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You turn to Democracy Now! for ad-free news you can trust. Maybe you come for our daily headlines, or for in-depth stories that expose government and corporate abuses of power. We produce our daily news hour at a fraction of the budget of a commercial news operation, all without ads, government funding or corporate underwriting? This is only possible with your support. Right now every donation to Democracy Now! will be doubled by a generous supporter. This means if you give $25 today, Democracy Now! will get $50 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 in the coming year. Thanks so much. -Amy Goodman
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Two Chinese Muslim prisoners have been freed from Guantánamo Bay after close to a decade behind bars without charge. The prisoners were among a group of ethnic Uyghurs ordered immediately released in 2008 after a judge ruled they were not “enemy combatants.” But they languished in prison because both the Bush and Obama administrations refused to resettle them in the United States and plans for repatriation in other countries fell through. At least three Uyghurs still remain at Guantánamo, despite the order for their release. The two freed prisoners will be resettled in El Salvador. Their release marks the first prison transfer out of Guantánamo Bay in more than a year.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has urged the U.N. Security Council to adopt an arms embargo and tough new sanctions against Syria in order to force President Bashar al-Assad’s government to comply with a U.N. peace plan. Clinton also announced plans to expand U.S. support for opposition groups inside Syria.
Hillary Clinton: “We need to start moving very vigorously in the Security Council for a Chapter 7 sanctions resolution, including travel, financial sanctions, an arms embargo, and the pressure that that will give us on the regime to push for compliance with Kofi Annan’s six-point plan.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the comments as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of failing to honor a peace plan that went into effect a week ago.
Ban Ki-moon: “Despite assurances from the government, there has been no meaningful progress on the ground. This is unacceptable. I call on the Syrian authorities to recognize the full urgency of the situation and permit U.N. agencies and international relief organizations to organize a major humanitarian field operation to help those people in need.”
A bond hearing will be held this morning in Florida for George Zimmerman, who faces a second-degree murder charge in the February 26 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Martin’s parents are expected to attend the hearing and could come face to face for the first time with Zimmerman. The Orlando Sentinel reports many local defense lawyers expect Zimmerman will be granted bond and given the opportunity to await trial outside a jail cell. In related news, Florida Gov. Rick Scott has announced the formation of a task force to review the state’s “Stand Your Ground” gun law.
The right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council, known as ALEC, continues to lose corporate members amid widespread public scrutiny of controversial measures it has helped push through state legislatures nationwide. Yum! Brands, the owner of fast food chains KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, has become the latest company to withdraw from ALEC. ALEC has come under particular criticism for backing voter ID laws seen as discriminatory toward people of color as well as the “Stand Your Ground” gun laws.
There is a new development in the case of the police killing of 68-year-old Kenneth Chamberlain Sr., the former Marine who was killed in his own home in White Plains, New York, after he accidentally triggered his life alert pendant. Attorneys for the Chamberlain family have identified the White Plains police officer who shouted a racial slur at Chamberlain prior to the fatal shooting. Attorneys said the officer, Steven Hart, is also named in an unrelated civil lawsuit alleging police brutality brought by a defendant who said he was slammed down to the ground during an arrest 15 months ago.
Federal aviation regulators have acknowledged dozens of universities and law enforcement agencies have been given approval to use drones inside the United States. The list includes the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, various branches of the military, defense contractor Raytheon, drone manufacturer General Atomics, as well as numerous universities. Police departments with drone permits include North Little Rock, Arkansas; Arlington, Texas; Seattle, Washington; Gadsden, Alabama; and Ogden, Utah.
The FBI has seized a computer server at a New York facility shared by the internet organizations Riseup Networks and May First/People Link. The server was operated by the European Counter Network and ran a program called Mixmaster, which routes emails through anonymous servers in a network. The server also ran a number of mailing lists and websites for political groups. Jamie McClelland of May First said: “The server seizure is not only an attack against us, but an attack against all users of the Internet who depend on anonymous communication.” The server was seized as part of an FBI investigation into the bomb threats against the University of Pittsburgh.
A new government-backed study has found there is no evidence the death penalty acts as an effective deterrent to violent crimes. In a sweeping review of previous studies, the National Research Council found researchers have failed to draw a link between capital punishment and the prevention of murders. The review found there is insufficient data on how potential murderers may perceive the risk of execution as a likely consequence.
Vermont has become the third state to urge Congress to repeal the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United ruling that affirmed personhood rights for corporations. On Thursday, the Vermont House followed the state Senate in backing anti-Citizens United resolutions passed in more than two dozen towns statewide last month. Hawaii and New Mexico have approved similar measures.
A new study shows one in four working-age Americans were without health insurance at some point last year. According to the Commonwealth Fund, 26 percent of adults below the age of 65 lacked insurance during 2011, a percentage equal to around 48 million people. Seven out of 10 who lost insurance reported spending at least a year without coverage because the price of obtaining new insurance was too unaffordable.
Pro-democracy protests continue to flare in Bahrain ahead of this week’s Formula One Grand Prix. On Thursday, Bahraini forces fired tear gas and stun grenades at hundreds of protesters in the capital Manama. Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab criticized the Formula One organizers for hosting their race amid the ruling Sunni monarchy’s crackdown.
Nabeel Rajab: “We are not against Formula One because we are against Formula One; we agree every part of our nation likes to enjoy this sport. But we are against awarding dictators. Formula One in Bahrain has been taken as PR (public relations) for the ruling elite, the repressive dictators who are ruling the country.”
Proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline that would bring crude oil from Alberta’s tar sands to the Gulf Coast are picking up increasing Democratic support. This week the House passed a measure that would expedite the pipeline’s approval, with 69 Democrats joining with the Republican majority. The White House has vowed to veto the bill should it reach President Obama. The Obama administration has sought to delay a decision on the pipeline until after the 2012 election.
The phone-hacking scandal that has rocked Rupert Murdoch’s media empire is expanding on U.S. soil. Lawyer Mark Lewis, who helped expose the massive scandal in Britain, said he is partnering with U.S. lawyer Norman Siegel, who has been investigating the possible hacking of 9/11 victims’ cellphones by the British tabloid News of the World. While Lewis said many complaints against News Corp. in the United States stem from the now-defunct tabloid, he also said there have been initial allegations against Fox News and other News Corp. holdings. Lewis said he is now representing four clients who believe their phones were hacked while visiting the United States.
Mark Lewis: “What they’re alleging is that they either left messages or received messages and that their messages were therefore listened into or investigations were sourced. See, what you have to understand is, if one person is speaking to another person, the very fact that they’re even speaking to each other is potentially news. You know, if you have somebody who is having an adulterous relationship with another person, the very fact that they’re speaking to each other is what you, as a journalist, if you’re writing about a relationship, is what you need as a primary source or a secondary source. It doesn’t really matter what they say.”
Today marks the second anniversary of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers and sent nearly five million barrels of oil gushing into the water in the worst maritime oil spill in U.S. history. The impact of the disaster still remains as scientists say shrimp, fish and crabs in the Gulf of Mexico have been deformed by chemicals released during the spill. One commercial fisherperson told Al Jazeera that half of shrimp caught during the last white shrimp season were eyeless. Others reported finding clawless and mutated crabs. A new report released this month found that a toxic blend of crude oil and a dispersant called Corexit is not degrading as some had hoped. The report also found the toxins penetrate wet human skin faster than dry skin and can be observed in skin under UV light. Nearly two million gallons of Corexit were used to disperse the oil, although it was later revealed the chemical made it more difficult for microbes to naturally digest oil. Oil giant BP recently settled with victims of the spill for an estimated $7.8 billion over medical claims and economic losses in one of the largest class action settlements in history.
Levon Helm has died at the age 71 after a battle with cancer. He was a drummer and singer in Bob Dylan’s backup band, which later became the legendary musical group known simply as “The Band.” Levon Helm appeared in the 2009 documentary, “Back to Woodstock,” directed by Julie Cohen.
Levon Helm: “In 1969, we had just signed a recording agreement with Capitol Records.”
Narrator: “Levon Helm, drummer and singer in The Band, was a natural fit for the festival. He and his band mates were already living in the Catskill Mountains north of New York City in the little town of Woodstock, New York.”
Levon Helm: “A lot of the people here play music anyway. So, you know, you go into the gas station, and the guy that’s helping you fill your car up, he may be the best banjo picker around, you know, so people around here have always celebrated music.”