The Early Edition: June 8, 2020

Curated summary of up-to-the-minute national security developments at home and abroad.

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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. 

GEORGE FLOYD PROTESTS

President Trump said yesterday that he had ordered National Guard troops to start the process of withdrawing from Washington, D.C. “now that everything is under perfect control,” retreating after a week of criticism, including from within the military establishment, over his threat to militarize the government’s response to nationwide protests about racism and police brutality sparked by the in-custody killing of an unarmed black man, George Floyd. Announcing his order in a Twitter post, Trump warned that the guardsmen could return: “They will be going home, but can quickly return, if needed. Far fewer protesters showed up last night than anticipated!” Lara Jakes and Helene Cooper report for the New York Times.

A majority of Minneapolis City Council has pledged to dismantle and rebuild the local police department, a day after the mayor refused to support the measure. Nine of the 13 councillors said a “new model of public safety” would be created after members last week discussed ways to overhaul the department, including creating a new public safety operation from the ground up. They said they also were looking to take action through “the police union contract, city ordinances, disciplinary oversight and shifting funds away from the department.” Derek Hawkins, Katie Mettler and Perry Stein report for Washington Post.

Mayor Bill De Blasio announced yesterday that New York City would end its curfew immediately, a day earlier than planned. The curfew, the city’s first since World War II, was initially introduced last week as mass protests expanded. But yesterday De Blasio noted that the demonstrations had become peaceful, and admitted that the N.Y.P.D. had occasionally overstepped its duty in policing the protests. At least two officers have been suspended due to violent misconduct toward protesters in the city. Last Friday, De Blasio said that he would cut the city’s police funding and divert the money to youth and social services. Austin Horn reports for NPR.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) yesterday marched alongside protestors in the D.C. region. Romney said that he was taking part in the demonstration “to make sure that people understand that black lives matter.” The senator later shared a photo of himself at the protest with the caption “Black Lives Matter,” becoming one of the most well-known G.O.P. figures to do so. Paul LeBlanc and Ted Barrett report for CNN.

Over 470 former diplomats and military leaders have criticized Trump over his plans to use the U.S. military to quash nationwide protests, warning American democracy was at risk. “As former American ambassadors, generals and admirals, and senior federal officials, we are alarmed by calls from the President and some political leaders for the use of U.S. military personnel to end legitimate protests in cities and towns across America,” the former officials said in a statement posted on Just Security’s website. “We are concerned about the use of U.S. military assets to intimidate and break up peaceful protestors in Washington, D.C.,” they wrote, pointing to recent incidents that went on last week outside the White House. Ambassador Douglas A. Silliman, Ambassador Deborah A. McCarthy and Thomas Countryman reporting.

A broad new police reform bill being drafted by House and Senate Democrats would ban chokeholds, limit “qualified immunity” for police officers, establish a national misconduct registry, halt the use of no-knock warrants in drug cases and make lynching a federal crime among other considerable changes, according to an outline being passed round on Capitol Hill. The Justice in Policing Act of 2020 is supported on the House side by Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), and Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) on the Senate side. John Bresnahan reports for POLITICO.

Colin Powell, secretary of state in the George Bush administration, became the latest high-ranking former official to censure Trump for threatening to use the military to deal with the domestic protests. “We have a constitution and we have to follow that constitution, and the president has drifted away from it,” Powell, a former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters. The president faced growing condemnation from former U.S. military chiefs over the weekend over his handling of mass protests and his threats to deploy troops into American cities following the death of George Floyd. Kadhim Shubber reports for the Financial Times.

Trump told his advisors at one point last week he wanted to send 10,000 troops to the Washington D.C. area to help crack down on protests there and across the country, according to a senior U.S. official. The version of Trump’s demand during a heated Oval Office discussion last Monday shows how close the president may have come to following through on his threat to deploy active duty troops in U.S. cities, despite opposition from Pentagon leadership. Reuters reporting.

Attorney General William Barr has disputed the account, saying Trump never made such demands. “The president never asked or suggested that we needed to deploy regular troops at that point,” Barr said in an interview with CBS’ “Face the Nation” yesterday. “It’s been done from time to time in our history. We try to avoid it, and I’m happy that we were able to avoid it on this occasion.” Aubree Eliza Weaver reports for POLITICO.

One person was shot and wounded and another person was arrested last night in Seattle after a man with a gun drove a vehicle through a crowd of protesters, the police said. Reuters reporting.

The New York Times yesterday announced the resignation of its editorial page editor, James Bennet, four days after publishing a controversial opinion piece from Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) that called for military intervention in the protests. Richard Luscombe reports for The Guardian.

Almost 30 independent experts appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council are urging the United States to reform its criminal justice system amid a recent spate of killings of African Americans, including at the hands of the police. In a statement issued Friday, they called for American authorities to “address systemic racism and racial bias,” and “to conduct independent investigations into cases of excessive use of force by police officers.” The U.N. News Centre reporting.

The U.S. Marines announced Friday that they would be taking down all public displays of the Confederate flag. “Current events are a stark reminder that it is not enough for us to remove symbols that cause division — rather, we also must strive to eliminate division itself,” the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. David H. Berger, said in a statement last week. The Marine Corps issued guidance Saturday on the removal of public displays of the Confederate battle flag. J. Edward Moreno reports for the Hill.

Tens of thousands of protesters assembled in cities around the world, often in defiance of coronavirus-related restrictions on mass gatherings, in solidarity with U.S. demonstrations calling for changes to the justice system after the death of George Floyd. Demonstrations were held in Berlin, Paris, London and other areas over the weekend. Ruth Bender and David Winning report for the Wall Street Journal.

Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and nationwide protests “endangers U.S. national security,” Jonathan Tepperman writes in a piece for Foreign Policy.

Live updates on the protests available at CNN, the New York Times, and the Washington Post.

CORONAVIRUS

There are now more than 1.94 million coronavirus infections in the United States and at least 110,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Worldwide, over 7 million people have contracted the virus, with more than 403,000 deaths. Henrik Pettersson and Byron Manley report for CNN.

New York plans to reopen its city today, with an expected 400,000 workers returning to their jobs, a move that not so long ago seemed inconceivable due to the city being one of the world’s coronavirus epicenters. With new Covid-19 infections in New York at approximately 500 per day – half as many from just a few weeks ago – construction sites, manufacturing companies and retail stores are preparing to open for business today, and have in place a number of health and safety measures to help minimize the risk of virus numbers increasing. J. David Goodman reports for the New York Times. 

Some U.S. states have reported a rise in coronavirus cases – California, Utah, Arizona, North Carolina, Florida, Arkansas and Texas – since restrictions have been eased, according to Johns Hopkins University who tabulate a five-day moving average. “It’s a very mixed picture … In some places we have made amazing progress, and there are other places where I remain very concerned about what’s going on,” said Wafaa El-Sadr, an infectious-disease specialist and epidemiologist at Columbia University, adding, “If you take out the impact of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and so on, you’d have a much more worrisome picture of what’s happening in the U.S..” Tala Ansari and Brianna Abbott report for the Wall Street Journal. 

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro threatened Friday to pull the country from the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) due to “ideological bias” and the W.H.O.’s suspension of clinic trials of the touted Covid-19 vaccine hydroxychloroquine. “I’m telling you right now, the United States left the W.H.O., and we’re studying that, in the future. Either the W.H.O. works without ideological bias, or we leave, too,” Bolsonaro said to reporters. AFP reporting.

The Brazilian government stopped publishing data on the country’s total number of coronavirus cases and deaths Friday, removing all data from an official website. The site was temporarily taken offline and returned on Saturday showing numbers only from the last 24 hours, and was followed by Bolsonaro tweeting that 24-hour totals will allow his government to “follow the reality of the country at this moment.” The move has attracted criticism; “The authoritarian, insensitive, inhuman and unethical attempt to make those killed by Covid-19 invisible will not succeed. We and Brazilian society will not forget them, nor the tragedy that befalls the nation,” said Alberto Beltrame, president of Brazil’s national council of state health secretaries. Zack Budryk reports for the Hill. 

New Zealand lifted all coronavirus restrictions today after its final patient affected by the virus was given the all clear, the country’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern said in a televised press conference. Although border controls will remain in place, social distancing measures and restrictions on public gatherings are no longer needed, Ardern said. “We are confident we have eliminated transmission of the virus in New Zealand for now [after Kiwis had] united in unprecedented ways to crush the virus.” AFP reporting. 

Chinese officials have further defended the nation’s response to the coronavirus in a lengthy report released yesterday, which states the country “wasted no time” in sharing important information with the W.H.O., including the virus’ genome sequence. The report follows an investigation by the Associated Press that reported the Chinese government waited for at least a week before releasing the genetic map of the virus, which resulted in delays in identifying the virus in a third country. The AP report has been refuted and criticized by Chinese officials, with National Health Commission Chair Ma Xiaowei saying “it seriously goes against the facts … The Chinese government did not delay or cover up anything … Instead, we have immediately reported virus data and relevant information about the epidemic to the international community and made an important contribution to the prevention and control of the epidemic around the world.” AP reporting. 

Britain will from today require all those entering the country from abroad to quarantine for two weeks. The measures will apply to U.K. citizens and foreign visitors and have been condemned by the aviation sector for inflicting further detriment on the hotel and airline industries. British Airways, EasyJet and Ryanair have launched a joint legal action against the government for what they called a “disproportionate and unfair” move. AFP reporting.

A map and analysis of all confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. is available at the New York Times.

U.S. and worldwide maps tracking the spread of the pandemic are available at the Washington Post.

Latest updates on the pandemic at The Guardian and NBC News. 

U.S. DEVELOPMENTS

Former national security adviser John Bolton plans to publish in June “a scathing memoir” – titled “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir” – about his time in the White House. Bolton is planning to publish even if the White House does not give publication approval, people familiar with the situation have said. Josh Dawsey and Tom Hamburger report for the Washington Post.  

The U.S.’s plan to allow online voting in the 2020 general election – amid growing fears over coronavirus – could enable new opportunities for hacking the voting process. Online state voter registration systems were one of the main targets of Russian hackers in 2016, and has been deemed by the Department of Homeland Security as “high risk.” David E. Sanger, Nicole Perlroth and Matthew Rosenberg report for the New York Times.  

The Department of Justice (D.O.J.) is continuing its criminal case against Bijan Rafiekian, the former business partner of Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, after prosecutors yesterday filed a brief with the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond. Josh Gerstein reports for POLITICO. 

Social media companies and other online platforms should “ignore Trump’s Twitter tantrum executive order … and not cede their private responsibility to reduce harm,” write Ellen P. Goodman and Ambassador (ret.) Karen Kornbluh for Just Security, providing some useful policy suggestions for Congress. 

AFGHANISTAN

The U.S. military has conducted its first air raids against the Taliban in Afghanistan since an agreed ceasefire ended over a week ago. “These were the 1st US airstrikes against (the Taliban) since the start of the Eid ceasefire … We reiterate: All sides must reduce violence to allow the peace process to take hold,” Col. Sonny Leggett, spokesperson for U.S. forces in Afghanistan wrote. Al Jazeera reporting. 

Afghan officials have denounced the Iranian police after a video was released that shows police officers shooting at a car carrying Afghan refugees which caused the car to set ablaze, killing three and injuring four others. Al Jazeera reporting.  

The families of U.S. military troops and personnel injured or killed in Afghanistan have accused two U.S. contractors of paying protection money – $1.7 billion – to the Taliban, resulting in a lawsuit filed last year being amended Friday. Jessica Donati reports for the Wall Street Journal.

IRAN

Iran has stockpiled enriched uranium at almost eight times the limit set in the 2015 nuclear deal, the International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.) confirmed Friday, expressing “serious concern that, for over four months, Iran has denied access to the Agency … to two locations.” AFP reporting. 

Iran’s parliament has approved the final seven members of the new government, completing the 22-member government of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi. “My cabinet is now complete with today’s vote. This is vital in implementing our program and delivering on our commitments to our people – who are waiting for actions, not words,” al-Kadhimi said in a Twitter post on Saturday. Al Jazeera reporting. 

U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft said Friday that a draft U.N. Security Council resolution indefinitely extending the arms embargo against Iran has been shared with Russia, the U.K., France, Germany and Estonia. AP reporting. 

LIBYA

Libya’s Government of National Accord (G.N.A.) has regained control over the key town of Bani Walid in the country’s northwest from the forces of renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar. Saturday’s development came one day after the U.N.-backed government captured the city of Tarhuna, Haftar’s last stronghold in northwestern Libya, which was used as the main launching platform against the capital, Tripoli. Al Jazeera reporting.

Haftar on Saturday proposed a ceasefire and a process to end the civil war. The announcement was unlikely to bring an immediate halt to the fighting, but it offered new evidence of the decisive influence of Turkey, on the other side of Libya’s war, whose intervention in favor of the U.N.-supported government in Tripoli has stymied Russia’s ambitions and shifted the course of the conflict. Declan Walsh reports for the New York Times.

Turkey may extend its cooperation with the G.N.A. with new accords on energy and construction once the country’s conflict is over, presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin was quoted as saying yesterday. After talks with Serraj in Ankara on Thursday, President Tayyip Erdogan pledged to boost Turkey’s support for the G.N.A. to clinch recent military gains against Haftar’s eastern-based Libyan National Army (L.N.A.), which has waged a 14-month assault against the G.N.A. in Tripoli. Turkey has equipped Libya’s internationally recognized government with military support after signing a cooperation deal last year. Reuters reporting.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

German lawmakers and government officials have voiced concern at reports that President Trump plans to cut the number of U.S. troops stationed in Germany, amid fears it could weaken a key pillar of N.A.T.O. defense in the region. Following Trump’s decision, which would slash the number of U.S. military personnel by 9,500 from the current 34,500 permanently assigned in Germany, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas described Berlin’s relationship with the United States as “complicated.” American allies, including the mayor of Grafenwoehr, whose Bavarian town has been home to U.S. service members for more than 70 years, over the weekend also slammed Trump’s troop decision. Angela Cullen and Arne Delfs report for Bloomberg.

Several thousand Israelis protested on Saturday against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to extend sovereignty over portions of the occupied West Bank, de-facto annexation of land that the Palestinians seek for a state. The demonstration was arranged by left-wing groups and did not seem to be the beginning of a popular mass movement. Roughly half of Israelis support annexation, according to a recent opinion poll. Reuters reporting. 

About the Author(s)

Nat O'Connell

Associate 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).

Siven Watt

Associate News Editor at Just Security and Legal Fellow at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK. Follow him on Twitter (@SivenWatt)