The Soufan Group Morning Brief



The D.C. federal appeals court on Wednesday ruled that a judge who handled an appeal in the military case for the men charged with helping perpetrate the 9/11 attacks should have recused himself. The ruling in favor of the alleged mastermind of the attacks, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, and his co-defendants vacated a decision in June by the Court of Military Commission Review that reinstated two charges for Mohammed and his co-defendants. Mohammed has been held in Guantanamo Bay prison for more than a decade.

The D.C. court reasoned that comments in 2010 by Judge Scott Silliman Silliman, in which he called Mohammad and his co-defendants “the major conspirators in the 9/11 attacks,” demonstrated bias. The court said that Silliman, who was a member of the panel that issued the June decision, should have recused himself from the case. “As petitioner explains, Judge Silliman has done just that: expressed an opinion that petitioner is guilty of the very crimes of which he is accused,” the seven-page ruling states.

The D.C. Appellate Circuit, which has authority over the military commission, has handed down two other decisions against the military process over the past three years. This recent decision adds another delay to the military’s case. “Today’s decision is yet another stinging rebuke not of the military commissions themselves, but of the [Court of Military Commission Review],” Just Security’s Steve Vladeck wrote. CNN, Miami Herald

FBI agents raided the home in Alexandria, Va., of President Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, before dawn last month and seized documents and other materials related to the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Manafort has been under increasing pressure as Mueller’s team looks into his personal finances and his professional career as a highly paid foreign political consultant. The search came the day Manafort was scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee about Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Manafort has been voluntarily providing documents to congressional committees investigating the issue. The FBI raid indicates that investigators may have reason to think Manafort cannot be trusted to turn over all records in response to a grand jury subpoena. Washington Post, New York Times, ABC News

The Senate Judiciary Committee has received more than 20,000 pages of documents from the Trump campaign related to the investigation. The committee asked for all records related to the meeting in June 2016 between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer, which Manafort and President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner also attended. The senators also asked the Trump campaign for records of any campaign contacts with or about a number of senior Russian officials. In addition, federal investigators reportedly sought cooperation from Manafort’s son-in-law, Jeffrey Yohai, in an effort to increase pressure on Manafort. CNN, Politico

1 in 4 Americans say Trump acted illegally with Russia: One quarter of Americans believe President Donald Trump acted illegally over his campaign’s alleged dealings with Russia during the 2016 presidential election, a new poll by Gallup shows. Thirty-seven percent of respondents said Trump had acted unethically but not illegally, and thirty-five percent did not believe he did anything wrong. From a historical perspective, Americans’ belief that Trump is culpable is on the high end of reactions to several past presidential controversies, Gallup said. Newsweek

Unarmed Russian Air Force jet flies over Pentagon, Capitol, CIA, White House: An unarmed Russian Air Force reconnaissance jet flew over several government buildings and landmarks in, including the Pentagon, the Capitol, the White House, and the CIA. The flight was allowed under the Treaty of Open Skies, which allows military aircraft from 34 participating countries to fly aerial observation flights over one another’s territory to observe military sites. Law enforcement agencies were given little warning of these “short notice” flights, which are authorized by the treaty.  The Russian aircraft has the ability to perform a number of intelligence gathering functions, including aerial photography, thermal imaging, and picking up signals intelligence. CNN, CBS News

ISIS threatens new attacks in Iran in video: ISIS issued a video on Wednesday threatening new attacks in Tehran and calling on young Iranians to rise up and launch jihad in their country. A man wearing a black ski mask and holding an AK-47, seated alongside two others, made the threats in a video that bore the logo of ISIS’ Amaq news agency logo and showed footage of two attacks in Tehran in June claimed by the terror group. The man said ISIS would carry out more attacks “in the center of Tehran.” He also threatened Shiite targets in Iraq. Reuters

Trump's indecision on Afghanistan leaves generals in lurch: Instead of approving their plan  to commit thousands of additional American troops to Afghanistan, President Trump has caught his generals off guard by questioning whether the U.S. effort to stabilize the country is still worth it, according to current and former military officials. Trump’s failure to approve a plan has surprised U.S. commanders in Afghanistan, the Pentagon, and U.S. Central Command, officials said. Some had expected President Trump to give a swift sign-off on the plan. Meanwhile, the situation on the ground continues to deteriorate. Deaths of Afghan security forces in the early months of 2017 were “shockingly high,” the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction recently reported. Politico

Women recruits prepare to join Syria’s Raqqa battle: Female fighters in north Syria have completed military training to join the battle against ISIS. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of local militias supported by a U.S.-led coalition, trained 210 women to join the fight. An SDF spokeswoman for the Raqqa campaign said the women would be mainly deployed to the battlefront against ISIS in Raqqa. Another course for more women will start in two months, she said. Reuters

Taliban leader feared Pakistan before he was killed: More than a year after he was killed in an American drone stroke, Afghans on both sides of the war and a growing number of Western analysts say that Pakistan most likely engineered the death of former Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour. While on his way home from a secret visit to Iran in May 2016, he called relatives to prepare them for his death. “He knew something was happening,” a former Taliban commander said in a rare interview. His account offered previously unreported insights into the final hours of Mullah Mansour’s life, and why and how he was killed, revealing a dangerously widening rift with his Pakistani sponsors. New York Times

The Department of Defense would deploy B-1B bombers in a pre-emptive attack on North Korea if the President ordered such a strike, NBC News reported on Wednesday. U.S. officials said an attack would originate from the Andersen Air Force Base in Guam and that they would target roughly two dozen missile-launch sites in North Korea. On Thursday, North Korea said it was drawing up plans to launch four intermediate-range ballistic missiles into waters near Guam in response to President Trump’s warning this week that North Korea would face “fire and fury” against if it continued to threaten the U.S. NBC News, New York Times

President Trump’s aides knew he planned to deliver a tough message to North Korea this week, but they did not expect the President to make such escalatory remarks.The response by U.S. officials to Trump’s remarks reflected a divide within the administration. While Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Trump’s language was simply meant to send a strong message to North Korea, a statement by Secretary of Defense James Mattis indicated the possibility of massive retaliation against North Korea. New York Times, Washington Post
New York Times: Trump’s ‘Fire and Fury’ Threat Raises Alarm in Asia
Washington Post: Dodging Blame, China Urges U.S. to Stop Hurling Threats at North Korea
CNN: Could Congress Stop Trump From Bombing North Korea?

Referrals to UK counterterrorism scheme double after recent attacks: Public referrals to the British government's counterterrorism scheme Prevent have doubled since four deadly ISIS attacks this year. Simon Cole, the National Police Chief Council’s lead spokesman on deradicalization efforts, said police had received around 200 referrals to Prevent from members of the public since the first of the attacks in March. Officials said the figure is about twice the numbers of referrals that Prevent representatives had received in the months prior to the attacks. Cole also said that the police and government have been discussing whether to make the controversial Prevent program compulsory. While Prevent aims to stop those at risk of joining extremist groups and carrying out terrorist activities, some believe it has been used as a tool to spy on their communities. Reuters, BBC News, The Guardian

North Korea says it released Canadian detainee: North Korea said Wednesday it released a Canadian pastor who has been serving a life sentence since 2015 for alleged anti-state activities. Pyongyang said that Hyeon Soo Lim was released on “sick bail” following a decision by the country's Central Court. The office of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said earlier that a Canadian delegation had visited Pyongyang on Tuesday to discuss Lim’s imprisonment. Lim's release came almost two months after the death of American Otto Warmbier, which occurred shortly after he was released from North Korea in a coma. Associated Press

French prosecutors open investigation into attack on soldiers: French counterterrorism prosecutors have opened an investigation into an attack Wednesday on French soldiers near the headquarters of France’s anti-terrorist police unit in a Parisian suburb.  The Paris prosecutor described the attack as “attempted killings... in relation to a terrorist undertaking.” A police source said the suspect in the attack is a 37-year-old Algerian man who was legally living in France. Hamou Benlatreche was known to French police over minor crimes but has never been convicted in court, the officer said. Associated Press
It’s not too late on North Korea: “Either Mr. Trump is issuing an empty threat of nuclear war, which will further erode American credibility and deterrence, or he actually intends war next time Mr. Kim behaves provocatively,” former National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice writes in the New York Times. “The first scenario is folly, but a United States decision to start a pre-emptive war on the Korean Peninsula, in the absence of an imminent threat, would be lunacy.”

America keeps on failing in Afghanistan: “In theory, U.S. strategy in Afghanistan has been to train an Afghan army that can fight al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and now the Islamic State — and then largely to withdraw. After 16 years, it’s not surprising that many people think that strategy has failed. In fact, it hasn’t really been tried,” Former Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald E. Neumann writes in the Washington Post. “Our commanders may perhaps be faulted for not arguing harder against the political mistakes of Washington. I believe that they tried but found that the Obama White House resented every effort to speak truth to power.”

Hezbollah and the simplistic school of counterterrorism: “Failure to take into account the actual motivations, methods, objectives, and standing of a group such as Hezbollah leads to poor policy on problems that involve such groups. It leads to lack of awareness of how others perceive such groups and thus to what is or is not feasible as a U.S. policy objective,” Paul Pillar writes in The National Interest. “Whether we like it or not, Hezbollah is a well-established political actor in Lebanon, with its participation in Hariri’s government being part of that position.”

Under the shadow of terrorism in Dhaka: “In the wake of the Holey attacks, as a dark cloud of uncertainty hung over the nation, people wanted the state to take action. Dhaka’s citizens wanted the security forces to prove their might against the extremist fringe groups that were threatening the stability of the country — and they did,” Tahmima Anam writes in the New York Times. “But in our hunger to see these invisible, terrifying enemies thwarted, we ignored how, exactly, the state was going about defeating them...Many of these abuses take place under the guise of protecting society from terrorism. We citizens remain silent because the threat of another catastrophic attack is too much to bear.”
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