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Afghans Claim 9 Disappearances at Hands of U.S. Forces in Wardak

Details are slowly emerging on the allegations against U.S. special operations forces that prompted Afghan President Hamid Karzai to order their removal from Wardak province. Afghan officials say they have received complaints for the past three months that U.S. forces have arrested nine people who have since disappeared. One Afghan villager said her son was taken away and later found dead.

Bibi Shereen: "My son was taken, and his body was dropped under a bridge in the river. One of his fingers was cut off. He was beaten very badly. His body was swollen from torture, and his throat was slit. Why is the government not listening to our voices? Why are they not stopping the Americans from doing such things? While I wanted to stand up to talk with the Americans, they have pulled me back and hit me in my chest with the butt of a gun. I still feel pain here since I’ve been beaten. I cannot breathe. You still can see the marks of the beating on my chest."

The Afghan government is expected to form a commission of inquiry with the U.S.-led NATO occupation force to investigate the allegations. On Monday, a NATO spokesperson said no evidence of wrongdoing has emerged so far.

Günter Katz: "We take all allegations of misconduct seriously and go to great lengths to determine the facts surrounding them. Over the past few weeks, there have been various allegations of special forces conducting themselves in an unprofessional manner in Maidan Wardak. So far, we could not find evidence that would support these allegations."

HRW: 141 Killed in Syrian Gov’t Attack on Aleppo

Human Rights Watch is reporting the Syrian government launched a series of ballistic missile strikes in the northern province of Aleppo last week, killing more than 141 people, including 71 children. The group said it had visited four attack sites, three of them in the city of Aleppo and all of them in residential neighborhoods. HRW’s United Nations director Philippe Bolopion described the damage.

Philippe Bolopion: "The Syrian government is really hitting a new low, now using incredibly powerful ballistic missiles in cities. The four strikes that hit Aleppo last week obliterated entire parts of these neighborhoods. We have absolutely no sign that there were any legitimate military targets in these areas, so either the government is deliberately targeting civilians or at the very least it’s acting with a complete disregard for the lives of its own civilians."

Paul Threatens Hold on Brennan Vote over Assassination Program

CIA nominee John Brennan continues to face hurdles toward a confirmation vote before the full Senate. Republican Senator Rand Paul has announced he will put a hold on Brennan’s nomination until Brennan and the White House can answer whether the government’s assassination program can target Americans on U.S. soil. Paul discussed his demand on Fox News.

Sen. Rand Paul: "We’re talking about someone eating at a cafe in Boston or in New York, and a Hellfire missile comes raining in on them. There should be an easy answer from the administration on this. They should say, 'Absolutely no, we will not kill Americans in America without an accusation, a trial and a jury.'"

Ex-White House Press Sec. Robert Gibbs: Admin Banned Acknowledgment of Drone Program

Former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has revealed he was initially instructed to deny the existence of the Obama administration’s targeted killing program overseas. Gibbs made the disclosure during an appearance on MSNBC.

Robert Gibbs: "When I went through the process of becoming press secretary, one of the things — one of the first things they told me was, ’You’re not even to acknowledge the drone program. You’re not even to discuss that it exists.’ And so, I would get a question like that, and literally, I couldn’t tell you what Major [Garrett, Fox News reporter] asked, because once I figured out it was about the drone program, I realize I’m not supposed to talk about it. And — but here’s what’s inherently crazy about that proposition: You’re being asked a question based on reporting of a program that exists."

Gun Control Faces Key Test Before Senate Panel

Congress is expected to take up a number of key gun control proposals later this week. The Senate Judiciary Committee could vote as early as Thursday on a number of measures, including a ban on military-style assault weapons and a proposal to make gun trafficking a federal crime for the first time. Other proposals under consideration include background checks for gun buyers and harsher penalties for purchasing guns illegally.

McCain Tells Mother of Aurora Victim She Needs "Straight Talk" on Assault Weapons Ban

At a recent public event in Arizona, Republican Senator John McCain was asked about an assault weapons ban by a mother whose son was murdered in last year’s mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado. McCain responded that the woman, Caren Teves, needs some "straight talk" that an assault weapons ban would not pass Congress.

Caren Teves: "My 24-year-old son, Alex, was murdered in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. These assault weapons allow a shooter to fire many rounds without having to reload. These weapons do not belong on our streets."

Sen. John McCain: "I can tell you right now you need some straight talk. That assault weapons ban will not pass the Congress of the United States."

Appeals Court: No Constitutional Right to Concealed Weapons

A federal appeals court has ruled permits to carry concealed weapons are not protected by the Second Amendment. The ruling came in the case of a Washington state resident who had unsuccessfully sought a concealed weapons permit in Colorado. The Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled the right to bear arms does not supersede laws barring their concealment.

4-Year-Old Boy Accidentally Kills Himself with Father’s Gun

A four-year-old boy has died in Houston after shooting himself with his father’s gun. Jaiden Pratt picked up the weapon as his father lay asleep and accidentally fired a round into his own stomach. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Life Sentence for Qatari Poet Reduced to 15 Years

A Qatari poet initially jailed for life in prison has had his sentence reduced to 15 years. Mohammed al-Ajami was accused of insulting Qatar’s emir and inciting the overthrow of the regime. He wrote a poem inspired by the Tunisian uprising that read, in part, "We are all Tunisia, in the face of the repressive elite." Al-Ajami has been held largely in solitary confinement since his arrest more than a year ago. Defense attorneys say they plan another appeal to Qatar’s supreme court to seek his immediate release.

African Leaders Sign Framework Deal for DRC Conflict

Leaders in Africa’s Great Lakes region have signed on to a framework agreement aimed at ending two decades of violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The deal calls for increased cooperation between regional governments and more support for the multi-nation force inside eastern Congo. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised the agreement at a signing ceremony in Ethiopia.

Ban Ki-moon: "This signing ceremony is a significant event in itself. But it is only the beginning of a comprehensive approach that will require sustained engagement. The framework before you outlines commitments and oversight mechanisms which aim at addressing key national and regional issues."

The DRC government and rebel groups are currently holding peace talks in neighboring Uganda.

Energy Firm Closes 3 Coal Plants as Part of Landmark Settlement

A U.S. energy firm has agreed to retire three coal-fired power plants in a move environmentalists say will save more than 200 lives each year. American Electric Power also agreed to reduce emissions and make new investments in wind and solar power as part of a landmark settlement with federal regulators, states and citizen groups. In addition to retiring plants in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky, AEP will pay $6 million to several eastern states hit by drifting pollution. Coal plants supply nearly a third of U.S. electricity and are the largest source of sulfur dioxide, mercury and carbon pollution.

Feb. 26 Marks 1st Anniversary of Trayvon Martin Killing

Today marks the first anniversary of the death of unarmed African-American teenager Trayvon Martin. On February 26, 2012, the 17-year-old high school junior was shot dead in Sanford, Florida, by George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watch volunteer who claimed he was acting in self-defense. Police initially refused to arrest Zimmerman, but he was finally charged with second-degree murder after a wave of protests around the country. His trial is set for June.

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