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Thursday :: December 18, 2014

Shami Witness' Detention Extended for 15 Days

Police in India have obtained a 15 day extension of time to hold Shami Witness (Mehdi Masroor Biswas) as they continue their investigation of him and his Twitter account. They had asked for an additional 25 days. Shami has been allowed to meet with his parents.

Biswas was arrested under Sec 125 of IPC (waging war against the Government of any Asiatic power in alliance or at peace with the Government of India or attempts to wage such war or abetting waging of such war), Sec 18 and 39 of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and Sec 66 of the Information Technology Act.

India has now moved to have ISIS added to its list of designated terror organizations under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. However, the list already included any organizations that were designated terror organizations by the U.N. and ISIS has been designated by the U.N.

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Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Appears in Court

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, accused of committing the Boston Marathan bombing, was in court this morning. Reporters in the courtroom are live-tweeting. Almost all say he appeared much more alert, interested and engaged in the proceedings than at his prior appearance. He smiled when talking to his attorney Judy Clarke.

He wore slacks and a sweater, not an orange jumpsuit. He has a short beard and his hair is longer than at his last appearance.

As I wrote Monday, the Government asked for him to appear so that he could be quizzed about whether he is satisfied with his counsel, in case he is convicted and claims differently in an appeal. Today Dzhokhar (aka Jahar) assured the court he was satisfied with his attorneys, answering "Very much so." (One reporter tweeted he answered "Pretty much" and another said he responded "Yes Sir." Are they attending the same proceeding?)

One reporter said the Judge ruled the witness lists will be sealed until the jury is seated. Another said the judge said he will release the list on Dec. 28. [More...]

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Thursday Open Thread

Our last open thread is full. Here's a new one, all topics welcome.

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Sony Cancels Release of "The Interview"

Following threats by hackers to launch attacks on theaters who show "The Interview", a comedy movie by Sony Pictures about a planned assassination attempt on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Sony announced yesterday it is canceling the release of the film. The announcement followed decisions by several movie chains not to show the movie. Sony has no plans to release the film in the future.

Some criticize Sony's cancellation saying they are giving in to cyberterrorists, and it's a slippery slope. Others say better safe than sorry.

According to Reuters, the U.S. believes North Korea, not keyboard terrorists sitting in their parents' basement, is behind the Sony hacks and threats.

Why didn't Sony just release it to cable "On Demand", Netflix, iTunes and Amazon?

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Wednesday :: December 17, 2014

Obama Issues Pardons and Commutations

President Obama issued 12 pardons and 8 sentence commutations today. Some of the commutations went to those serving life sentences under the old, unduly harsh crack cocaine guidelines.

The full list is here.

These are the first commutations under Obama's new clemency guidelines.

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Obama Restores Ties With Cuba

After 50 years, the U.S. has restored ties with Cuba.

After 18 months of secret talks, Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro agreed in a phone call on Tuesday on a breakthrough prisoner exchange, the opening of embassies in each other's countries, and an easing of some restrictions on commerce.

The two leaders made the announcement in simultaneous televised speeches. The Vatican and Canada facilitated the deal.

Obama is also calling for an end to the embargo. Republicans aren't happy with that and Congressional approval is necessary to lift it. There was also a prisoner exchange: [More...]

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Spending Bill Denies Funding for Federal Medical Marijuana Raids in Approved States

Thanks to the passing of a little known amendmment inserted via amendment into the omnibus spending bill by by sponsors Rep. Dana Rorsbacher and Samm Farr, the DEA will be unable to conduct medical marijuana raids in states that allow medical pot. That's 32 states plus the District of Columbia.

Here's the actual text: [More...]

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Wednesday Open Thread

Your turn. Our last open thread is full. All topics welcome.

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Tuesday :: December 16, 2014

Roman Polanski Files Motion to Close L.A. Case

Roman Polanski, now represented by Alan Dershowitz, among others, has filed a motion to close his Los Angeles case once and for all.

The request by Mr. Dershowitz to represent Mr. Polanski opened what promises to be a broad legal and public-relations effort to lift the threat of extradition and jail time from Mr. Polanski, now 81. He was first charged with raping a 13-year-old girl, who has since identified herself as Samantha Geimer, in 1977.

The LA Times has more on the 133 motion here.

The new motion alleges bias by the judge who presided over the 2008 court proceedings. It also alleges recent unethical conduct by prosecutors. [More....]

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Obama Signs $1.1 Trillion Spending Bill

It's a done deal. President Obama has signed the $1.1 trillion spending bill.

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Official ISIS Statement Explaining Sharia Punishments

ISIS released an official statement explaining Sharia law punishments (also known as Hudud) today. It says it is wants people to be forewarned. It also says it will not be lenient on violators, and has even imposed the punishments, including death, on its own members.

There are 11 punishments. Thanks to Arabic and Islamic affairs expert Pieter van Ostaeyen for publishing the English translation, which was done by Abu Musab. [More...]

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India May Be Softening Stance on Shami Witness

India Home Minister Rajnath Singh gave a statement to Parliament about the arrest of Shami Witness yesterday.

"The interrogation of Mehdi Biswas has indicated that his activities were limited to posting and reposting of pro-ISIS (as the IS was previously known) material on his Twitter account and social media sites," the minister said.

...He used to visit prominent IS-related sites, mostly those in the Arabic language, and then used Web-based tools to translate the contents into English and repost the material on his Twitter account, Rajnath told Parliament.

He didn't call Shami a terrorist or jihadist, instead describing him as someone who "interacted with people on social networking sites 'on matters related to jihad'." He portrayed him as more "swagger than substance."

Other senior Indian officials told the Telegraph police would not have arrested Shami but for the media pressure. [More...]

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Tuesday Open Thread

I've got another busy day today. Here's a new open thread. All topics welcome.

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New Report on ISIS: Focus on the Governance, Not Just the Violence

The CTC (Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point) has a new 105 page report on the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL, now known as IS.) The report is called "The Group That Calls Itself a State: Understanding the Evolution and Challenges of the Islamic State" and the full report is available here.

The report examines ISIS' rise, activities, and weaknesses. Shorter version: To defeat ISIS, it's important to look past the brutality and examine its governance record, and highlight the shortcomings in it. There will be no defeat and surrender. The best we can hope for is that after a generation or two, they will become irrelevant.

In case you don't have time to read 105 pages, I'll summarize the report and highlight the parts I found most significant below. [More...]

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Monday :: December 15, 2014

Sony's Threatens to Sue Media Who Publish Hacked Materials

On behalf of Sony, lawyer David Boies has written a letter to media organizations (available here)threatening to sue them if they publish the materials hackers obtained from its computer network.

Can Sony win such a lawsuit? Eugene Volokh of the Volokh Conspiracy analyzes the issue and concludes "Probably not, at least as to most of the information that media outlets would want to publish."

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