The Soufan Group Morning Brief


Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Pentagon Misses Trump's Guantanamo Deadline

The Pentagon has missed a deadline, set by a January 30 executive order signed by President Donald Trump, to come up with new policies regarding detainees captured on the battlefield and the transfer of those individuals to Guantanamo. “The Department of Defense is in the final stages of providing a recommendation to the White House on policies regarding the disposition of individuals captured in connection with an armed conflict. This includes policies governing transfer of individuals to the detention facility at U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay," a U.S. defense official told CNN on Tuesday.

Trump's executive order said Secretary of Defense James Mattis should “recommend policies to the President” on this issue “within 90 days.” Asked about the deadline, Mattis told reporters Monday that “right now I'm not working that issue.”

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have captured over 400 foreign fighters during their campaign against ISIS in Syria, according to U.S. defense officials. One of those detainees is reportedly a militant with links to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “We have been engaging with their home countries. Home being the country they were a citizen of when they left to go fight. Now, in some cases, those countries have stripped them of their citizenship, so they have a different view as far as what their status is today. So this is not simple,” Mattis said of the foreign fighter detainees. CNN


With Iraq, we’ve been here before—last time it resulted in ISIS: “The move to shut down ground operations command in Iraq ahead of an election is more than symbolic. It means something to the Iraqis, more to the Iranians, and a great deal to the U.S. because it will result in a loss of situational awareness,” Michael Pregent writes in The Hill. “Our eyes and ears on the ground will now be behind high walls and could lead to security backslide in areas cleared of ISIS.”

To win a Nobel, Trump should look to the Iran deal: “Instead of shredding the Iran accord, Mr. Trump should apply its basic template to North Korea,” Antony Blinken writes in the New York Times. “First, negotiate an interim deal that freezes Pyongyang’s program in place and starts to roll it back, gets inspectors on the ground and offers modest, carefully measured economic relief. Then use the resulting time to produce a more comprehensive agreement, ideally to include denuclearization and a peace treaty.”

Turkey’s war on dissent goes global: “What is happening inside Turkey has rightly been condemned, including by the European Court of Human Rights. But the Turkish government’s persecution of its critics does not stop at the country’s borders,” Jago Russell writes in Foreign Policy. “Turkey has long been abusing international law enforcement mechanisms such as Interpol to pursue dissidents across borders. And in the past year, it has stepped up its efforts to persecute and intimidate political refugees abroad.”

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Special Counsel Robert Mueller, in a meeting with President Donald Trump’s lawyers in March, reportedly raised the possibility of issuing a subpoena for Trump if he declines to speak to investigators involved in the Russia investigation. The Washington Post said Mueller mentioned a subpoena after Trump’s lawyers said the president had no obligation to talk with federal investigators involved in the investigation. The incident set in motion weeks of turmoil among Trump’s attorneys as they debated how to deal with Mueller’s request for an interview, which ultimately led to the resignation of Trump’s lead lawyer at the time, John Dowd. Washington Post, Reuters

The CIA on Tuesday declassified additional information about Acting Director Gina Haspel’s career, but left out details on assignments that opponents say involved overseeing the torture of terrorism subjects abroad. The two-page CIA statement on Tuesday disclosed that Haspel, who is President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the agency, served as chief of station for the Europe division from 2014 to 2017, and previously worked as chief of staff of the directorate of operations from 2005 to 2008. She was also deputy group chief of Russian operations in the Central Eurasia division from 1998 to 2000 and received language training in Turkish and Russian.

From 2001 to 2004, the agency said Haspel was deputy group chief for its counterterrorism center in Langley, Virginia, without providing more details. During her time working in counterterrorism after 9/11, Haspel reportedly oversaw CIA personnel who were involved in the interrogation of terror suspects. The CIA said its summary did not cover more than 30 “short-term, temporary duty” assignments. Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg
The Daily Beast: Ex-CIA Official Says Some Torture Videotapes May Still Exist

The Trump administration has chosen to ignore an executive order that requires the White House to issue an annual report on the number of civilians and enemy fighters killed by U.S. counterterrorism strikes. The mandate for the report, which was due on May 1, was established by former president Barack Obama in 2016 as part of a broader effort to lift the veil of secrecy surrounding drone operations in countries such as Yemen, Somalia and Libya. The White House has not formally rescinded the Obama-era executive order but has chosen not to comply with some of its components. “The executive order that requires the civilian casualty report is under review” and could be “modified” or “rescinded,” a White House spokesman said. Washington Post
Just Security: What Questions Should Congress Be Asking DoD About Civilian Casualties?

Brain scans conducted on the Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who is accused of orchestrating the 9/11 attacks, show damage consistent with abuse he might have suffered in CIA custody, his lawyers revealed in a war court memo. If proven, the development could make it less likely that he would face the death penalty. In a memo submitted on March 1, Mohammed's lawyers wrote that MRI scans conducted at Guantanamo on January 31 were flawed and missing 75 percent of the data their experts sought. But the limited data shows “evidence of head injuries consistent with the physical trauma suffered by Mr. Mohammed and documented in the SSCI Executive Summary,” the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 2014 report on the CIA’s use of torture.

In the memo, the lawyers requested that the Pentagon pay for another, more complete study into Mohammed’s condition. On Tuesday, a military judge told defense lawyers to ask elsewhere for more MRI scans and to justify the need for more scans if the war court overseer or prosecutors refuse. Miami Herald

Rod Rosenstein pushes back against GOP calls for removal: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein pushed back on Tuesday against a group of Republican lawmakers who say he should lose his job for resisting their demands that the Justice Department turn over documents related to politically sensitive investigations. Members of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of about three dozen conservatives, have been circulating a draft of articles of impeachment against Rosenstein. “There have been people making threats privately and publicly against me for quite some time,” Rosenstein said. “They should know by now the Department of Justice is not going to be extorted, and that any kind of threats that anybody makes are not going to affect the way we do our job.” Wall Street Journal, Washington Post

Mueller requests Flynn's sentencing be delayed: Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Tuesday requested that sentencing for former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn be delayed by at least two months. Mueller’s team and attorneys for Flynn said he is not ready for sentencing “due to the status of the special counsel’s investigation,” according to a court filing. Flynn pleaded guilty in December to lying to the FBI as part of Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s ongoing investigation. The parties are required to provide an update on Flynn’s status by June 29, according to the court filing. CNN, The Hill

Man who conspired to help ISIS sentenced to 8 years: A New Jersey man, Samuel Rahamin Topaz, admitted taking part in a conspiracy to support ISIS has been sentenced to eight years in prison. The 24-year-old had pleaded guilty to conspiring with others to provide services and personnel to ISIS. Federal prosecutors say Topaz admitted he planned to travel overseas to join the group and saved money for that purpose. Topaz discussed his plans with three other men, including Nader Saadeh, who pleaded guilty and received a 10-year prison sentence on Monday. Saadeh left the U.S. in 2015. Topaz says he and others planned to meet up with Saadeh overseas and travel together to join ISIS. Associated Press


U.S.-backed Syrian militias on Tuesday relaunched their offensive to seize the last territory controlled by ISIS in the east near the border with Iraq. The Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias, had paused the battle after Turkey launched an assault in January against their northwestern Afrin region.The suspension of the SDF’s offensive allowed ISIS to embed itself across a swath of desert along Syria’s border with Iraq. Estimates for the number of militants remaining across the Syria and Iraq range between 1,000 and 3,000. U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said last week that he expected a “reenergized” effort against remnants of ISIS in eastern Syria. Reuters, Washington Post

Syrians held by rebels freed as part of deal with government: More than three dozen Syrians held since 2015 by al-Qaeda-linked insurgents in the country’s northwest were released Tuesday as part of a deal to hand areas around Damascus back to the government, state media reported. The 42 people are the first batch of more than 80 who are to be released. Along with their release, the deal will see al-Qaeda-linked fighters from the Hayat Tahrir al Sham group evacuate from a Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus. About 5,000 people in two northwestern villages besieged by the insurgents will be allowed to move to government-held areas. This is the latest in a series of evacuation deals for areas surrounding Damascus. Associated Press

Double bomb blasts kill dozens at Nigeria mosque: At least 27 people were killed Tuesday in twin bomb blasts in northeast Nigeria. The explosions happened in and around a mosque as Muslims were preparing for afternoon prayers. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the bombings, but Boko Haram has launched previous attacks in Mubi. The government has ordered security services to bolster their numbers in Mubi and other places, particularly around markets and places of worship. The bombings occurred a day after Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari met President Donald Trump at the White House and discussed the security challenges the country faces. CNN, BBC News

South Korea says it wants U.S. troops to stay regardless of any treaty with North Korea: South Korea said on Wednesday the issue of U.S. troops stationed in the South is unrelated to any future peace treaty with North Korea and that American forces should stay even if such an agreement is signed. “U.S. troops stationed in South Korea are an issue regarding the alliance between South Korea and the United States. It has nothing to do with signing peace treaties,” said a spokesman for South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The statement was a response to media questions about a column written by South Korean presidential adviser and academic Moon Chung-in that was published earlier this week. Moon Chung-in said it would be difficult to justify the presence of U.S. forces in South Korea if a peace treaty was signed after the two Koreas agreed at an historic summit last week to put an end to the Korean conflict. Reuters


For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSC IntelBrief.
Editor-in-Chief, Karen J. Greenberg, Center on National Security, Fordham Law School

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