The Early Edition: August 8, 2019

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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.

TRUMP-RUSSIA AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS

House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) filed a civil lawsuit yesterday to compel former White House Counsel Donald McGahn to testify before the Committee about U.S. President Trump’s alleged efforts to impede former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian electoral interference and alleged collusion with the 2016 Trump campaign. The Committee filed the 54-page lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington after McGahn defied lawmakers’ request to appear before the Judiciary panel, Olivia Beavers, Jacqueline Thomsen and Morgan Chalfant report at the Hill.

The Committee argued that McGahn’s testimony is necessary to decide whether to recommend the impeachment of Trump: “McGahn is the Judiciary Committee’s most important fact witness in its consideration of whether to recommend articles of impeachment and its related investigation of misconduct by the president, including acts of obstruction of justice described in the special counsel’s report,” the filing states, Andrew Desiderio reports at POLITICO.

“The Judiciary Committee cannot fulfill its constitutional investigative … oversight and legislative responsibilities including its consideration of whether to recommend articles of impeachment without hearing from [McGahn],” the lawsuit says, Ellen Nakashima and Karoun Demirjian report at the Washington Post.

IMMIGRATION

U.S. immigration officials yesterday raided seven meat processing plants in Mississippi and arrested 680 mostly Latino workers suspected of working without authorization, according to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) statement. The coordinated raids were carried out by the U.S. I.C.E.’s Homeland Security Investigations and happened just hours before President Trump visited El Paso, Texas, the majority-Latino border city where a man connected to an online manifesto about a “Hispanic invasion” was charged in a shooting that killed 22 people Saturday, Richard Gonzales reports at NPR.

“The execution of federal search warrants today was simply about enforcing the rule of law in our state and throughout our great country,” U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi Michael Hurst said yesterday in a statement.. I.C.E described the raid as “the largest single state worksite enforcement action,” Tyler Blint-Welsh reports at Wall Street Journal.

Public officials who enforce Trump’s asylum policies are violating the law and could be prosecuted under U.S. domestic and international law, Charli Carpenter argues at Foreign Policy, commenting on the U.S. Constitution – which guarantees due process, equal treatment, and humane treatment for all people in the country – and three international treaties the U.S. has signed and ratified, including the 1967 Refugee Protocol.

CHINA AND HONG KONG

Head of Beijing’s Cabinet office responsible for Hong Kong Zhang Xiaoming yesterday declared the city is facing its worst crisis since it returned to China from British rule in 1997. “Hong Kong’s crisis … has continued for 60 days, and is getting worse and worse,” Zhang stated during a meeting in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, adding: “violent activities are intensifying and the impact on society is spreading wider … it can be said that Hong Kong is now facing the most severe situation since its handover;” anti-government protests continue in the territory, the AP reports.

Spokesperson for China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office Yang Guang split the protesters into two groups in an attempt to discredit the movement at a press conference Tuesday. “At the front are a small number of violent radicals; in the middle are some kind-hearted citizens who have been misguided and coerced to join,” Yang told reporters, adding “let’s do as a loving mother does to take the inexplicably angry child home,” explaining that the demonstrations had exceeded the freedom of assembly and expression that Hong Kong is permitted, Ben Westcott reports at CNN.

The Hong Kong office of China’s Foreign Ministry today criticized the U.S., urging U.S. officials to “stop sending wrong signals” to the “violent separatists” in Hong Kong, Reuters reports.

IRAN

Suspected Iranian hackers gained access to critical infrastructure and government computers in the Persian Gulf nation of Bahrain within the last month, sparking concerns among leaders in the region that Tehran is ramping up its cyberattacks as tension mounts with the U.S. and other nations. Hackers infiltrated the systems of Bahrain’s National Security Agency — the country’s key criminal investigative authority — in addition to the Ministry of Interior and the first deputy prime minister’s office on Monday, according to a person with knowledge of the matter; the intrusions are considered to exceed the normal level of Iranian cyber activity in the area, Bradley Hope, Warren P. Strobel and Dustin Volz report at the Wall Street Journal.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration yesterday issued a fresh warning to commercial shipping in connection to Iranian threats in the Strait of Hormuz and Persian Gulf, explaining that “at least two” vessels recently reported having their G.P.S. interfered with. The administration also cautioned about reports of “unknown entities falsely claiming to be U.S. or coalition warships,” Ryan Browne and Barbara Starr report at CNN.

SYRIA

Turkey and the U.S. yesterday agreed to establish a joint operation center in Turkey to coordinate and manage a planned safe zone in northeast Syria, a move expected to reduce the prospects of imminent Turkish military action. The deal came after three days of talks between military delegations and months of impasse over how far the safe zone, described by the State Department as a “peace corridor,” should extend into Syria and who should command forces guarding it, Tal Axelrod reports at the Hill.

The Syrian government today denounced the agreement between Turkey and the U.S. – saying it represented a “blatant attack” on Syria’s sovereignty and territorial unity. The U.S.-Turkish “aggression” signified “a dangerous escalation and a threat to peace and stability in the area,” a foreign ministry source said, in comments carried by state news agency S.A.N.A., Reuters reports.

U.N. reports indicate that over 100,000 people in Syria were “detained … abducted or have gone missing” during the eight-year conflict, U.N. political chief Rosemary DiCarlo revealed yesterday, saying the government was mainly responsible. Speaking at an open meeting, DiCarlo called on all parties to “heed the Security Council’s call for the release of all those arbitrarily detained” and to “provide information to families about their loved ones as required by international law;” the statistic comes from accounts verified by the Commission of Inquiry on Syria authorized by the U.N. Human Rights Council and human rights organizations since the conflict began in 2011, Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

“Deaths in detention have continued to occur … many allegedly as a result of torture … neglect or humane conditions,” DiCarlo stated, explaining the difficulty of obtaining death certificates or remains, which conceal the real causes of death. Detention cites in Syria are not accessible to the U.N. or international monitors and hospital or burial site records are not public, the U.N. News Centre reports.

AFGHANISTAN

Violence has escalated in recent months across Afghanistan as the two warring sides continue negotiations over the country’s political future. A peace deal between the Taliban and the U.S. is expected to be concluded in the near future, which will set out a schedule for the conditional withdrawal of the remaining 14,000 American troops; in exchange, the Taliban have agreed to prevent terrorist attacks against the U.S. and its allies from Afghan soil,  Fahim Abed, Fatima Faizi and Mujib Mashal report at the Wall Street Journal.

The U.N. Mission in Afghanistan (U.N.A.M.A.) expressed “outrage” at yesterday’s Taliban attack on a police station in Kabul that killed at least 14 people and injured another 145. In a message sent on Twitter, the Mission stated that such “indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks in heavily populated civilian areas must stop,” the U.N. News Centre reports.

PAKISTAN-INDIA RELATIONS

Pakistan yesterday announced it would “downgrade its diplomatic ties with India” and “expel India’s ambassador” as political tensions mount after the Hindu-led nationalist government in New Delhi revoked the statehood and special status from the Indian-administered portion of the disputed Kashmir region, including the right to its own constitution.  Pakistan also said it would suspend bilateral trade with India, making the announcement after a National Security Committee meeting yesterday, Jessie Yeung and Sophia Saifi report at CNN.

India today called on Pakistan to reconsider its decision to downgrade diplomatic ties – saying it was “an internal affair” and “aimed at developing the revolt-torn Muslim majority region,” Reuters reports.

Pakistan also announced suspension – effective from today – of a key train service with neighboring India over a change in Kashmir’s status by New Delhi, the AP reports.

Hundreds of people assembled yesterday in the Indian capital of New Delhi to protest against the dropping of a constitutional provision that granted special status to Kashmir, Al Jazeera reports.

Indian security forces have carried out more than 500 arrests since New Delhi issued a communications blackout and imposed security clampdown in Kashmir, Ashok Sharma and Munir Ahmed report at the AP.

The U.S. yesterday said it “continues to support direct dialogue between India and Pakistan” on the disputed Kashmir region and appealed for calm and restraint as the dispute intensified, according to a statement made by a department spokesperson, Reuters reports.

“What has been done to Kashmir is calamitous for the state … but it also threatens the Indian government’s federal compact with other states and will alter the social compact with the people across the country,” Haseeb A. Drabu argues at the New York Times, warning that: “with the assault on the leftover autonomy and special status of Kashmir, the Constitution of India has ceased to be a safeguard against the brute power of majoritarianism.”

Latest updates to relations between Pakistan and India are available at Al Jazeera.

VENEZUELA

Venezuela’s government will not attend a planned round of talks with representatives of opposition leader Juan Guaido today and tomorrow to protest a new set of U.S. sanctions intended to force President Nicolas Maduro from power, the Venezuelan information ministry said yesterday. Maduro’s government said its delegation was withdrawing from the round of talks in Barbados aimed at resolving Venezuela’s political crisis; the two sides started meeting there in July to try to seek a resolution, Reuters reports.

Maduro “has decided to not send the Venezuelan delegation [for talks] due to the grave and brutal aggression [being] continuously … carried out by the Trump administration against Venezuela,” a government statement said late yesterday. U.S. President Trump imposed a freeze on Venezuelan government assets in the U.S. Monday and blocked U.S. citizens from conducting business with Maduro’s government, increasing pressure on him to quit, Al Jazeera reports.

DOMESTIC TERRORISM

An analysis of what a domestic terrorism law might achieve in light of calls to equip the government with more tools to address attacks motivated by white supremacy, is provided by Charlie Savage at the New York Times.

The government needs to find “viable and comprehensive solutions” aimed at preventing domestic extremist and targeted violence demonstrated last weekend in El Paso and Dayton, Stevan Weine and Eric Rosand argue at Just Security, commenting on the current “paralysis of action” and recommending three strategies to kickstart the process of confronting the ideology.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

U.S.-backed forces in Iraq and Syria are “struggling to contain” the Islamic State group (I.S.I.S.) insurgency, according to a Pentagon report released Tuesday. Between April and June 2019, I.S.I.S. “solidified its insurgent capabilities in Iraq and was resurging in Syria,” the Department of Defense Inspector General Quarterly Report says, Andrea Mitchell and Adiel Kaplan report at NBC.

Cybersecurity experts who discovered a way to hack WhatsApp and alter chat messages revealed yesterday that social media giant Facebook has “failed to address the flaws,” a year after the network was alerted to the issue, Hannah Murphy reports at the Financial Times.

The White House is to meet with officials from Silicon Valley tomorrow to discuss strategies for combatting the rise of violent extremism online. The meeting will include “senior administration officials along with representatives of a range of big tech companies,” White House spokesperson Judd Deere announced yesterday in a statement, without naming the firms or confirming whether trump plans to attend the meeting, Tony Romm and Drew Harwell report at the Washington Post. 

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About the Author(s)

Nat O'Connell

Assistant News Editor at Just Security and Legal Fellow at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK - Follow her on Twitter (@oconnellnat).