The Soufan Group Morning Brief


The Soufan Group Morning Brief



On Thursday a federal appeals court upheld the conspiracy conviction by the military commission at Guantanamo Bay of a man who previously served as Osama bin Laden’s personal assistant. In a 6-to-3 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld the conviction of 47-year-old Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, a former media secretary to Osama bin Laden, on the charge of conspiracy to commit war crimes. Bahlul’s attorney, Michel Paradis, said he expected the next step, after consulting with his client, was to attempt to have the case heard by the Supreme Court. A divided three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit threw out the conviction in 2014, but the Obama administration later requested that the full appeals court reconsider the case.

This issue in the case was whether the Constitution allows Congress to make conspiracy to commit war crimes an offense triable by military commissions, despite the fact that conspiracy is not recognized as an international war crime. Four of the six judges in the majority argued that Congress had the constitutional power to authorize conspiracy charges in the military commission. One of the four judges, Brett Kavanaugh, wrote that “wherever one might ultimately draw the outer boundaries of Congress’s authority to establish offenses triable by military commission, the historically rooted offense of conspiracy to commit war crimes is well within those limits.” However, the ruling lacked a clear majority, as the two other judges who voted to uphold the decision did so for different legal reasons. In dissent, three judges wrote that “although the government might well be entitled to detain al-Bahlul as an enemy belligerent, it does not have the power to switch the Constitution on and off at will.” They added that Bahlul’s prosecution on conspiracy charges “exceeded the scope” of what is allowed for military tribunals under the Constitution. Associated Press, New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal

Reuters: U.S. appeals court upholds al Qaeda publicist's conviction
Huffington Post: Appeals Court Upholds Conviction Of Bin Laden Assistant In 9/11 Terror Plot

On Thursday, federal prosecutors said they will charge a former NSA contractor with violating the Espionage Act for his alleged theft of “an astonishing quantity” of classified documents. Harold Martin is suspected of stealing the equivalent of 500 million pages of government documents over two decades of work at seven companies, according to court documents. Prosecutors also said that Martin kept an “arsenal” of 10 firearms at his Maryland home and illegally kept a loaded handgun in his car. The government has not alleged that Martin passed any data to a foreign government. Washington Post, New York Times, NPR
CNN: Feds: NSA contractor's secrets theft 'breathtaking'

Terror case in Arizona: An Arizona prison inmate and his wife have been indicted on state terrorism and conspiracy charges, according to the state Attorney General. Thomas and Michelle Bastian are accused of plotting to commit an act of terrorism at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis. The two allegedly conspired to build and then set off a homemade bomb inside the prison, according to court documents released Thursday. Michelle Bastian was arrested last week after she allegedly attempted to smuggle Al Qaeda and ISIS-linked publications into her husband’s prison. Reuters, ABC

Sanctions: The Treasury Department and Saudi Arabia worked together to sanction four Lebanese nationals who allegedly helped fund and plan Hezbollah terrorism operations. The two governments froze the assets of Muhammad Al-Mukhtar Kallas, Hasan Jamal-al-Din, Yosef Ayad, and Muhammad Ghaleb Hamdar and locked them out of each country’s financial system. The Hill

During Wednesday night’s debate, Donald Trump criticized the U.S.-backed Iraqi military offensive to retake the city of Mosul, saying it had given up “the element of surprise” and allowed ISIS leaders to leave the city ahead of the offensive. However, several military historians and senior officers say Trump is wrong and lacks fundamental understanding of Iraqi politics and military warfare. Jeff McCausland, a retired Army colonel and former dean at the Army War College, said that “what this shows is Trump doesn’t know a damn thing about military strategy.” New York Times

A U.S. service member was killed in a bomb blast in northern Iraq on Thursday as U.S. forces stepped up their support for local forces in the fight against ISIS. The U.S. military said in a statement that the death resulted from an improvised explosive device but provided no further details. According to U.S. officials, the incident occurred “near Mosul,” as U.S. forces continue to support Kurdish and Iraqi troops as they begin their campaign to retake Iraq’s second largest city from ISIS. Washington Post, The Hill
TIME: These 5 Cities Matter Most in the Fight Against ISIS
ABC: Iraqi Villagers Near Mosul Celebrate Freedom, Recount Life Under ISIS
CNN: How the 'Kurdish question' complicates the anti-ISIS alliance

Yemen: A 72-hour ceasefire faced pressure on Thursday when missiles launched from Yemen killed two civilians in Saudi Arabia. Houthi rebels also claimed that the Saudi-led military coalition launched airstrikes that killed three civilians in northern Saada province. Reuters
New York Times: Wife of American Detained in Yemen Publicly Calls for Release

Syria: Turkey reportedly launched air strikes against a group of Kurdish fighters allied to a U.S.-backed militia in northern Syria. Turkish fighter jets targeted positions held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in three villages northeast of Aleppo, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The incident highlights the conflicting agendas between the two NATO allies in an increasingly complex battlefield. Reuters

Germany: The trial of a teenage girl accused of stabbing a police officer, in an alleged ISIS-ordered attack, began on Thursday behind closed doors. The 16-year-old girl, identified as Safia S., is charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault and support of a foreign terrorist organization. Prosecutors say that ISIS operatives ordered her to carry out an “act of martyrdom” and assisted in planning the attack in Hanover in late February. Wall Street Journal
Not All U.K. Muslims Are Against the Prevent Counter-Terrorism Strategy: “There are valid reasons why many Muslim organizations do not want to shout from the rooftops their support for Prevent, despite the fact that the government has engaged with 372 mosques, 385 community organizations and 156 faith organizations in the last year,” writes Sara Khan on Newsweek. “Many of these Muslim groups, doing important counter-narrative and countering violent extremism (CVE) work, are vilified because of the opposition by Islamist groups to this area of work. They are labelled as ‘native informants’ and ‘sell outs.’”

Why Trump’s ‘sneak attacks’ won’t defeat the Islamic State: “The real challenge for the coalition is to ensure that in retaking Mosul, it does not set off the same sectarian dynamics that led to the city’s fall in the first place,” writes Fareed Zakaria in the Washington Post. “From the day it took Mosul, [ISIS] knew that the Iraqi army would try to take it back. Given the desert topography, there are only a few open paths by which to approach the city. This lack of surprise is the norm in warfare.”

The Arc of History is Long, But it Bends Toward Bombing Assad: “Looking back to the 1990s, it seems Obama is actually hewing fairly closely to the playbook that ultimately led Washington to intervene in Yugoslavia’s civil war,” writes Nick Danforth on War on the Rocks. “This is not a playbook that demands immediate military intervention, but one that has Washington spending several years desperately trying to avoid it, while still investing just enough diplomatically and rhetorically to make the eventual use of force inevitable.”


Spycast: Countering Radicalism and Extremism: An Interview with Dr. Lorenzo Vidino and Jesse Morton

For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSG IntelBrief: The Foreign Fighter Suicide Defense in Mosul

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