The Early Edition: June 9, 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

A judge has set bail at $1.25 million for Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with second-degree murder in the death of George Floyd. Prosecutors pointed to the “severity of the charges” and public fury as the reason for increasing his bail from $1 million. Chauvin’s first court appearance yesterday followed a weekend of peaceful protests in which huge crowds of demonstrators demanded change. BBC News reporting.

Congressional Democrats yesterday introduced a wide-ranging bill intended to address longstanding complaints about racial injustice in U.S. policing, after two weeks of demonstrations over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody last month. The Justice in Policing Act of 2020 would ban chokeholds, set up a national database to track police misconduct and prohibit certain no-knock warrants, among other practices. The bill, which has over 200 Democratic co-sponsors, contains various provisions that would make it easier to hold officers accountable for misconduct in civil and criminal court. Paul Kane and John Wagner report for the Washington Post.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said he is working with several G.O.P. colleagues on a bipartisan police reform bill in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, criticizing congressional Democrats for their extensive legislation that has yet to draw Republican support. The plan is in its initial stages and has yet to be written into legislative text, but Romney, who marched with Black Lives Matter protesters in Washington on Sunday, said he is aiming to create “supervisory” boards to decide whether unnecessary force or racial profiling was used by a police officer, in addition to new training programs aimed at tackling racial bias. Andrew Desiderio reports for POLITICO.

President Trump said yesterday there will not be any disbanding of police amid growing calls for sweeping cuts to law enforcement budgets as protesters demanded an end to police brutality. Speaking at a roundtable discussion of law enforcement officials at the White House, Trump said “There won’t be defunding, there won’t be dismantling of our police,” describing those involved in brutality as “bad actors” representing a tiny fraction of police. Reuters reporting.

Former Vice President Joe Biden told CBS News yesterday that while he does not support defunding police departments, he favors conditioning federal aid to law enforcement “on whether or not they meet certain basic standards of decency and honorableness.” Earlier in the day, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee’s campaign emphasized the need for law enforcement reforms such as “community policing, increased diversity in police hiring and funding for body cameras.” Max Cohen reports for POLITICO.

Top army officials briefed members of House Armed Services Committee yesterday about the military branch’s response to protests in Washington, D.C., against police violence and racial injustice, a committee spokesperson said yesterday. “Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy spoke to members today about the department’s support to the D.C. protest response,” Monica Matoush said in a statement. The committee also said Friday that Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Gen. Mark Milley have “refused” to testify this week as called for. Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.

The U.S. Supreme Court is scrutinizing a modern-day legal doctrine created by judges that in recent decades has protected police and other government officials from lawsuits over their conduct. The doctrine, dubbed “qualified immunity,” as applied to police, initially asked two questions: First, did police employ excessive force, and if they did, should they have recognized that their conduct was illegal because it violated a “clearly established” prior court ruling that prohibited such conduct. The idea behind the doctrine was to shield police from trivial lawsuits and allow some “breathing room” for police errors that involve split-second judgments that are made in tense and dangerous situations. Nina Totenberg reports for NPR.

Relatives of George Floyd and three other black people who were killed by police have joined some 600 rights groups to call for the top U.N. human rights body to launch an investigation into a rise of police violence and repression of protests in the United States, the American Civil Liberties Union (A.C.L.U.) said. A spokesperson for the Human Rights Council in Geneva confirmed that it had received a letter yesterday from the groups outlining their demand. “I want people across the world and the leaders in the United Nations to see the video of my brother George Floyd, to listen to his cry for help, and I want them to answer his cry,” Floyd’s brother Philonese Floyd said in an A.C.L.U. statement, referring to the video of the killing in Minneapolis. AP reporting.

Esper and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy are “open” to renaming Army bases that are named after Confederate leaders, the Army said yesterday. “The secretary of Defense and secretary of the Army are open to a bipartisan discussion on the topic,” an Army spokesperson said. The position marks a reversal from as recently as February, when the service told Task & Purpose it had no plans to change the name of any base. Lara Seligman reports for POLITICO.

The World Health Organization (W.H.O.) yesterday addressed widespread fears that the close contact of thousands of protesters could lead to a jump in coronavirus case counts. “W.H.O. fully supports equality and the global movement against racism … We reject discrimination of all kinds,” W.H.O. director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at the W.H.O. daily press conference. Tedros advised that demonstrators observe the guidance of local health officials and take precautions to protect themselves from the novel coronavirus. “We encourage all those protesting around the world to do so safely,” he said, “Clean your hands, cover your cough and wear a mask if you attend a protest.” He also recommended people to keep a safe distance from others — and to stay home if they are sick. Pien Huang and Allison Aubrey report for NPR.

A statement posted on Just Security’s website criticizing Trump over his plans to use the U.S. military to quash nationwide protests has now been signed by over by 541 former diplomats and military leaders. Ambassador Douglas A. Silliman, Ambassador Deborah A. McCarthy and Thomas Countryman reporting.

What would efforts to “reform,” “defund,” “dismantle” and “abolish” police departments look like? Ben Kessel helpfully explains each term at NBC News, noting that activists and officials define the meaning of “defund the police” differently, with some advocating wholesale dissolution of police departments and others suggesting more modest steps to strip budgets.

A breakdown of what’s in Democrats’ police reform and racial justice bill is provided by Reuters.

In his interview Sunday, former Republican secretary of state Colin Powell “called out Republican lawmakers for their utter capitulation to Trump’s every whim” and “[tried] to remind them that the founders of the country envisioned three co-equal parts of the government — not a legislative branch that lived in fear of the executive and did whatever he said,” CNN’s Chris Cillizza writes in an analysis.

Beth Van Schaack weighs in on the complicity charges against Chauvin’s three colleagues and their analogues in international criminal law in a piece for Just Security.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Gen. Mark Milley should testify before Congress about the potential use of regular active-duty forces to crack down on nationwide protests, Risa Brooks and Jim Golby argue for The Hill, addressing claims that Milley’s testimony “would further the politicization of the military.”

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

CORONAVIRUS

There are now more than 1.96 million coronavirus infections in the United States and at least 111,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Worldwide, over 7.1 million people have contracted the virus, with more than 403,000 deaths. Henrik Pettersson, Byron Manley and Sergio Hernandez report for CNN.

The spread of Covid-19 by people who are asymptomatic appears to be rare, Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization (W.H.O.)’s technical lead for coronavirus response and head of the emerging diseases and zoonoses unit, confirmed yesterday during a media briefing in Geneva. “We have a number of reports from countries who are doing very detailed contact tracing. They’re following asymptomatic cases, they’re following contacts and they’re not finding secondary transmission onward. It is very rare — and much of that is not published in the literature,” Kerkhove said. Jacqueline Howard reports for CNN.

Over half of U.S. states have seen a rise in new coronavirus cases as many start to ease lockdown restrictions. Florida seems to be most affected, with the number of new daily cases increasing an average of 46 percent over the past week. Christina Maxouris and Holly Yan report for CNN.

Coronavirus was carried into California a number of times by travelers and the state missed many opportunities to use contact tracing to halt further spread, a study published in the journal Science confirmed yesterday. The study also provides strong evidence for an outbreak on a cruise ship caused by one person infected by a strain of the virus that spread in Washington D.C. early in the pandemic. Maggie Fox report for CNN.

60 percent of crew onboard the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt tested positive for coronavirus antibodies, U.S. officials confirmed yesterday. Justine Coleman reports for the Hill.

Lockdown measures reduced Covid-19 transmission rates and prevented 3 million deaths in eleven European countries, research by Imperial College London, whose scientists are advising the U.K. government, has indicated. “Our results show that major non-pharmaceutical interventions, and lockdown in particular, have had a large effect on reducing transmission … Continued intervention should be considered to keep transmission of SARS-CoV-2 under control,” those leading the study said. Al Jazeera reporting.

The coronavirus pandemic is “far from over” warned the W.H.O. yesterday after the largest daily increase of new coronavirus cases worldwide. “More than six months into the pandemic, this is not the time for any country to take its foot off the pedal,” W.H.O. Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, after 136,000 new cases were reported Sunday, the majority from countries in the Americas and South Asia. Reuters reporting.

Coronavirus may have been in Wuhan and spreading from as early as August last year, according to a study by Harvard Medical School, Boston University of Public Health and Boston children’s hospital that analyzed satellite images of cars parked outside hospitals and internet search engine data. The study reveals that between August and December 2019 there was a “steep increase” in the number of people parked outside hospitals, although the Chinese foreign ministry has called the study “extremely absurd.” Lily Kuo reports for the Guardian.

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.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The offices of inspector general (O.I.G.) are to be protected from abuse following a series of dismissals of federal watchdogs, the Government Accountability Office (G.A.O.) confirmed in a 12-page report released yesterday that sets out a framework for protecting the O.I.G.. “Given the current challenges facing the federal government, the oversight provided through independent government audits and investigations is more critical than ever,” said the report, detailing a number of reforms, including: inspector generals (I.G.) only being removed “for cause” or a specific reason; the president having to give Congress notice before dismissing or transferring an I.G.; and increasing the expectation on I.G.s reporting to Congress. Olivia Beavers reports for the Hill.

U.S. and Russian officials will meet later this month to discuss nuclear arms negotiations – namely the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty – and have invited China to discussions, Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea confirmed in a Twitter post yesterday: “Today agreed with the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov on time and place for nuclear arms negotiations in June. China also invited. Will China show and negotiate in good faith?” AP reporting.

At least two Syrian civilians have been killed by airstrikes launched by Russia on Syria’s northwest Idlib province, Waleed Asslan, a member of the Syrian Civil Defense confirmed yesterday. Al Jazeera reporting.

An Iranian spy and informant for the C.I.A. – Seyed Mahmoud Mousavi Majd – who leaked information that helped the U.S. kill Revolutionary Guards commander Qassem Soleimani in January has been sentenced to death, the Iranian courts confirmed yesterday. Patrick Wintour reports for the Guardian.

North Korea is to cut off all communication with South Korea if the South does not stop activists and defectors from sending leaflets and other anti-Pyongyang material into the North, the Korean Central News Agency (K.C.N.A.) report said, adding: “[Pyongyang] will completely cut off and shut down the liaison line between the authorities of the North and the South, which has been maintained through the North-South joint liaison office… from 12:00 on 9 June 2020.” AFP reporting.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has confirmed that “some agreements” have been reached with President Trump could signal a “new era” in the conflict in Libya. Al Jazeera reporting. 

About the Author(s)

Siven Watt

Assistant 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)

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).