The Early Edition: October 21, 2016

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.

SOUTH AFRICAN WITHDRAWAL FROM THE ICC

South Africa is pulling out of the International Criminal Court because the obligations it puts on states are inconsistent with laws giving sitting leaders diplomatic immunity, South African Justice Minister Michael Masutha said today. [Reuters]

South Africa and Burundi, which also decided to leave, are the first countries to withdraw from the ICC, amid concerns that more African countries will pull out over accusations that the court unfairly focuses on the continent, the AP explains.

As a matter of domestic law, the action is “unconstitutional and unlawful” and South African “courts will yet again have to rescue the executive from acting in conflict with our Constitution,” Justice Richard Goldstone writes at Just Security.

IRAQ

Iraqi special forces secured the strategically-important town of Bartella from the Islamic State yesterday, putting the militants’ positions inside Mosul well within the range of Iraqi artillery, Ben Kesling and Tamer el-Ghobashy report at the Wall Street Journal.

Kurdish fighters tasked with securing 27 villages north of Mosul advanced in three main groups from the villages of Bashiqa, Narawan and Tel Iskuf yesterday, backed by US air support and meeting heavy resistance from the Islamic State, which appeared to have anticipated the attack, Michael R. Gordon reports at the New York Times.

The Kurds’ assault brought them to within about six miles of the city of Mosul, Fazel Hawramy and Luke Harding report at the Guardian.

An American service member was killed in a roadside bomb explosion north of Mosul yesterday, US officials confirmed. [AP’s Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Susannah George]

Kurdish forces will never again retreat as they were forced to in Aug. 2014, when the Islamic State’s lightning assault drove them out of the Nineveh plains, fighters have vowed. Martin Chulov reports at the Guardian.

The Islamic State launched multiple attacks in the northern province of Kirkuk today, targeting police and a power station in the oil-rich region, Ghassan Adnan reports at the Wall Street Journal.  Iraqi police say 11 workers were killed at a power plant north of Kirkuk this morning by three Islamic State militants who then blew themselves up. [AP]

It is important to respect Iraqi sovereignty, Defense Secretary Ash Carter will tell Turkish leaders when he visits the country today, he said. The AP’s Lolita C. Baldor observes that he stopped short of saying he would tell the Turks to remove any forces operating in Iraq without Baghdad’s agreement.

SYRIA

Exit corridors set up for civilians to escape Aleppo were under constant fire yesterday, the Russian military said. [AP]

Many residents in besieged parts of Aleppo say they will not travel out of the city via the corridors opened by the Syrian government because there are no guarantees that they will not be arrested by government forces, the AP reports.

Rebels in Aleppo are preparing a counteroffensive to break the Syrian government’s blockade, saying that the intention behind President Assad and Russia’s exit corridors is really to empty opposition-held areas of Aleppo so they can take over the entire city. [Al Jazeera]

The Syrian ceasefire is welcome, but it is not enough to deliver aid to the civilians trapped inside Aleppo, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a special General Assembly on Syria. [Al Jazeera]

The UN General Assembly met informally yesterday to discuss whether to override the Security Council, which remains deadlocked on the Syrian conflict, reports Farnaz Fassihi at the Wall Street Journal.

The siege and bombing of Aleppo constitute “crimes of historic proportions” amounting to war crimes, top UN human rights official Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva today. [Reuters]

EU leaders failed to agree new sanctions against Russia over Aleppo at a summit yesterday due to opposition from Italy, Jennifer Rankin and Anushka Asthanian report at the Guardian.  They did, however, employ sharp rhetoric in warning the Kremlin that it could face consequences if it continues to bombard Aleppo, Michael Birnbaum at the Washington Post calling it a major departure for the EU leaders, whose toughened stance is a “partial victory” for Washington which has struggled to maintain European unity on sanctions.

Turkey’s escalating offensive against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria is complicating the battle against the Islamic State by NATO allies Turkey and the US, write Sarah El Deeb and Suzan Fraser at the AP.

The Syrian town of Jarablus is a symbol of Turkish President Erdoğan’s “frustrated foreign policy goals in a war that he has always wanted to play an outsize role in,” writes Mehul Srivastava at the Financial Times.

Private Russian company Abakan Air is the only authorized civilian provider of airdropped humanitarian aid in the Syria conflict, the UN paying it millions of dollars despite barring it from doing business with it ten years ago, Somini Sengupta and Sophia Kishkovsky report at the New York Times.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out six airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Oct. 19. Separately, partner forces conducted eight strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

YEMEN

The Saudi-led coalition violated international humanitarian law by attacking civilians at a funeral in Yemen’s capital Sana’a on Oct. 8, UN experts investigating the bombing said. [AP’s Edith M. Lederer]

American Wallead Yusuf Pitts Luqman is being “unjustly” held by the Houthis in Yemen and the US government has been unable to free him. Luqman’s wife, Jihan Mohamed, said in a Facebook post, Adam Goldman reports at the New York Times.

An Australian man kidnapped by an unnamed group in Yemen appeared in a video saying his captors demand the Australian government pay a ransom for his release, the BBC reports.

RUSSIA

Russian warships are passing through the English Channel en route to Syria, the BBC reports.

How to contain the threat from Russia. The Economist discusses the now “conventional wisdom” that Russia is America’s “number-one geopolitical foe.”

THE PHILIPPINES and CHINA

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced his “separation” from the US “both in military but in economics also” after meeting his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping yesterday, Al Jazeera reports.

Duterte didn’t really mean “separation,” Philippine Trade Minister Ramon Lopez said today, insisting the Philippines will maintain trade and economic ties with the US. [Reuters]

Duterte’s agreement to set aside Manila’s South China Sea dispute with Beijing in favor of increased economic links is a “diplomatic victory” for China, Chun Han Wong writes at the Wall Street Journal.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

NSA contractor Harold Martin amassed at least 500 million pages of government records over two decades, the Justice Department alleged in a court filing submitted yesterday. Damian Paletta reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Espionage charges are being brought against Martin, according to a memo filed yesterday by prosecutors urging the judge in the case not to grant him pretrial release, Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.

Chinese hackers targeted foreign government personnel visiting the USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier which patrolled the South China Sea, the day before the ruling of the international tribunal in the Hague on China’s territorial claims in that region, according to US cybersecurity company FireEye. [Financial Times’ Jeevan Vasagar and Geoff Dyer]

WikiLeaks released emails sent to and from then-Sen. Barack Obama just before he won his first presidential election, Ben Kamisar reports at the Hill.

The White House has refused to comment on what it calls the “stolen emails of a private citizen,” referring to now-campaign chairperson for Hillary Clinton John Podesta, with whom some of Obama’s emails were exchanged. [POLITICO’s Sarah Wheaton]

Evidence linking the hack of John Podesta’s email account to the data breaches at Democratic groups believed to have been perpetrated by Russia has been uncovered by researchers, Joe Uchill reports at the Hill.

John Podesta’s hacking saga is “both an object lesson and a warning that DC needs to up its cyber game,” writes Martin Matishak at POLITICO, citing security experts.

WikiLeaks also issued a “cryptic” warning that it had a “surprise in store” for DNC Interim Chairwoman Donna Brazile and Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine yesterday via Twitter. [The Hill’s Joe Uchill]

House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) will seek to hold in contempt the IT firm that maintained Hillary Clinton’s private email server, Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The conspiracy conviction of Ali Hamza al Bahlul who served as Osama bin Laden’s PA by military conviction at Guantánamo Bay was upheld by a federal appeals court yesterday, Sam Hananel reports at the AP.

Egypt’s fight against Islamic militants has alienated its chief financial supporter Saudi Arabia while bringing it closer to Syrian President Assad, Russia and Iran, Hamza Hendawi writes at the AP.

The rise of militants who have developed a way to “remote control” terrorist attacks from a distance, like Rachid Kassim, believed to be the common link between a number of attacks in France in recent months, is alarming investigators throughout Europe, Stacy Meichtry and Sam Schechner observe at the Wall Street Journal.

British warplanes will undertake a series of exercises with Japan and South Korea this weekend, the first time Japan’s Air Self Defense Force has hosted joint exercises with aircraft from a nation other than the US, CNN’s Brad Lendon reports.

The leader of a Bangladeshi Islamist group blamed for the siege of a café and the deaths of several foreigners died while trying to evade arrest on Oct. 8, security officials said today. [Dhaka Tribune]

Suspected Abu Sayyaf militants abducted a South Korean]and a Filipino sailor from a South Korean cargo ship off Bongao town in Tawi Tawi province yesterday, the AP reports.

The aftermath of torture. The New York Times editorial board discusses the enduring psychological and emotional scars suffered by those tortured at CIA “black sites” worldwide and at Guantánamo Bay.

 

Just Security’s Three-Year Anniversary Event, “National Security and Transparency in this Administration and the Next,” is taking place on Nov.2. Join us for a wide-ranging discussion with panelists Amy Davidson (Staff Writer, The New Yorker), Jack Goldsmith (Henry L. Shattuck Professor, Harvard Law School), Jameel Jaffer (founding director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University; Former deputy legal director at the ACLU; Executive Editor, Just Security), and David McCraw (Assistant General Counsel, The New York Times). Details are available here. 

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About the Author(s)

Zoë Chapman

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security, Legal Researcher at UK-based human rights organization, JUSTICE