Naylor discusses how the Taliban is now largely ignored by elite American troops. [Foreign Policy]

Ecuador’s acting foreign minister has spoken out over Julian Assange, refusing to allow his country to take responsibility for the lack of progress in the case against the WikiLeaks founder who has been living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for over three years. [The Guardian] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security