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.
PRESIDENT TRUMP’S TORTURE ORDER
A draft executive order to review bringing back waterboarding and the CIA secret prisons known as “black sites” and characterizing a 2016 law barring torture as “a significant statutory barrier” is not a White House document, press secretary Sean Spicer insisted yesterday, Katie Bo Williams reporting at the Hill.
The White House circulated the order among staff in the same way as other pending executive orders have been distributed, according to the three administration officials familiar with the order, suggesting that Spicer’s statements were false, write Mark Mazetti and Charlie Savage at the New York Times.
Lawmakers in both parties condemned the draft order yesterday, which would also mandate that the Guantánamo Bay detention facility continues to be used to contain foreign terrorism suspects, Austin Wright reports at POLITICO.
The Trump team made little effort to consult with federal agency lawyers or lawmakers in producing executive actions this week, fanning fears that it is manufacturing the appearance of real momentum with flawed orders that may be unenforceable or even illegal, write Isaac Arnsdorf, Josh Dawsey and Seung Min Kim at POLITICO.
“The President can sign whatever executive orders he likes … We are not bringing back torture in the United States of America.” Chairman of the Armed Services Committee Sen. John McCain released a statement following reports of the executive order directing a review of US interrogation policies.
Torture “absolutely” works, President Trump insisted in his first TV interview as President, with ABC News, but said he will defer to defense secretary James Mattis and CIA director Mike Pompeo as to what can and cannot be done legally. Matthew Weaver and Spencer Ackerman report at the Guardian.
The draft executive order could mean a return to the “executive-branch lawlessness” that arose out of the 9/11 attacks, anticipates Alex Emmons at The Intercept.
PRESIDENT TRUMP’S MUSLIM REFUGEE and IMMIGRANT ORDER
“If we bombed you, we ban you.” The executive order Trump is expected to sign restricting visits and immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries would suspend the issuance of visas for at least 30 days to most people in those countries while the Trump administration reconsiders its vetting procedures,and relies on Division O., Title II, s.203 of the 2016 Consolidates Appropriations Act, explains Zaid Jilani at The Intercept.
The draft order, which could still be amended before being signed, was published by the Huffington Post’s Jessica Schulberg and Ryan Grim.
There is little national security benefit to the order, which targets countries whose nationals have been responsible for zero American deaths in terrorist attacks on US soil between 1975 and 2015 – but then a rational analysis of national security threats is not the basis of Trump’s orders, writes Alex Nowrasteh at Cato.
The immigration order will “severely harm millions of immigrants and US citizens,” according to Human Rights Watch.
Effective screening to detect homeland security requires good intelligence and close cooperation with allies, not the “crude alternatives” the president advocates, write Donald Kerwin and Edward Alden at the Washington Post.
Trump’s approach to fighting Islamic radicalism is more likely to further stoke anti-American sentiment worldwide than to make the US safer, suggests the New York Times editorial board.
PRESIDENT TRUMP’S MEXICAN BORDER WALL ORDER
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is considering scrapping his plan to visit the White House next Tuesday after President Trump signed an order to begin construction on a wall dividing Mexico and the US and to toughen America’s deportation force, Mexican officials confirmed. Azam Ahmed reports at the New York Times.
Justice Antonin Scalia’s June 2015 opinion in Michigan v Environmental Protection Agency may serve as a powerful weapon to resist Trump’s plan for a border wall, suggest Daniel Hemel, Jonathan Masur and Eric Posner at the New York Times.
PRESIDENT TRUMP’S FOREIGN POLICY
UK Prime Minister Theresa May said she would try to renew the UK’s “special relationship” with the US “for this new age” but won’t be afraid to “speak candidly” when she meets President Trump for the first time tomorrow, the BBC reports.
President Trump seems to think that reinforcing the “special relationship” with the UK is a substitute for nurturing Western institutions like NATO, in which respect he is as deluded as Prime Minister May, writes the Washington Post editorial board.
The Taliban urged President Trump to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan in an open letter published on one of its official webpages, Al Jazeera reports.
Cuba is eager to continue negotiations with the Trump administration but will not concede any of its sovereignty in doing so, President Raul Castro said, the AP’s Ezequiel Abiu Lopez reports.
An early test of whether Trump’s approach to Russia will do better than Obama’s is provided by two measures working their way through the US Senate: a bill that strengthens sanctions against Russia over Ukraine, and a currently sidelined bill ratifying Montenegro’s NATO membership, writes the Wall Street Journal editorial board.
The fate of Palestinians living in occupied territory does not rest on one man or his administration, but on the concerted efforts of the international community to help broker peace, writes Issam Aruri at the Guardian.
How should Trump conduct international relations? Robert D. Blackwill at Foreign Policy provides some advice on forming policies that defend America’s vital national interests.
It is important “not to exacerbate the situation with refugees” and to “weigh all the possible consequences” of President Trump’s order, which also directs the State Department to plan for safe zones in Syria and the wider region within 90 days, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told the AP’s Vladimir Isachenkov.
Turkey is waiting to see the outcome of Trump’s promise to order safe zones in Syria, a plan it says it has long advocated, Turkey’s foreign ministry spokesperson said today. Reuters’ Tulay Karadeniz reports.
King Abdullah II of Jordan praised the Syrian peace talks at the start of his meeting with Russian President Putin at the Kremlin yesterday, the AP reports.
Six other rebel factions joined with the Ahrar al-Sham group in northwestern Syria in an effort to resist a major assault by former al-Qaeda jihadist group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, Ahrar al-Sham said today. [Reuters]
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 21 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Jan. 25. Separately, partner forces conducted seven strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]
Pretrial motions due to go ahead yesterday could not go forward because defense attorney Cherly T. Bormann broke her arm and could not attend, the judge at the Guantánamo Bay war court ruled. [AP]
CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
A joint congressional committee to investigate whether high-ranking Kremlin officials were involved in ordering the hacking of the US election was called for by ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee of Intelligence Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Jenna McLaughlin reports at The Intercept.
Senior Kremlin cyberintelligence department official Sergei Mikhailov who allegedly oversaw the hacking of the US election was arrested in Moscow on charges of treason, Russian media reported. Andrew E. Kramer reports at the New York Times.
President Trump is still using his unsecured Andriod phone, the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman reports.
Islamist militias were driven out of the Ganfouda district of Benghazi, Libya, by forces loyal to military leader Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, the BBC reports.
The UN has been accused of suppressing a report critical of the way in which Middle Eastern governments treat their citizens that was supposed to be released by the body’s Economic and Social Commission for West Asia, Al Jazeera reports.
China may be developing a new long-range air-to-air missile that could potentially attack early warning and aerial refuelling aircraft, a Chinese state-run newspaper said today. [Reuters]
Britain was putting on a show by escorting a Russian aircraft carrier along the English Channel in an effort to distract attention from the shortcomings of the British Navy, Russia said. [Reuters]