News Roundup and Notes: February 27, 2014

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.

Surveillance

In a motion filed with the FISC yesterday, the Justice Department said the NSA needs to preserve phone records metadata beyond its current five-year limit because destroying the data “could be inconsistent with the Government’s preservation obligations in connection with civil litigation pending against it” [The Hill’s Julian Hattem].

The Intercept (Dan Novack) covers how the Justice Department is “still ducking scrutiny after misleading [the] Supreme Court on surveillance.”

Guantánamo Bay

In a statement to Congress, Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, commander of the Pentagon’s U.S. Southern Command, said that Guantánamo’s hidden Camp 7 continues to deteriorate and has become “increasingly unsustainable due to drainage and foundation issues” [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg].

Two former Guantánamo detainees have asked a French judge to subpoena a former U.S. prison commander, retired major general Geoffrey Miller, accusing him of “an authorized and systematic plan of torture and ill-treatment” [AFP].

UK police have been given an extra five days to question former Guantánamo detainee, Moazzam Begg who was arrested on Tuesday on the suspicion of Syria-related terrorism offences [BBC].

Afghanistan

At the meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels yesterday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen issued a renewed warning about withdrawing troops from Afghanistan [New York Times’ Helene Cooper]:

“If the bilateral security agreement between the United States and Afghanistan is not signed, there will be no NATO status of forces agreement with Afghanistan. And if there is no agreement, there will be no NATO troops in Afghanistan after 2014.”

However, Rasmussen stressed that “this is not our preferred option.”

Syria

The joint OPCW-UN mission confirmed that a shipment of Syria’s stockpile of sulphur mustard, commonly known as “mustard gas,” left the country yesterday.

The State Department has expressed outrage over reports that “the Assad regime has arrested family members of the Syrian Opposition Coalition delegation to the Geneva II peace talks, designated delegates as terrorists, and seized delegates’ assets.” The statement calls on the regime to “immediately and unconditionally release all those unfairly arrested.”

Syrian army troops have killed 175 opposition fighters in an attack near Damascus, according to state media [Al Jazeera]. According to the reports, most of the fighters killed were from the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front.

Ukraine

Moscow news agencies are reporting that ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych has asked for and received a security guarantee from Russia [Washington Post’s Will Englund and William Booth]. Pro-Russian gunmen in Crimea seized the regional government headquarters and parliament building this morning, and raised the Russian flag, while Moscow put fighter jets along its western borders on combat alert [Reuters’ Alessandra Prentice].

Secretary of State John Kerry warned yesterday that “any kind of military intervention that would violate the sovereign territorial integrity of Ukraine would be a huge—a grave—mistake” [Washington Post’s Anne Gearan]. And the White House issued a statement urging “outside actors in the region to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, to end provocative rhetoric and actions, to support democratically established transitional governing structures, and to use their influence in support of unity, peace, and an inclusive path forward.”

The Wall Street Journal (Laurence Norman et al.) covers the deliberations over Ukraine’s aid package, which some Western benefactors consider could take months to arrive.

And in a separate development, U.S. Ambassador for Russia, ­Michael McFaul left Moscow yesterday, “a departure that attracted far more than the usual headlines for a change in diplomats and illuminated a tumultuous period in relations between the two countries” [Washington Post’s Kathy Lully].

Other developments

Current and former professional interrogators, interviewers, and intelligence officials have called on senators to support the declassification and release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s post-9/11 detention and interrogation program [Human Rights First].

Reuters (Arshad Mohammed and Lesley Wroughton) covers Secretary of State John Kerry’s comments on a “new isolationism” in the U.S., particularly in relation to the tightening budget.

The Army has removed 588 soldiers from so-called positions of trust, after reviews revealed they had committed infractions such as sexual assault, child abuse and drunken driving, according to officials [Al Jazeera America].

BuzzFeed (Rosie Gray) covers Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s speech on national security yesterday, which warned against civilian casualties in American wars, but did not mention the “Obama administration policy that has resulted in many controversial civilian deaths: drone warfare.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid moved to cut off debate on the veterans’ benefits bill last evening, “dimming any chance of an immediate vote on Iran sanctions” that was demanded by Senate Republicans [Politico’s Burgess Everett].

In an op-ed in the New York Times, Jacques S. Gansler argues that “we need to turn to one of the commercial world’s most basic cost-control weapons—competition” in order to save on the military budget.

The UN Security Council has adopted a resolution on Yemen, supporting the political transition in the country, and establishing sanctions to be imposed on those who seek to obstruct or undermine the political process [UN News Centre]. The State Department provides more details.

The New York Times (Mark Landler) notes that President Obama is planning a personal role in the Israel-Palestine peace negotiations, according to officials, “after avoiding a hands-on role in Middle East peacemaking since the setbacks of his first term.”

The Washington Post (Loveday Morris) reports that while the U.S. is shipping arms to Iraq to help the army fight the insurgency in the Anbar province, Iraq soldiers say that basic planning and supplies are equally needed.

Stars and Stripes (John Vandiver) reports that according to experts, policymakers “are now in the difficult position of trying to support the Obama administration’s tough talk” on Uganda’s anti-gay legislation, “while maintaining an alliance with a key player in U.S. counterterrorism efforts.” Meanwhile, a Ugandan government spokesperson shrugged off foreign aid cuts, stating “we shall still develop without it” [AFP].

Hezbollah has threatened to retaliate against Israel for carrying out an airstrike against the group [Washington Post’s Liz Sly and Suzan Haidamous]. And Israel’s defense ministry announced it has successfully completed final testing on a system that will protect commercial planes from missile attacks [Haaretz’s Gili Cohen].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

Former Associate Editor at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@RParekh88).