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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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The 15 British sailors and marines captured by Iran have been freed and have arrived back home in Britain. Iranian soldiers seized the men and woman 13 days ago in the Persian Gulf after Iran claimed their ship had crossed into Iranian territory. On Wednesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the British men and woman would be released.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: “I announce that the generous nation of Iran, despite having the power and legal right to put these British sailors on trial, pardons them as a gift to the British nation.”
Family members of the captured sailors and marines welcomed the news. This is Alison and Paul Carman, the parents of Lieutenant Felix Carman.
Alison Carman: “Well, we’ve been glued to the television all day today, because we knew that he was going to make a speech, but we had no idea what the outcome was going to be. And when we heard, I think I fell on the floor, then Paul.”
Paul Carman: “It was an astonishing moment.”
Alison Carman: “Just floods of tears, and I just felt sick.”
Paul Carman: “She was very tearful.”
Alison Carman: “Couldn’t believe it.”
Paul Carman: “Specially since we were worried about what President Ahmadinejad was going to say.”
Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s announcement came one day after an Iranian diplomat, Jalal Sharafi, was released in Baghdad. He was kidnapped at gunpoint in Iraq in early February. The New York Sun reports Sharafi was released in part because of a decision at the highest levels of the U.S. government. The U.S. continues to hold five other Iranian officials in Iraq.
In other news in Iraq, four British soldiers and a civilian translator have been killed in a roadside bomb blast near Basra. Meanwhile, the U.S. military is investigating reports that one of its helicopters was shot down early today.
U.S. and Iraqi forces have arrested 118 men in a raid on the town of Dour, north of Baghdad. The entire town was sealed off, and soldiers conducted house-to-house searches. Residents of the town complained about the military operation.
Unidentified Resident: “We do not have food supplies. We are besieged. We cannot leave our houses, and even those who can go outside prefer to stay at home, as it is safer.”
Another Unidentified Resident: “We are the people of al-Dour town. We have been besieged for seven days. The siege is stifling. Even those who are sick can’t leave through the checkpoints. We are badly in need of food supplies, especially flour. We have also run out of gas and oil.”
In election news, presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama has announced he raised over $25 million in the first three months of the year. The total is just shy of the record amount raised by former first lady, Senator Hillary Clinton. Campaign records show Obama received more individual donations than Clinton and John Edwards combined. The 2008 election is expected to be the most expensive presidential campaign ever.
In other election news, two more Republicans have announced they are running for president. Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson kicked off his campaign on Wednesday in Milwaukee. Thompson served in the Bush administration as the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo has announced he is running largely on an anti-immigrant platform. He has accused his Republican opponents of being too soft on undocumented workers. Two years ago, Tancredo said the Bush administration should consider bombing the Islamic holy city of Mecca if Muslim fundamentalists were to attack the United States again.
A former worker at Wal-Mart is claiming the company is running a sophisticated surveillance operation that targets employees, journalists, stockholders and critics of the company. The claims were made by Bruce Gabbard, who was fired last month for intercepting and recording phone calls to and from a New York Times reporter. Gabbard told The Wall Street Journal he was part of a broader surveillance operation run out of Wal-Mart’s Arkansas headquarters. Gabbard also revealed that Wal-Mart infiltrated the group Up Against the Wal last year by sending a long-haired employee wearing a wireless microphone to one of the group’s meetings. A Wal-Mart surveillance van was stationed outside the meeting in order to listen in to what was happening. Wal-Mart also reportedly closely monitored the Internet and phone usage of employees at work. Managers received a list of email addresses and phone numbers with which their employees have communicated, and a list of websites visited. Wal-Mart also developed a system to read the personal emails of workers sent or received from private accounts such as Hotmail or Gmail.
The British government has begun installing loudspeakers on closed-circuit surveillance cameras to allow government monitors to directly talk to anyone on the street. British Home Secretary John Reid has defended the technology, but critics warn it lurches Britain toward becoming a surveillance society. Britain is already considered the most watched country in the world. With an estimated 4.2 million closed-circuit cameras, there is now one camera for every 14 people in Britain. It has been calculated that each person in Britain is caught on camera an average of 300 times daily. Government officials recently demonstrated how the new system works.
Security Guard: “So the female with the white shirt and blue jeans on, you’ve dropped your cigarette on the floor. Can you pick it up please? Thank you.”
The civil rights group Liberty has described the new cameras as a “high-tech toy” that gives camera operators massive powers to invade the lives of ordinary people. British Home Secretary John Reid has defended the technology.
John Reid: “And as always, (there are) people who will claim when we do that, oh, it’s a police society. It isn’t. It’s a society where people are doing their utmost. The vast majority are law-abiding, hard-working citizens who respect each other, but there’s always a minority, and this is a way to try to embarrass the minority, short of taking people to court, short of getting the police involved to make sure it’s a better local society.”
In news from Washington, President Bush has appointed a controversial Republican fundraiser to become ambassador to Belgium. Bush gave Sam Fox a recess appointment a week after he withdrew Fox’s nomination because of opposition from Democrats. During the 2004 campaign, Fox donated $50,000 to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth group that attacked the war service of Senator John Kerry. Democrats have expressed outrage over the appointment and questioned the legality of Bush’s move.
A pair of academic researchers have uncovered evidence that they say proves the U.S. Census Bureau provided information to U.S. surveillance agencies during World War II used to identify persons of Japanese ancestry. The information helped the government track down Japanese Americans to be sent to internment camps. For 60 years the Census Bureau has denied it passed on the information which was gathered under a promise of confidentiality. The Census Bureau handed over the information in 1943 following a request from the Treasury Department. The data was then shared with the FBI and other government agencies. Earlier this week, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Japanese American Citizens League and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee urged Congress to investigate the academic report and ensure that such practices do not occur today.
In Gaza, dozens of Palestinian journalists rallied outside parliament in Gaza City on Wednesday calling for the release of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston. Johnston was abducted in Gaza on March 12 and hasn’t been heard from since. He has been held captive longer than any other journalist in the Gaza Strip. The journalists have called on the media not to cover events related to the Palestinian presidency and government in a bid to put pressure on authorities to find the abducted journalist. A British diplomat is preparing to meet today with the Palestinian prime minister to discuss the situation.
Aid workers are scrambling to offer assistance to survivors of the tsunami in the Solomon Islands that killed at least 34 people. Scores of people are still missing, and over 5,000 are living in makeshift camps. Relief is still days away in some of the island’s remote villages. Amateur video has been broadcast showing waves surging inland onto the tiny Pacific nation.
The parents of John Walker Lindh have asked President Bush to commute his 20-year sentence. Lindh is the American citizen who was captured five years ago in Afghanistan. Lindh’s lawyer and father said the lighter sentence given to David Hicks should be reflected in Lindh’s case. Hicks is the Australian citizen who has been held at Guantanamo for the past five years. He was recently given a nine-month sentence.
Twelve students have been arrested at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor while conducting a sit-in at the office of the school’s president. The students said the school has failed to follow its own polices to crack down on companies that use sweatshop labor to manufacture school apparel.
And in Vermont, police arrested 10 antiwar protesters on Tuesday for refusing to leave Senator Patrick Leahy’s Burlington office. The protesters were calling on Leahy to cut off funding for the war in Iraq. Over 300 peace activists have now been arrested across the country for taking part in sit-ins at the offices of lawmakers as part of the Occupation Project which began in February.