The Soufan Group Morning Brief

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On Wednesday, Mohammed Ali Abdullah Bwazir, a 35-year-old Yemeni detained at Guantanamo since May 2002, decided at the last minute to refuse an unnamed country’s offer to accept him. John Chandler, his lawyer, noted that his client had hoped to be resettled in the Middle East or Indonesia and became “frightened” once he learned that he would be living in a country where he lacked familial support. In 2006, the detainee carried out a hunger strike in protest of his prolonged imprisonment. He was recommended for transfer out of Guantanamo two years later, but he remained there, in part, because of instability in his home country.

While the U.S. military was unable to persuade Bwazir to board a flight abroad, it did convince Tariq Mahmoud Ahmed al Sawah, a 58-year-old Egyptian who the United States had previously deemed an al Qaeda explosives specialist, and Abdul Aziz Abdullah Ali al Suadi, a 41-year-old Yemeni, to accept their respective transfers to Bosnia and Herzegovina, in Sawah’s case, and Montenegro, in Suadi’s. In 2008, Sawah was charged with various terrorism-related offenses before a military commission, though the U.S. government’s six-person Periodic Review Board approved his release in 2015. In contrast to Sawah, Suadi, who was cleared for release by an Obama Administration task force in 2009, was never charged with a crime.

34 of Guantanamo’s remaining 91 detainees are awaiting transfers contingent on the provision of security guarantees by the host countries. New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald, Guardian, ABC News

The Intercept: United States Escalates Battle to Keep Guantanamo Force-Feeding Tapes Hidden
The New Yorker: Is Obama Serious About Closing Guantanamo?
Lawfare: The Nashiri Merits: Do Military Commissions Have Jurisdiction Over Pre-9/11 Crimes?
Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) applied on Thursday a fast-track designation to an ISIS-specific Authorization for the Use of Military Force that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a former Republican presidential candidate, recently introduced to the chamber. McConnell’s procedural gambit means the legislation will bypass the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and go directly to the Senate floor, where it is likely to be debated in the near future. The Senate Majority Leader had previously indicated that he was comfortable with the Obama Administration’s contention that the post-9/11 AUMF provides sufficient legal authority for the U.S.-led campaign against the Islamic State. The fast-tracked AUMF would give the President the authority to conduct global military operations against the Islamic State without imposing time or troop-deployment constraints as some Democratic lawmakers had proposed. New York Times, The Hill, Politico, Huffington Post, CNN

Defense One: Senate Leader Surprises Lawmakers with New ISIS War Powers Request

Torture Report: Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and two of his colleagues on the Senate Intelligence Committee sent a letter to President Obama on Thursday that encouraged him to ask CIA Director John Brennan to apologize for the agency’s monitoring of committee staffers involved in the compilation of the Senate Torture Report. The CIA’s Inspector General found in mid-2014 that agency employees had “improperly accessed” a computer network used by committee staffers to store files related to their review of post-9/11 torture practices. An internal accountability board subsequently contradicted the IG’s report and declined to mete out punishment against agency personnel. The Hill, Vice News, Buzzfeed

Visa-Waiver Program: White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest announced Thursday that the Obama Administration had begun implementation of a law passed in December that will prevent dual nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria who are also citizens of one of the 38 visa-waiver countries from utilizing the program to travel to the United States. The same restrictions will apply to individuals who have traveled to these four countries since March 2011 regardless of their citizenship. Passed in the wake of the Paris attacks, the legislation authorizes the Secretary of Homeland Security to invoke exceptions based on national-security prerogatives. The Iranian government has claimed that the bill could be a violation of the nuclear accord if it prevents tourists and businesses from traveling to or investing in the country. Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Guardian

Cyber Command: In remarks delivered at the Atlantic Council on Thursday, Adm. Michael Rogers, the Director of both the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command contended that “encryption is foundational to the future” and implicitly criticized FBI Director James Comey and others who have sought to compel tech companies to give government a “backdoor” into encrypted communications. “So, spending time arguing about ‘Hey, encryption is bad and we ought to do away with it,’ that’s a waste of time to me,” the NSA chief told the audience. Rogers also said that the Obama Administration had largely completed an internal debate regarding the rules of engagement for cyber operations and suggested that enhanced cyber capabilities were in the process of being deployed. Wall Street Journal, NBC News, The Hill

The Intercept: NSA Chief Stakes Out Pro-Encryption Position, in Contrast to FBI

Kent State: The FBI opened an investigation earlier this week into Dr. Julio Pino, an outspoken history professor at Kent State University, to determine whether the educator may have attempted to recruit students to join ISIS and provided other support to the terrorist group. Federal investigators reportedly became interested in Pino after identifying social-media posts in which he praised Osama bin Laden and encouraged Islamist militants to switch their allegiances to the Islamic State. He has not been charged with a crime and has denied the allegations against him. New York Times, ABC News, Christian Science Monitor

Oregon: Oregon’s Democratic Gov. Kate Brown held a press conference Wednesday to demand that the federal government remove Ammon Bundy and other armed individuals who have occupied eastern Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge since January 2 of this year. Brown also called on Washington to reimburse Salem for the law-enforcement costs associated with the armed occupation, which have totaled approximately $500,000 thus far. Bundy has declared that he and the rest of his militia will continue their unlawful occupation until the government gives local authorities control of federally-managed rangeland. Washington Post, Reuters, USA Today
American intelligence agencies are reportedly homing in on three Iranian-affiliated Shiite militias—Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Kata’ib Hezbollah, and the Badr Organization—as the probable culprits of last weekend’s kidnapping of three American contractors from a Baghdad apartment. While the motive in the abduction remains unknown, Iraq’s Shiite militias have a well-established history of conducting raids against suspected brothels, punishing locales for drinking, and otherwise attempting to enforce their interpretation of Islamic strictures. Asaib Ahl al-Haq is an offshoot of the notorious Mahdi Army, which attacked both American soldiers and Sunni civilians during the Iraqi civil war that was sparked by the United States’ 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation. Washington Post, Reuters, CBS News

TIME: Shiite Militias in Iraq Remain a Dangerously Potent Force
Putin: In his final 328-page report released on Thursday, Sir Robert Owen, a retired British judge, concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin had “probably approved” the 2006 operation that killed Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB officer who became a British citizen and reportedly defected to the UK’s intelligence service. The Owen inquiry uncovered “strong circumstantial evidence” that two Russians with ties to the Kremlin poisoned Litvinenko with a dangerous isotope from a nuclear reactor when they met the former KGB man in a London hotel in November of that year. New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post

New York Times: Mr. Putin and the Poisonous London Tea Party
Foreign Policy: So Putin Killed Litvinenko. Carry On.
Bloomberg View: Putin’s Reputation Turns Radioactive

Indonesia: Indonesian President Joko Widodo expressed support Thursday for improving the country’s extremist rehabilitation efforts. “Deradicalization must be followed with monitoring, counseling efforts,” Widodo said at a cabinet meeting. Sunakim, one of the assailants involved in last week’s ISIS-linked attack in Jakarta, had served time for terrorism-related offenses and shared a prison cell with Aman Abdurrahman, a radical Indonesian cleric, during his detention, potentially contributing to the former’s return to extremism. Wall Street Journal

Christian Science Monitor: Will Indonesia Toughen Its Anti-Terror Laws After Deadly IS-Linked Attack?

The Truth About Islam: “The reality is that Islam—like Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and other major world religions—is neither inherently violent nor inherently peaceful,” writes Andrew Mack in Slate. “And the holy texts of all religions can be mined for quotes to legitimize terrorism—or indeed principled nonviolence. Thus ISIS and other extreme Islamist radicals have no difficulty finding justification in medieval Islamic texts… But these extreme interpretations have minimal support among Muslims around the world and tell us nothing about the propensity for violence in mainstream Islam.”

Who Really Lost Iraq?: “It’s tempting for Republicans to play the stab-in-the-back card,” writes Dominic Tierney in The Atlantic. “The narrative of liberal failure can rescue a hawkish foreign policy from the wreckage of Iraq. But playing that card is dangerous as well… Today, the notion that Obama is responsible for losing Iraq and begetting ISIS only deepens the hyper-partisan climate.”

Taking Stock of Burkina Faso’s Democracy After al Qaeda Attack: “The challenges facing the new Burkinabé government are enormous, far more than what it could have imagined when it assumed power just days ago,” write Daniel Eizenga and Leonardo Villalón in the Washington Post. “While there is certainly capacity among Burkinabés to confront such challenges, it would be foolish to take these for granted. Much care should be taken to balance the securitization or militarization reflex with the need to ensure a viable and legitimate political order.”
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