News Roundup and Notes: April 25, 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.

Military commissions

Lawyers for alleged USS Cole bomber Abd al Rahim al Nashiri have filed motions in federal court this week in an effort to halt the commission proceedings [Politico’s Josh Gerstein]. Lawyers have previously argued that some or all charges against him are invalid as the bombing predated the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent Congressional authorization for the use of force against al Qaeda.

Meanwhile, al Nashiri’s pre-trial hearings continued at Guantánamo. Carol Rosenberg [Miami Herald] reports that an expert in treating torture victims testified yesterday that al Nashiri “has suffered torture—physical, psychological and sexual torture.” The testimony is part of the defense claim that the prison’s military doctors failed to treat al Nashiri for the trauma inflicted during his detention and interrogation by the CIA.

Ukraine

CNN (Laura Smith Spark et al.) covers the escalating tensions in Ukraine, “with Russia embarking on new military drills” along the Ukrainian border, after Ukraine’s troops re-launched an anti-terrorist operation in the country’s east yesterday. Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Kiev there would be “consequences” for using force.

However, defying Moscow’s warnings, Ukraine’s interim government announced it was not suspending its operation in the east [New York Times’ Andrew Higgins et al.]. In a Facebook statement, acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said:

“There has been no suspension of the [anti-terrorist operation] in connection to the threat of invasion by Russia’s armed forces …  The terrorists should be on their guard around the clock. Civilians have nothing to fear.”

While Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Moscow of wanting “to start World War III.”

Reuters (Arshad Mohammed) reports that President Obama is expected to speak to European leaders today, in an effort to “nudge the EU toward fresh sanctions against Russia,” according to sources.

A week after the Geneva meeting on Ukraine, Secretary of State John Kerry warned Russia yesterday that “it will not just be a grave mistake, it will be an expensive mistake” to continue in its current direction. Kerry also cautioned that “[t]he window to change course is closing.” The Hill (Justin Sink) and Politico (Lucy McCalmont) have more details.

Pentagon spokesperson Colonel Steve Warren also told reporters yesterday that Russia’s “announcement of additional exercises on the Ukrainian border is exactly opposite of what we have been calling on the Russians to do, which is to de-escalate the situation” [Reuters].

Vladimir Putin has claimed that the Internet is “a CIA project,” and that Moscow needs to “fight” to resist U.S. influence [NBC News and Associated Press].

Vice News has confirmed that U.S. citizen and journalist, Simon Ostrovsky, who was reportedly being held by pro-Russian rebels, “has been safely released and is in good health.”

Israel-Palestine

Israel has suspended the U.S.-sponsored peace negotiations with Palestine, following Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s “unexpected” unity agreement with rival group, Fatah [Reuters’ Jeffrey Heller]. According to an official statement from Israel’s Foreign Ministry:

“The [Israeli] Cabinet today, unanimously decided that Israel will not negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by Hamas, a terrorist organization that calls for Israel’s destruction. In addition, Israel will respond to unilateral Palestinian action with a series of measures.”

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with President Abbas yesterday and noted he was “disappointed by the reconciliation announcement.” Kerry has been in touch with all the parties, but State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki noted it is ultimately “up to the parties to make the choices needed to pursue a path to peace.”

Meanwhile, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton welcomed the unity agreement, but continued to view the peace negotiations as a priority [Al Jazeera].

A senior UN envoy was informed by the Palestinians that the reconciliation agreement “will be implemented on the basis of previous commitments such as the recognition of Israel and non-violence” [UN News Centre].

Haaretz’s Barak Ravid explores how the news of the reconciliation “caught Kerry entirely off-guard, and at very bad timing.” The Economist considers whether Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas can “really settle their differences.” And The Daily Beast (Ben Hattem) notes that although “Hamas and Fatah leaders have announced they’re going to work together after years of animosity … their rank and file have been cooperating for a long time—in Israeli prisons.”

Afghanistan

Miami Herald reports that while the Taliban has indicated a willingness to release American soldier Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who has been held captive since 2009, the Taliban is unsure which U.S. officials have the authority to make a deal, according to two military officials. However, the Pentagon immediately dismissed reports of a lack of co-ordination over Bergdahl’s release as “completely false.”

Afghanistan’s Electoral Commission has announced that presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah is in the lead in the election race with four-fifths of the votes now counted [CNN’s Qadir Sediqi and Laura Smith-Spark].

Syria

The OPCW-UN Joint Mission confirms that 92.5% of Syria’s chemical material has now been removed or destroyed.

Meanwhile, regime airplanes have killed 30 individuals in a raid on a village in Aleppo province, according to an activist group [Al Jazeera]. And the Wall Street Journal (Sam Dagher) covers how the city of Aleppo has been “traumatized by grinding conflict in which civilians pay the highest price.”

The New York Times (Anne Barnard) reports that if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad wins the war, his next challenge could be “demands for change from core supporters who believe he owes his survival mainly to them,” according to regional analysts.

President Obama’s Asia tour

Speaking in Seoul, President Obama issued a warning to North Korea over its reported nuclear activities [Wall Street Journal’s Colleen Mccain Nelson]. Obama said:

“If North Korea were to make the mistake of engaging in another nuclear test, it should expect a firm response from the international community.”

Meanwhile, a South Korean government official said North Korea has completed all the steps required to conduct a nuclear test [CNN’s Stella Kim et al.].

And the New York Times (David E. Sanger) covers how “[a]lmost everything American intelligence agencies … thought they understood two years ago about Kim Jong-un, the North’s young leader, turns out to have been wrong.”

Other developments

U.S. officials have told CNN (Barbara Starr) of “an increased threat stream” from al Qaeda operatives in Yemen in recent weeks. The rising threat was reportedly the reason the U.S. partnered with Yemen in the recent counterterrorism operations in the country.

The Washington Post (Ann E. Marimow and Craig Timberg) covers how low-level federal judges are “balking at sweeping requests by law enforcement officials for cellphone and other sensitive personal data, declaring the demands overly broad and at odds with basic constitutional rights.”

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has put his agency’s former inspector general on administrative leave, the same day the Washington Post reported on a congressional investigation that found that the former watchdog had altered reports at the request of senior administration officials [Washington Post’s Carol D. Leonnig].

Politico’s Josh Gerstein reports that a former Navy contract linguist accused of removing classified documents from a Navy base in Bahrain is likely to plead guilty, “but to charges vastly reduced in number and seriousness from the ones he was previously facing.”

The UN Mission in South Sudan has condemned yesterday’s attack on a barge convoy, which was delivering urgent food and fuel supplies to its base in Malakal [UN News Centre]. And The Economist warns that South Sudan’s most recent massacre “ensures that the war will get still bloodier.”

The Marshall Islands nation is filing a lawsuit against each of the nine nuclear countries, including the U.S., in the International Court of Justice, accusing them of “flagrant violations” of international law and demanding that the countries fulfill their disarmament obligations [Associated Press]. The Marshall Islands have been used by the U.S. for 67 nuclear tests.

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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