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Edwards, Giuliani Exit Presidential Race

The presidential field narrowed by two Wednesday when Republican Rudolph Giuliani and Democrat John Edwards both dropped out of the race. Giuliani made his announcement in California just hours before the Republican debate. The former New York mayor threw his support behind Senator John McCain. Meanwhile, John Edwards made his farewell address in New Orleans, where he launched his campaign thirteen months ago.

John Edwards: "It’s time for me to step aside so that history can — so that history can blaze its path. We do not know who will take the final steps to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but what we do know is that our Democratic Party
will make history. We will be strong, we will be unified, and with our convictions and a little backbone, we will take back the White House in November, and we’ll create hope and opportunity for this country."

Edwards did not endorse either of the remaining Democratic candidates. But he said he received pledges from both Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama to focus on poverty in the United States, which Edwards called the “cause of his life.” As Edwards bowed out of the race, longtime consumer advocate Ralph Nader announced a presidential exploratory committee to decide whether to run as an independent candidate. We’ll have more on Edwards and Nader later in the broadcast.

Meanwhile, Obama and Clinton were on the campaign trail ahead of the upcoming Super Tuesday vote. In Denver, Obama told supporters he would work to bolster the US international standing.

Sen. Barack Obama: "I want to go before the world community and say 'America is back, America is back,' and we are ready to lead the world against the common threats of the twenty-first century: terrorism and nuclear weapons, but also climate change and poverty, genocide and disease. And I will once more send a message to those yearning faces beyond our shores that says: you matter to us, your future is our future, and our moment is now."

Clinton, meanwhile, was in Arkansas. In Little Rock, she stressed her campaign’s Iraq platform of pressuring the Iraqi government.

Sen. Hillary Clinton: "We can tell the Iraqi government that the blank check that they’ve had from George Bush is no longer valid. They have to start making the decisions for themselves."

Carter Praises Obama Campaign, Criticizes Clinton

Meanwhile, former President Jimmy Carter has weighed in on the presidential race. Although he’s said he won’t endorse a candidate, Carter praised Senator Obama, calling his campaign “extraordinary and titillating for me and my family.” Carter went on to compare Obama’s speeches to those of Dr. Martin Luther King and said Obama could likely win some Southern states as the Democratic nominee. Carter also said he has spoken to former President Bill Clinton and criticized some of Clinton’s racially charged comments on the campaign trail.

Mukasey Refuses Senate Calls to Label Waterboarding “Torture”

Attorney General Michael Mukasey has refused again to say whether waterboarding is a form of torture or illegal. Mukasey testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday for the first time since the Democratic-led Senate confirmed his nomination. Under questioning from Senator Ted Kennedy, Mukasey admitted waterboarding would feel like torture if it was done to him, but he refused to say whether it would be illegal for a foreign country to waterboard a US citizen.

Sen. Edward Kennedy: "So let me ask you this: would waterboarding be torture if it was done to you?"

US Attorney General Michael Mukasey: "I would feel that it was."

Mukasey later said the cruelty of torture must be balanced “against the information you might get.” He was criticized by Senate Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy.

Sen. Patrick Leahy: "Never mind that waterboarding has been recognized as torture for the last 500 years! Never mind that President Teddy Roosevelt properly prosecuted American soldiers for this more than a hundred years ago! Never mind that we prosecuted Japanese soldiers for waterboarding Americans during World War II! Never mind that this is the practice of repressive regimes around the world! That is not America."

Israeli Supreme Court Upholds Gaza Blockade

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, the Israeli Supreme Court has rejected a challenge to Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. Several human rights groups had sought a judgment overturning Israel’s cut-off of fuel, electricity and other supplies. The petitioners accused the Israeli government of “collective punishment” in violation of international law. But on Wednesday the court called Israel’s blockade a just response to Palestinian rocket fire.

Abbas: No Talks With Hamas on Egypt Border

Meanwhile, in Egypt, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on the border breach that sent more than half-a-million Palestinians into Egypt searching for food, fuel and medical relief. After the talks, Abbas said he had reiterated his refusal to deal with the Gaza-controlling Hamas.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas: "There is no Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. There is one Palestinian Authority. Hamas is not a legal force, it is a usurping force."

Hamas forces currently have ground control of the Egyptian border. Hamas is seeking recognition of its authority and says the border should remain open.

Internal Israeli Inquiry Criticizes Tact of Lebanon Invasion

Meanwhile, in Israel, a long-awaited internal formal inquiry has criticized Israel’s leadership for its handling of the 2006 attack on Lebanon. The final report from the Winograd Commission called the Lebanon war "a serious missed opportunity" that failed to achieve its goals. The report did not criticize the government for attacking Lebanon in the first place nor for causing more than one thousand Lebanese civilian deaths. Referring to Hezbollah fighters, the report concludes: “A semi-military organization of a few thousand men resisted, for a few weeks, the strongest army in the Middle East, which enjoyed full air superiority and size and technological advantages.” In Lebanon, parliament member Hussein Haj Hassan said the report recognized what he called Hezbollah’s successful resistance.

Hussein Haj Hassan: "This report highlighted that the Israeli army, that everyone knows is invincible, was defeated. And that has a big impact on the Zionist enemy, on all levels, in the short, medium and long term. When the Winograd report says that the army failed in its ground offensive, that means that the Israeli army failed and was defeated in the war against what it itself said was only a number of fighters."

Pentagon Investigating Alleged Killing of Iraqi Prisoners

The Pentagon has announced it’s probing charges US soldiers killed several Iraqi prisoners in Baghdad last year. Officials say the prisoners may have been killed at the point of capture before they could be taken to a US or Iraqi jail. No details were released on the number of slain prisoners or accused soldiers.

Army Suicides Hit Record High in 2007

In other military news, the Washington Post is reporting Army suicides have reached another record high. An internal Pentagon study shows 121 soldiers took their lives last year, the most since record-keeping began nearly thirty years ago. Attempted suicides or self-inflicted injuries have increased sixfold since the Iraq war. More than 2,100 soldiers injured themselves or attempted suicide last year, up from around 350 in 2002.

Civil Rights Attorney Stewart Back in Court to Appeal Sentence

And the civil rights attorney Lynne Stewart was back in court this week to seek a reversal of her conviction and counter prosecution arguments for a longer sentence. Stewart was convicted of distributing press releases on behalf of her jailed client, Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, also known as the blind sheikh, who is serving a life sentence on terror-related charges. Prosecutors had sought a thirty-year sentence. But Stewart was sentenced to two-and-a-half years after the judge rejected prosecutors’ argument she threatened national security and ruled there was no evidence her actions caused any harm.

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