The Soufan Group Morning Brief




The Trump administration is reportedly close to issuing an executive order that would instruct the Defense Department to send ISIS detainees to the Guantanamo Bay prison, where they would be held without trial. However, many national security law experts have warned the White House that doing so could provide federal judges an opening to reject the government’s theory that the war against ISIS is an extension of the war against al-Qaeda, which Congress authorized in 2001. The draft executive order does not include language that was in previous versions about reviving controversial CIA prisons overseas or reintroducing harsh interrogation methods. (NYT)

KSM penned letter to Obama: Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of 9/11, wrote former President Obama an 18-page letter that blames U.S. foreign policy for the terror attacks. The note is dated January 2015 but didn’t reach the White House until a military judge ordered its delivery days before Obama left office. (Miami Herald)



Judge Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee to the nation’s highest court, privately called the president’s recent criticisms of the judiciary “demoralizing and disheartening.” Gorsuch reportedly made the remarks in a closed-door meeting with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), a member of the Judiciary Committee; the comments were later confirmed by the team charged with ensuring Gorsuch’s confirmation.


Trump had called the ongoing judicial process with regard to his temporary travel ban “disgraceful” and “so political”; he has also suggested that the “so-called” federal judge who issued a nationwide stay on the travel ban should be blamed if there is a terrorist attack. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco is expected to rule on whether to lift an injunction on the ban any day. (WSJ, NYT, Reuters)


Sessions Confirmed as AG: A divided U.S. Senate confirmed Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) as U.S. attorney general on Wednesday, by a vote of 52-47. Many Democrats and civil rights groups had strongly opposed Sessions, citing his past positions on race, immigration, and criminal justice issues. (Reuters, NYT)


NSA worker indicted: A federal grand jury in Baltimore formally charged Harold Thomas Martin, a former contractor with the National Security Agency, with 20 criminal counts related to his alleged theft of classified information. His initial appearance before the court is scheduled for next Tuesday. (Reuters)

DOD considered foreign prisons: Documents that surfaced in a trial of two psychologists who helped create the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program show that, in 2002, the Pentagon reportedly considered establishing a secret prison abroad where detainees would be subjected to “constant sensory deprivation.” The Defense Department, however, did not act on the proposal. (NYT)


ISIS inspired attacker sentenced: Abdul Malik Abdul Kareem, a U.S.-born Muslim convert from Arizona, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for aiding ISIS by helping two people who attacked an anti-Islam event in Texas. (NYT)

CIA Pick: A third Democrat, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, is joining a pair of Intelligence Committee senators in pressing President Trump to withdraw his pick for the No. 2 slot at the CIA, Gina Haspel, over reports she was involved with the agency’s torture program. (The Hill)


The Pentagon said that U.S. airstrikes last week killed nearly a dozen al-Qaeda fighters in Syria, including Abu Hani al-Masri, a top operative in the militant group since the 1980s. The report comes as forces backed by Russia and Turkey are bearing down on ISIS in Al Bab, one of the group’s last enclaves in Syria. (NYT, WSJ)

Yemen backtracks on U.S. raids: The Yemeni government said Wednesday that it had not suspended future U.S. counterterrorism raids but instead requested a “reassessment” of a U.S. commando operation last month that killed several women and children. Analysts note that U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies are happy to see the attention Yemen is getting and are hopeful President Trump chooses the conflict as his first battleground to push back against Iran. (NYT, WSJ)


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to propose new cabinet level U.S.-Japan talks on a range of issues including trade and security when he meets President Trump on Friday. During the presidential campaign, Trump complained that Tokyo was not sharing enough of the cost of the U.S. security umbrella, though Defense Secretary Mattis recently assured Japan the alliance was firm. (Reuters)

Trump breaks ice with Xi: The president broke the ice with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in a letter saying he looked forward to working with him. The pair have yet to speak directly since Trump took office but they did speak soon after Trump won the election. (Reuters)


The Practical Need for an ISIL AUMF: “There is now a real need for Congress to get off its bottom and enact an AUMF for ISIL. And note: The time to enact a new AUMF is before, not after, an ISIL detainee is brought to GTMO. Having an ISIL AUMF in place before the first ISIL detainee is captured and brought to GTMO is necessary to avoid retroactivity problems and the possibility of having to rely on appropriations as the authority at time of capture,” writes Jack Goldsmith on the Lawfare blog.


‘Enhanced Interrogations’ Don’t Work as Well: “Research has found that torture and enhanced interrogations are likely to be less effective than noncoercive interrogation methods in persuading individuals to cooperate. Here are five things you need to know about enhanced interrogation techniques,” write Misty Duke and Damien Van Puyvelde in the Washington Post.


Containing Trump: “We have reason to hope that Trump will figure out how to be a modern-day [Andrew] Jackson,” writes Jonathan Rauch in the Atlantic. “But we also have reason to fear that he might use the powers of his office to violate court orders, encourage supporters to harass his political opponents, suborn the Justice Department or the IRS or other powerful agencies, circumvent Congress, or aggrandize and enrich himself.”

The Quiet Grandeur of the Courts: “The president continues to demean his office in 140-character increments, firing off nasty and reflexive broadsides at anyone who doesn’t agree completely with him. Meanwhile, on Tuesday afternoon, the tedious, necessary work of a branch of government Mr. Trump sometimes seems to wish did not exist reminded the country what government based on the rule of law looks like,” write editors of the New York Times.


Council on Foreign Relations: What Are Economic Sanctions?

Revisiting Guantanamo Bay
Where We've Come, Where We're Headed
February 14, 2017
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