The Soufan Group Morning Brief


Thursday, June 7, 2018

U.S. Plans to Release Detained American Enemy Combatant Into Syria

The U.S. military plans to release an American man who has been held for months at a secret location in Iraq and is believed to have joined and fought with ISIS, court documents showed Wednesday. The military plans to set him free in Syria. The document filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said the man, a dual U.S.-Saudi citizen known only as “John Doe,” could choose to be released near a camp for internally displaced people or inside an unspecified Syrian town. The plan to release the prisoner comes after U.S. courts blocked the Trump administration’s efforts to move him from Iraq to Saudi Arabia. The administration’s backup plan to turn him over to Iraqi authorities was also rejected by the courts.

Justice Department lawyers said the Defense Department “intended to release Petitioner in one of two possible locations — either in a town or outside an Internally Displaced Person camp — and would allow Petitioner to choose which location he preferred.” The filing added, “Ultimately, Petitioner did not identify a preference between the two locations and would not agree to the release as [the military] described it.” The court filing said the military would wait at least 72 hours before moving and releasing the prisoner.

The ACLU, which is acting as counsel for the prisoner, denounced the decision. ACLU attorney Jonathan Hafetz said the government’s move proved the man didn’t present a threat to U.S. interests. “But, instead of offering a safe release, they want to dump an American citizen onto the side of the road in a war-torn country without any assurances of protection and no identification,” he said. “Now, our fight for our client’s right to due process has also become a fight for his right to life. We’ll be asking the court to immediately intervene and ensure the safe release of our client,” Hafetz said. NBC News, Politico, Wall Street Journal
Lawfare: The Latest—and Perhaps Last—Twist in Doe v. Mattis


Despite Trump, the West must stay united: “I don’t intend to lay the blame for the crisis in United States-European relations on one side only. Indeed, skeptics, and even opponents of the strong bond between us persist on both our continents,” Donald Tusk writes in the New York Times. “This is nothing new. But even so, we cannot underestimate the threat: There are people in Europe who seek closer ties with Russia and China, as an alternative to the existing order.”

North Korea’s illegal weapons trade: “As U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un prepare for the first ever summit between the heads of their respective countries, it appears that, at least for now, the brinkmanship and threats we have seen in the recent past are at an end,” Bruce E. Bechtol, Jr. writes in the Foreign Affairs. “Regardless of the fate of the summit, however, the United States and its allies will be forced to deal with North Korea’s weapons programs, which now threaten not only U.S. allies such as South Korea and Japan but potentially the continental United States itself. “

Syria: where civilians become a commodity for settling accounts: “Over the first six months of 2018, the situation in Syria has steadily deteriorated for the civilians caught amidst warring powers who appear to view them as assets rather than people and victims who must be protected,” Bassam al Ahmad writes in Just Security. “Rather than treat civilians as mere tools to be used as bargaining leverage, the powers involved in the Syria crisis must pursue an inclusive peace strategy that does not rely on violence or fuel divisions. A lack of such a process means that impunity, conflict, and a lack of accountability will persist.”

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The Atlanta cyber attack has had a more serious impact on the city’s ability to deliver basic services than previously understood, a city official said at a public meeting on Wednesday, as she proposed an additional $9.5 million to help pay for recovery costs. Atlanta’s administration has disclosed little about the financial impact or scope of the March 22 ransomware hack, but information released at the budget briefings confirms concerns that it may be the worst cyber assault on any U.S. city. More than a third of the 424 software programs used by the city have been thrown offline or partially disabled in the incident, Atlanta Information Management head Daphne Rackley said. Nearly 30 percent of the affected applications are considered “mission critical,” affecting core city services, including police and courts. Reuters

Bolton takes backseat to Pompeo in planning North Korea summit: Just weeks after John Bolton’s hardline rhetoric infuriated North Korea and nearly derailed a planned summit between Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump, the national security adviser appears to have taken a back seat to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for the historic meeting. While the hawkish Bolton is expected to be in Singapore for the talks on Tuesday, Pompeo has taken the lead as the administration assumes a softer tone toward Pyongyang ahead of the summit, several U.S. officials said. Pompeo, first as Trump’s CIA director and now as his chief diplomat, has quickly made North Korea his main focus. Reuters

Ryan dismisses Trump’s “spygate” charges: House Speaker Ryan contradicted President Trump’s assertions of a conspiracy by federal law enforcement on Wednesday, joining other lawmakers in saying that the FBI did nothing wrong by using a confidential informant to contact members of the Trump campaign as it investigated its ties to Russia. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) was the first to undercut Trump's “spygate” claims, telling TV interviewers last week that the FBI had acted responsibly. Gowdy was one of nine lawmakers briefed by the Justice Department and FBI last month on the use of the informant to glean information from Trump campaign associates believed to have suspect ties to Russia. Until Wednesday, no other Republican lawmakers had backed Gowdy’s view. New York Times

The Justice Department intends to offer an additional briefing to a select group of senior lawmakers who have pressed for details about the use of the informant. The briefing is expected to take place on Monday or Tuesday next week. Politico

Mueller probe appears to link Manafort, European PR firm: Individuals connected to a now-defunct European public affairs firm appear to have been the targets of what prosecutors contend was a witness-tampering effort by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office alleged in a court filing Monday night that Manafort reached out earlier this year in an improper effort to influence the testimony of two unnamed individuals he worked with between 2011 and 2014 on a public relations campaign aimed at burnishing the image of Ukraine's government and then-President Viktor Yanukovych. Politico

Guantanamo commanders make pitch for new prison: The U.S. military’s mission at Guantanamo is shifting to permanent detention for al-Qaeda and other war-on-terror detainees, commanders told reporters this week in a rare public pitch for Congress to fund a new $69 million, wheelchair-accessible prison for the five accused 9/11 plotters and 10 other captives. Guantanamo detention center leaders said Tuesday that they are shifting their mission after President Trump’s January executive order that canceled President Obama’s decision to close the prison. Neither the House of Representatives nor the Senate Armed Services Committee included a new prison in their versions of the defense policy bill for fiscal year 2019. Absent special legislation, the last chance to fund a new prison would be when the full Senate takes up the National Defense Authorization Act later this year. Miami Herald

NSC contractor arrested at White House held a security clearance: The NSC contractor arrested on attempted murder charges Tuesday managed to obtain a contractor job and a security clearance at the White House despite a previous assault charge and domestic-violence allegations, court records show. The Secret Service arrested Martese Maurice Edwards of Maryland early Tuesday after being notified that the Prince George’s County Sheriff’s Department had issued a warrant on May 17 for his arrest for attempted first-degree murder. CBS News reported that the arrest warrant, which remains sealed, alleges that Edwards shot his ex-girlfriend’s boyfriend. The Daily Beast

Pentagon seeks secure browser to thwart hackers: The Defense Department is in the market for a secure browser to wall off its employees from the open internet, a solution that will effectively block hackers from nation states such as Russia and China from reaching its network. According to a new request for information published on Tuesday, the Pentagon asked the private sector to pitch a “cloud based” product that would isolate more than 3 million Defense Department officials’ internet traffic. CNN


President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan declared a brief unilateral ceasefire with the Taliban on Thursday in a trust-building measure aimed at encouraging the armed group to engage in peace talks. The ceasefire, which Ghani said would go into effect next week, comes months after his government presented an extensive peace offer to the Taliban. “This cease-fire is an opportunity for the Taliban to introspect that their violent campaign is not winning them hearts and minds but further alienating the Afghan people from their cause,” Ghani said.

“Afghan national defense and security forces will only stop offensive maneuvers against armed Afghan Taliban and will continue to target Daesh and other foreign-backed terrorist organizations and their affiliates,” Ghani said in reference to ISIS and other insurgents. New York Times, Reuters

A UN peace plan for Yemen calls on the Houthi movement to give up its ballistic missiles in return for an end to a bombing campaign against it by a Saudi-led coalition and a transitional governance agreement. The plan, which has not yet been made public and could still be modified, is the latest effort to end Yemen’s civil war. Previous efforts to end the conflict, which according to the United Nations has killed more than 10,000 people, have failed. It is unclear whether the new plan will fare any better given the divergent interests of fighters on the ground and international backers.

The plan was drafted by UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths, who is due to present a “framework for negotiations” in Yemen by mid-June. A draft document seen by Reuters and confirmed by two sources familiar with it says it stipulates that “heavy and medium weapons including ballistic missiles shall be handed over by non-state military actors in an orderly and planned fashion.” The sources confirmed that the language included the Houthis, who have launched ballistic missiles at Saudi Arabia. The document also cites plans to create a transitional government, in which “political components shall be adequately represented,” in an apparent nod to the Houthis. Reuters

Iraq’s parliament passed a law on Wednesday ordering a nationwide manual recount of votes in the May 12 parliamentary election, lawmakers said, a day after Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said there had been serious violations. The move could hinder the delicate process of forming a new government, raising the prospect of further uncertainty in Iraq, and pits the government and parliament against the election commission, which is meant to be independent. Parliament on Wednesday voted for amendments to the election law which force the commission to conduct a manual recount, after it had initially declined to do so. It also suspended the commission’s leadership, which is to be replaced by nine judges. Reuters

UN backs plan to hold elections in Libya in December: The UN Security Council gave strong backing Wednesday to holding presidential and parliamentary elections in Libya later this year. The council adopted a French-drafted presidential statement that welcomed “the momentum generated” by an international conference on Libya hosted by President Emmanuel Macron on May 29, in which rival Libyan leaders agreed on a political roadmap that involves holding elections on December 10. The Security Council did not the date but took note “of Libyan leaders’ commitments to advance these important steps within the timeframe set out in the Paris declaration.” Associated Press


Court orders Turkey students freed in ‘terror propaganda’ trial: An Istanbul court on Wednesday ordered the release of all suspects in a controversial trial of 22 students from a prestigious Istanbul university who protested on campus against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s military campaign in Syria. Fourteen of the students had been held in jail on charges of disseminating “terror propaganda” after their initial detention in March when police stormed dormitories at Bogazici University. After the first trial hearing, the judge ordered that the 10 young men and four young women be released. The other eight defendants had been freed ahead of the trial Wednesday. All 22 now remain charged and under judicial supervision. Agence France Presse

Scores of Ethiopian migrants drown off Yemen’s coast: At least 46 migrants trying to cross from Somalia to Yemen have drowned when their boat capsized, UN officials say. Another 16 people are missing after the vessel overturned in rough seas off Yemen’s coast, the International Organization for Migration said. Survivors say the smuggler’s boat was carrying at least 100 people who had left the port of Bosaso to find work in Yemen and other Gulf countries. BBC News

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSC IntelBrief.
International Law: A Casualty in the War on Terror?

Cardozo Law Institute in Holocaust and Human Rights
Monday, June 18, 6-9PM
Editor-in-Chief, Karen J. Greenberg, Center on National Security, Fordham Law School

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