By Pam Benson
Should federal judges weigh in on a president's decision to pursue and kill terrorists overseas?
The suggestion, raised at this week's nomination hearing of John Brennan to be CIA director, goes to the heart of the debate on whether President Barack Obama or any U.S. leader should have unfettered power to order the targeted killing of Americans overseas who are al Qaeda terrorists.
Some Democratic senators argued there should be a check on the president's authority to use lethal force, particularly against Americans, as occurred in September 2011 when a CIA-operated armed drone killed American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen.
By Pam Benson
The Senate Intelligence Committee has voted to approve an exhaustive study on the CIA's controversial detention and interrogation program that critics have charged was akin to torture.
By a 9-6 vote, the committee signed off Thursday on a 6,000-page classified report that has been in the works for nearly four years. The report is based on the study of six million, mostly CIA, documents and includes 35,000 footnotes and 20 findings and conclusions.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the committee chairwoman, said after the vote that the study was one of the most significant oversight efforts in the history of the United States.
Deaths and injuries from improvised explosive devices are falling a bit Afghanistan, but IEDs still account for more than 60% of U.S. casualties there, a Senate subcommittee heard Thursday.
"This year nearly 1,900 U.S. casualties have been caused by IEDs," Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero testified, and he was not optimistic about the future.
Pakistan is a major source of the problem, he said.
Evidence shows that most of the IEDs in Afghanistan are made with ammonium nitrate, the fertilizer used in the Oklahoma City bombing, Barbero said, and it is illegal to make or import ammonium nitrate into Afghanistan.
The United States has made several proposals to Pakistan to reduce the threat from fertilizer-based bombs, including putting die in all ammonium nitrate to make it easier for border patrol agents in Afghanistan to spot, or reformulating it so it could still feed crops but wouldn't be explosive.
So far this year, IED attacks in Afghanistan are down 12% to 18%, the general said, but that's compared with last year, the worst year on record. And there is reason to think the number could rise again.
Barbero, who is head of the Joint IED Defeat Organization, said that when the United States began pulling troops out of Iraq, IED attacks went up, and the same could happen over the next 24 months in Afghanistan.
"I'm concerned, like we saw in Iraq, as we draw down forces situational awareness drops. Frankly, your movements on the road become more predictable," he said.
Barbero concluded his testimony in the open portion of the hearing saying, "To sum up, I believe the IED will continue to be the weapon of choice against our forces and we must remain vigilant."
By Mike Mount, Senior National Security Producer
In what is shaping up to be a classic congressional right vs. left fight over defense and war funding, both the House and Senate are gearing up to battle over some expected and not-so-expected items in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act.
On Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee passed its version of the bill, showing its hand to members of the House of Representatives on what it felt should be authorized for military spending.
The act authorizes spending limits and sets defense policy, but it does not actually appropriate the funds.
The committee version must still pass a full Senate vote. The House signed off on its bill this month. While a date has yet to be announced, both the final House and Senate versions will go through extensive negotiations to hammer out a final version of the legislation, expected in the fall.
Both bills have numerous amendments that will be debated and fought over in the coming months. Keep an eye on these five if you like political fireworks.
By Jamie Crawford
Outrage over the imprisonment of a Pakistani doctor who tried to help the CIA locate the hiding place of Osama bin Laden was in full force Thursday as the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to cut another $33 million from the military aid package to Pakistan.
The figure derived from the 33-year sentence for treason that a Pakistani court meted out to Dr. Shakil Afridi on Wednesday.
The 30-0 roll call was based on an amendment to the Senate version of the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. The amendment calls for the $33 million to be upheld until "the Secretary of State reports to the Committees on Appropriations that Dr. Shakil Afridi has been released from prison and cleared of all charges relating to the assistance provided to the United States in locating Osama bin Laden."
By CNN National Security Producer Mike Mount
TheUnited Statesmust secure its rights for rare minerals and oil under the ocean before countries such asChinabegin to infringe on the country’s territorial rights, according to the nation’s top diplomat andU.S.military leaders.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey urged a Senate panel Wednesday to sign onto a long-opposed international sea treaty that they say will also strengthen the nation’s ability to apply military sea power.
Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations committee in a rare appearance together, the three leaders called on the Senate panel to pass the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas because it was a, “matter of utmost security and economic urgency.”
The treaty would give the U.S.a 200-mile exclusive economic zone off of its coastlines as well as access to mineral and other natural resource rights within that area but allows other signatories the right of transit within the economic zone.
The panel, led by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), led a mostly bipartisan supported group of senators in favor of signing onto the treaty which has been relatively ignored by theUnited Statessince 1994. More than 160 nations are signed onto the treaty; theU.S.is the only major nation that has not signed it.
By CNN Wire Staff
An al Qaeda video calling for "electronic jihad" illustrates the urgent need for cybersecurity standards for the most critical networks in the United States, a group of senators said.
"Internet piracy is an important field of jihad," the narrator of the video says, according to a translation. He advises followers with expertise to "target the websites and information systems of big companies and government agencies of the countries that attack Muslims."
The video calls for cyberattacks against networks such as the electric grid and compares vulnerabilities in the United States' critical cyber networks to the vulnerabilities in the country's aviation system before 9/11, according to a statement Tuesday from the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
By Jamie Crawford
Capturing and bringing to justice the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, a group terrorizing a large portion of central Africa, will be a challenge, officials from the Obama administration told a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday.
Speaking to the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on African affairs, officials on Tuesday said the task of stopping Joseph Kony is complicated by the region's vast and inhospitable terrain, along with the difficulty of coordinating the efforts of four partner nations' armies and gathering and sharing intelligence.
"Ending the LRA threat is not an easy mission," said Donald Yamamoto, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs. "The LRA operates in very small groups across vast territories, roughly the size of California and very heavily forested."
Since being pushed out of its previous stronghold in Northern Uganda in 2006, Kony and his lieutenants have been accused of continuing their abduction of children to serve as LRA soldiers in a campaign of rape, torture and murder across central Africa.
By Jill Dougherty
Angered by Russia's refusal to stop selling arms to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, U.S. lawmakers are urging the Defense Department to halt U.S. purchases of Russian helicopters and parts for the Afghan air force.
In a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, 17 senators said that "U.S. taxpayers should not be put in a position where they are indirectly subsidizing the mass murder of Syrian civilians." The letter, dated Monday, was sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as well.
But State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on Tuesday defended the Russian-Afghan deal, saying that although "we obviously share the intent" of the senators' demands to persuade Russia to end its arms supply to Syria, "cutting off U.S. purchases would hurt Afghanistan's ability to defend itself."
Last May, the Defense Department signed a $375 million contract with the Russian state-controlled arms export firm Rosoboronexport to purchase 21 Mi-17 aircraft. The helicopters, developed by the Soviet Union, are used extensively around the world and Afghan pilots traditionally have been trained on them.
By Chris Lawrence
The Pentagon tried to clarify remarks made by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, when he told a Senate committtee on Wednesday that the U.S. military is seeking "permission" from a foreign organization to intervene in Syria.
"He was re-emphasizing the need for an international mandate. We are not ceding U.S. decision-making authority to some foreign body," a defense official told CNN.
In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Panetta had an exchange with Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, who said Congress was circumvented when Obama decided to join the NATO coalition in Libya.