Overnight Defense: Pentagon: Sailors made 'navigation error'

THE TOPLINE: Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Thursday that the two U.S. Navy boats seized by the Iranian military had strayed accidentally into Iran's waters due to a "navigation error." 

"It does appear ... that they did stray accidentally into Iranian waters due to a navigation error, so that seems to be the original cause of this," he said in an interview with Univision.

He said the ships were so close to Iranian waters because the sailors had "obviously misnavigated," and were not on a covert mission.

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Carter also said it was "not abnormal" for the Iranian military to board the U.S. boats because they were in Iran's waters.

Iranian state news media released photos and videos showing the U.S. sailors -- one woman and nine men -- kneeling with their hands behind their heads. One video showed a U.S. sailor apologizing and calling it a mistake, but it is not clear whether it was recorded under duress.

Carter said "we need to wait and see what the full context of that is" but said the U.S. would not have done the same in Iran's position.

"By the way, that's not something we would have done," he said. 

Republican critics have slammed the administration for framing the incident as a positive example of diplomacy and highlighting that the Americans were not held for as long as British sailors were in a similar 2007 incident.

 

SAILORS NOT COVERED BY GENEVA CONVENTION: The State Department said Thursday the American sailors captured by Iran were not covered under protocols of the Geneva Convention because the United States is not at war with Iran. 

The determination means that the Obama administration will not accuse Iran of violating the convention's protections for prisoners of war, as many critics accused Iran of doing with its treatment of the sailors.

"The Geneva Convention applies for a time of war between nations, and we're not at war with Iran," State Department spokesman John Kirby said. "So it's difficult to see how the provisions of the Geneva Convention can be applied here or us citing them as violations of it, because we're not at war with Iran.

"If we were at war with Iran or another country, then, yes I think you could look at what happened as a breach of the protocols in there," he added. "But they don't apply."

Administration critics have long accused President Obama of being too soft on Iran in order to speed through the global agreement on its nuclear powers. The pact, which is set to be implemented in coming days, lifts sanctions on Iran in exchange for limits on its ability to build a nuclear weapon.

 

DOD RELEASES 10 GITMO DETAINEES: The Pentagon has released 10 Yemeni detainees from the Guantánamo prison to Oman, the largest release yet to one country by the Obama administration.

The transfer, conducted early Wednesday morning, brings the population at the Cuban prison to 93 -- reaching the Obama administration's goal to bring the number below 100 by early this year.

The latest transfer brings the number of detainees released from the prison in 2016 up to 14. The Pentagon is expected to transfer three more by the end of this month. 

From there, the plan is to transfer all detainees who have been approved by a periodic review board established by executive order, and then bring the remaining detainees to the U.S., a move staunchly opposed by Republican members of Congress.

"While current law bans the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to Yemen, the administration may attempt to circumvent that prohibition by sending terrorist detainees to the neighboring country of Oman," said Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteBottom Line How Gorsuch's confirmation shapes the next Supreme Court battle THE MEMO: Trump set to notch needed win with Gorsuch MORE (R-N.H.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. 

The response from human rights groups was mostly celebratory, but some remained concerned that even if detainees were transferred to the U.S., they would still be held indefinitely without trial.

"Yes, the prison must be closed -- but not merely by changing Guantánamo's zip code. All of the detainees there must be fairly tried, or be released," wrote Amnesty International executive director Margaret Huang.

 

DOD SPENT $215M ON UNFINISHED AFGHAN PROJECTS: A Pentagon task force under fire for wasteful spending used $215.4 million in taxpayer money on mostly unfinished projects to develop Afghanistan's oil, gas and minerals industries, according to a new watchdog report.

"After operating in Afghanistan for 5 years, [the task force] left with nearly all of its extractive projects incomplete," says the latest report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) on the task force released Thursday. The task force's "apparent failure to complete much of its work was due to a variety of circumstances both within and outside its control."

The report also examined the United States Agency for International Development's (USAID) efforts in the same area. Together, the task force and USAID spent $488 million on efforts the report found were hampered by corruption, poor security and inadequate infrastructure in Afghanistan.

Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyComey to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee GOP to kill language exempting staff from new ObamaCare repeal bill House cyber chairman wants to bolster workforce MORE (R-Iowa), who has been investigating the task force as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the report is the latest example of U.S. waste in Afghanistan.

"Unfortunately for these kinds of projects in Afghanistan, you don't even need the fingers on one hand to count the success stories," he said in a written statement. "It's too bad that U.S. taxpayers must bear the brunt of so many expensive failures. With these mining debacles, U.S. tax dollars almost literally went down a hole."

 

ICYMI: 

-- Senators look to roll back visa restrictions

-- Kerry, Saudi foreign minister huddle amid execution fallout

-- State designates Afghan ISIS a foreign terrorist organization

-- FBI treating Philadelphia shooting as terror attack

-- Senate Dems plan to force vote on Trump's Muslim ban

 

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