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
“I’m sure it’s not pleasant” but waterboarding is “not torture,” the President of the United States of America insisted yesterday, reiterating previous arguments, Max Greenwood reporting at the Hill.
Defense Secretary James Mattis remains opposed to torture and “will abide by and is committed to” the various international law structures that prohibit the practice, Pentagon spokesperson Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said yesterday, Kristina Wong reporting at the Hill.
Read the 2014 report on the CIA’s programs before deciding whether to reintroduce “enhanced interrogation,” Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee urged President Trump. The Hill’s Jordain Carney reports.
PRESIDENT TRUMP’S MUSLIM REFUGEE and IMMIGRANT ORDER
The State Department’s entire senior level of management has resigned less than a week into Trump’s presidency, Josh Rogin reports at the Washington Post.
The departures were not resignations, but sackings, among those told to leave Michele Bond, whose dismissal officials said may be linked to Trump’s goal of limiting immigration from Muslim-majority countries, writes John Hudson at Foreign Policy.
PRESIDENT TRUMP’S MEXICAN BORDER WALL
The head of Border Patrol Mark Morgan is resigning less than 24 hours after President Trump issued an executive order calling for the construction of a border wall between the US and Mexico and a wide-sweeping crackdown on illegal immigration, the US Customs and Border Protection confirmed yesterday, POLITICO’s Eli Stokols reporting.
The wall might be paid for via a US tax on Mexican imports, the Trump administration said yesterday, Joshua Partlow reporting at the Washington Post.
The first full-blown foreign policy standoff of Trump’s presidency has taken shape – between the US and Mexico, Azam Ahmed writes at the New York Times.
PRESIDENT TRUMP’S FOREIGN POLICY
Trump is considering executive orders requiring a review of parts of the US’s national security infrastructure, including the approach to cybersecurity threats and the designation of organizations as terrorist, the Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung and Philip Rucker report.
A presidential directive calling on Defense Secretary James Mattis to come up with plans to strike the Islamic State more aggressively, possibly involving US artillery on the ground in Syria, is being drafted by the White House, officials said. Michael R. Gordon, Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt report at the New York Times.
“Our military is more important to me than a balanced budget,” Trump said in an interview yesterday, Jenna Johnson reporting at the Washington Post.
Trump is filling top posts in his National Security Council with active-duty and retired military officers, US officials observing that he is relying more on military personnel than any president since Ronald Reagan, Jay Solomon writes at the Wall Street Journal.
Trump and Russian President Putin may have their first phonecall since Trump became president on Saturday, the Kremlin said today, Laura Mills and Nathan Hodge reporting at the Wall Street Journal.
Designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization could spawn unexpected consequences across the Middle East, warns Yaroslav Trofimov writing at the Wall Street Journal.
David Friedman is by any objective standard disqualified from serving as America’s ambassador to Israel, or any country, quite apart from the fact that his views on Israel are at odds with decades of US policy, writes Lara Friedman at the Hill.
The foreign policy section of Trump’s inaugural address, which radically redefined the US national interest as understood since World War II, has received far less attention than so “revolutionary” a statement deserves, Charles Krauthammer writes at the Washington Post.
Trump’s “shoot from the hip” approach makes him his own administration’s worst enemy on foreign policy, writes David Ignatius at the Washington Post.
Trump appears to be backing away from the idea of America being at the center of a transparent, rule-based national order, a reversal of over 70 years of US foreign policy, observes Fareed Zakaria at the Washington Post.
THE TRUMP-MAY MEETING
Trump and UK Prime Minister Theresa May are due to hold talks in the Oval Office today, security and intelligence cooperation and the future of NATO likely subjects of discussion, the BBC reports.
“Opposites attract.” May said that a new “special relationship” would be nothing like the one between George W. Bush and Tony Blair, and that the days of the US and the UK invading countries in “an attempt to make the world in our own image are decisively over.” Heather Stewart and David Smith report at the Guardian.
The US and the UK cannot however stand idly by when it is in their interests to intervene in foreign affairs, May told House and Senate Republicans yesterday, Jenny Gross reports at the Wall Street Journal.
May will have to decide whether torture is beyond the limits of the US-UK “special relationship” when she meets President Trump today, writes Adam Taylor at the Washington Post.
The UK hasn’t thought enough about the effect that Trump could have on the international and European orders on which it relies and is proceeding as if little has changed, according to Max Fisher at the New York Times.
The next round of Syria peace talks in Geneva has been pushed back to late February, Russia’s foreign minister announced today, Vladimir Isachenkov and Philip Issa reporting at the AP.
The Assad regime was accused of blocking aid access to hundreds of thousands of people despite the ceasefire by UN Undersecretary-General Stephen O’Brien, the AP reports.
Syrian President Assad should be allowed to run for election as part of a “democratic resolution” of the Syrian war, UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson opined yesterday. [AP]
Trump’s proposed safe zones in Syria as a substitute for admitting refugees could become an “open-ended” military mission potentially entangling US troops for years and exposing them to the risk of terrorist attacks, write Paul Sonne and Dion Nissenbaum at the Wall Street Journal.
Both Democrats and Republicans are shocked and disgusted by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s (D-Hawaii) decision to secretly meet with Syrian president Assad, Mike Lillis reports at the Hill.
There is a fundamental disconnect between the Syria peace talks and the Syrian people, writes Malak Chabkoun at Al Jazeera.
An independent panel to assist in the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for war crime or crimes against humanity in Syria will be headed by a senior judge or prosecutor with extensive criminal investigations and prosecutions experience to be announced by the end of February, according to a note from a UN spokesperson.
US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out approximately 17 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Jan. 25. Separately, partner forces conducted approximately ten strikes against targets in Iraq. Central Command states that that makes 28 strikes in total, making it impossible to be accurate on this occasion.
ISRAEL and PALESTINE
Final approval for the building of 153 settler homes in occupied East Jerusalem was given by Israel authorities, Al Jazeera reports.
Israeli settlers cheered as others around the world voiced fear at the inauguration of President Trump, a sign that Trump’s arrival has encouraged the view that he will life tacit constraints on settlement expansion and allow Benjamin Netanyah to build freely on Palestinian lands, writes John Reed at the Financial Times.
Israeli, Palestinian and American diplomats have been struggling to work out what Netanyahu meant by “a state-minus” for the Palestinian state, William Booth and Ruth Eglash write at the Washington Post.
No new orders from the White House have reached Guantánamo Bay detention center in the first week of the Trump administration, but commanders are looking at how to add new detainees should the president follow through on his pledge to “load it up with some bad dudes,” Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.
CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY
Donald Trump uses his private Gmail account to secure “the most powerful Twitter account in the world,” Sam Biddle writes at The Intercept.
A lawsuit against the Office of the Director of National Intelligence seeking the release of a classified report on Russian interference in the election was filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center yesterday, the Hill’s Joe Uchill reports.
Two more FSB offiicers were reportedly placed under arrest in Russia yesterday on charges of being US spies, in a case thought to be linked to the US election hacking, following the arrest of the Russian security service’s top cyber expert Sergei Mikhailov the day before, The Daily Beast reports, citing a report by USA Today.
The Justice Department asked a federal judge to take another look at an order requiring four former Department of Homeland Security officials to preserve many of their emails stored on private accounts, Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.
A bill that would allow the Pentagon to shut down excess military bases will be reintroduced by top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the Hill’s Rebecca Kheel reports.
The conflict in Yemen has left two thirds of the population in need of humanitarian aid and facing the prospect of famine this year unless immediate action is taken, the UN warned, Edith M. Lederer reporting at the AP.
Al-Shabaab said it killed dozens of Kenyan troops in an attack on a remote military base in the country’s south, Kenya’s army dismissing the report and insisting that “scores” of al-Shabaab fighters were killed instead, Al Jazeera reports.
A former Indonesian finance ministry official was detained for trying to travel to Syria on suspicion of intending to join the Islamic State group there, Indonesian authorities said today. [Reuters]
A Greek court ruled against extraditing eight Turkish air force officers to stand trial for their alleged involvement in the July 2016 failed coup, Turkey saying that it would reconsider its ties to Athens in light of the ruling. Al Jazeera’s John Psaropoulos reports.
Austrian SWAT teams and hundreds of other officers detained 14 people on suspicion of links to the Islamic State in early-morning raids yesterday, George Jahn reports at the AP.
NATO pushed allies who have not done so to ratify Montenegro’s membership of the alliance, hopeful that the process will be completed in the next few weeks, Julian E. Barnes reports at the Wall Street Journal.