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You turn to Democracy Now! for ad-free news you can trust. Maybe you come for our daily headlines. Maybe you come for in-depth stories that expose government and corporate abuses of power. Today Democracy Now! is celebrating our 23rd birthday. For over two decades, we've produced our daily news hour without ads, government funding or corporate underwriting. How is this possible? Only with your support. Right now, in honor of Democracy Now!'s birthday, every donation we receive will be tripled by a generous supporter. This means if you give $30 today, Democracy Now! will get $90 to support our daily news hour. Please do your part. It takes just a couple of minutes to make sure that Democracy Now! is there for you and everybody else. Thank you! -Amy Goodman
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ABC News is reporting the U.S. is engaged in a secret war with Iran. Since 2005, U.S. officials have been advising a Pakistani tribal militant group with ties to the Taliban on how to carry out deadly guerrilla raids inside Iran. The Pakistani group — called Jundullah — has taken responsibility for the deaths and kidnappings of more than a dozen Iranian soldiers and officials. Most recently, Jundullah took credit for a bus bombing that killed at least 11 members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in February. Officials say the U.S. relationship with Jundullah is arranged so that the U.S. provides no funding to the group, which would require an official presidential order or “finding” as well as congressional oversight. Some former CIA officers say the arrangement is reminiscent of how the U.S. government used proxy armies to destabilize the government of Nicaragua in the 1980s.
In other news on Iran, the British government has announced it is willing to send a delegation to Tehran to help ease the crisis over the 15 detained British sailors. Iran’s First Vice President Parviz Davoudi said Britain should admit its forces had illegally entered Iranian waters and guarantee that they would not do so again. Iran’s capture of the British sailors came two months after the U.S. seized five Iranian officials in Iraq. On Tuesday, President Bush said the United States would not be willing to give up the five Iranians held in Iraq in exchange for the British sailors.
President Bush: “First of all, the seizure of the sailors is indefensible by the Iranians. And I support the (Tony) Blair government’s attempts to solve this issue peacefully so we’re in close consultation with the British government. I also strongly support the prime minister’s declaration that there should be no quid pro quos when it comes to the hostages.”
The U.S. has been holding the five Iranians in an undisclosed location since Jan. 11. The Iraqi government has urged the Bush administration to release the five Iranians, but the U.S. has ignored the requests.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has arrived in Damascus and is meeting today with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. She has been urging Syria to help stabilize Iraq and stop supporting Washington’s adversaries in the Middle East. Pelosi is the highest-ranking U.S. politician to travel to Syria in years. On Tuesday, President Bush condemned Pelosi’s trip.
President Bush: “Photo opportunities and/or meetings with President Assad lead the Assad government to believe they’re part of the mainstream of the international community, when in fact they’re a state sponsor of terror.”
Pelosi is traveling as part of a bipartisan congressional delegation.
In Iraq, The Washington Post is reporting nearly 2,800 Iraqi civilians and police officers died last month despite the new U.S. security offensive in Baghdad.
Earlier today, gunmen killed 11 employees of an electricity station in an ambush near the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk.
In Washington, tension is rising between the White House and Congress over funding for the war in Iraq. On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid backed Senator Russ Feingold’s plan to cut off funding by next year and to withdraw combat troops within 12 months.
Senator Harry Reid: “I do not believe there should be a single drop of American blood, additional blood, shed in Iraq. I do not believe there should be another head injury of an American soldier. Let the Iraqis handle their own country. We’ve spent billions of dollars training their troops. We’ve spent billions of dollars propping up their government. As far as I’m concerned, that’s enough.”
Meanwhile, President Bush accused Democrats of being “irresponsible” for leaving town without sending him a bill to fund the war in Iraq.
President Bush: “Democrat leaders in Congress seem more interested in fighting political battles in Washington than in providing our troops what they need to fight the battles in Iraq. If Democrat leaders in Congress are bent on making a political statement, then they need to send me this unacceptable bill as quickly as possible when they come back. I’ll veto it, and then Congress can get down to the business of funding our troops without strings and without delay.”
Independent journalist Josh Wolf has been released from prison after spending over 225 days behind bars. The 24-year-old Wolf spent more time in jail than any journalist in U.S. history for protecting his sources. He was jailed on August 1 of last year when he refused to turn over video to a federal grand jury that he had shot of a protest in San Francisco. As part of a deal with prosecutors, Wolf decided to publicly release the video. In return, prosecutors agreed not to summon him before the grand jury or ask him to identify any of the protesters shown on his video. Josh Wolf spoke yesterday at a press conference in San Francisco.
Josh Wolf: “Were I to testify, they would go through the video and go, 'Do you know that person? Do you know that person?' as new people showed on the film. Anyone that I said I knew, they would probably ask, 'How can I contact them?' Then those people would be called in and forced to watch the tape and identify everyone they knew. I am assuming everyone would also be asked incidental questions, but to me it seemed like a witch hunt, like McCarthyism, where in this case it was anarchists, before it was communists.”
The Washington Post is reporting a secret FBI intelligence unit helped detain a group of war protesters in a downtown Washington parking garage in April 2002 and interrogated some of them on videotape about their political and religious beliefs. For years, law enforcement authorities suggested the incident never happened. But recently unearthed D.C. police logs confirm the FBI’s role. According to the police records, the protesters were targeted largely because they were wearing the color black and perceived by police to be anarchists. After the protesters were detained, FBI agents dressed in street clothes separated members to question them one by one about protests they attended, whom they had spent time with recently, what political views they espoused and the significance of their tattoos and slogans. According to The Washington Post, the revelations provide the first public evidence that Washington-based FBI personnel used their intelligence-gathering powers in the district to collect purely political intelligence. The police records came to light because of a lawsuit filed on behalf of the protesters by the Partnership for Civil Justice.
In news from Africa, the Associated Press reports that CIA and FBI agents have been interrogating hundreds of detainees held at secret prisons in Ethiopia. The detainees include at least one U.S. citizen. Many of the prisoners have been transferred secretly and illegally in recent months from Kenya and Somalia to Ethiopia, where they are kept without charge or access to lawyers and families. Human Rights Watch has accused the U.S. of being the ringleader behind the secret prisons. The group described the prisons as a “decentralized, outsourced Guantanamo.” At least one American citizen is being held in Ethiopia. Twenty-four-year-old Amir Mohamed Meshal was detained in Kenya, then transferred to Somalia, then to Ethiopia. On Monday, U.S. Congressman Rush Holt of New Jersey called on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to demand his release. His parents live in Tinton Falls, New Jersey.
In news from Somalia, the United Nations is reporting 100,000 residents of Mogadishu have now fled the city since February because of the increasing violence. The U.N. refugee agency said the exodus was comparable to conditions after the ouster of Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.
Millicent Mutali, UNHCR senior public information officer: “In the last two weeks we have had estimates of up to 50,000 people who have left Mogadishu, and many people are saying that their lives are at risk. There is indiscriminate shooting. There is robbing of people at their homes, people on the road. Basically there is a breakdown of law and order, and people are leaving.”
There are new developments in the scandal over the Bush administration’s firing of eight U.S. attorneys. One of the dismissed prosecutors has revealed that he was pressured by Republican officials to target the advocacy group ACORN for voter fraud. ACORN was working on a voter registration drive in low-income and largely minority neighborhoods in New Mexico. David Iglesias told Newsweek that he found no case worth bringing against ACORN. But that apparently did not please the White House. Last week Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ ex-chief of staff D. Kyle Sampson testified that during the run-up to the midterm election, White House adviser Karl Rove complained that Iglesias and two other U.S. attorneys had not done enough to prosecute so-called voter fraud.
A new international poll by the BBC has found that more than two-thirds of the world’s people are worried by global warming. Americans were found to be among the least anxious about climate change, even though the United States is the top source of greenhouse gases. The poll found 57 percent of Americans are concerned over global warming. The BBC found Brazilians and South Africans are the most concerned.
In China, developers have demolished a home that was at the center of a standoff between developers who wanted to build a new shopping mall and a couple who wanted to keep living in their home. For the past three years, Wu Ping and Yang Wu refused to move out of the home to make room for the mall. They stayed in the house even after developers demolished 280 neighboring houses. Their house ended up standing isolated on an earthen mound in the middle of a huge, 30-foot-deep construction site. The couple became champions of housing rights advocates in China and around the world. Last week a Chinese court ordered them to leave or face forcible removal. The couple agreed to leave the home on Monday and within three hours the building was demolished.
In California, a federal judge has backed a marine’s effort to be discharged from the military as a conscientious objector. Last year, 23-year-old Lance Corporal Robert Zabala of San Jose filed for objector status, saying he was particularly appalled by the Marines’ attempts to desensitize new recruits to violence. The Marines originally turned down his application for conscientious objector status.