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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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The release of Senate findings on the post-9/11 U.S. torture program has sparked shock and outrage over the CIA’s abuses, and renewed calls for the prosecution of the officials who authorized and carried them out. The Senate report details a list of torture methods used on prisoners: waterboarding, sexual abuse with broomsticks, “rectal feeding” or “rectal hydration.” Prisoners were threatened with buzzing power drills. Some captives were deprived of sleep for up to 180 hours, at times with their hands shackled above their heads. The torture was carried out at black sites in Afghanistan, Lithuania, Romania, Poland, Thailand, and a secret site on the Guantánamo Naval Base known as Strawberry Fields. Speaking on the Senate floor, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, said the report forces the United States to say “never again.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein: “There are those who will seize upon the report and say, 'See what the Americans did?' And they will try to use it to justify evil actions or incite more violence. We can’t prevent that. But history will judge us by our commitment to a just society governed by law and the willingness to face an ugly truth and say 'never again.'”
The report concludes the CIA failed to disrupt a single plot despite torturing al-Qaeda and other captives in secret prisons worldwide between 2002 and 2006. CIA officials were also found to have routinely misled the media, Congress and the White House on the torture methods and their ineffectiveness.
In response to the report, President Obama said the findings underscore why he ended the torture program after taking office.
President Obama: “Some of the tactics that were written about in the Senate Intelligence report were brutal and, as I’ve said before, constituted torture, in my mind. And that’s not who we are. And so, although I am concerned about potential ramifications overseas, and we’ve taken precautionary steps to try to mitigate any additional risks, I think it was important for us to release this so that we can account for it, so that people understand precisely why I banned these practices as one of the first acts I took when I came into office, and hopefully make sure that we don’t make those mistakes again.”
While he ended the torture program, Obama has long rejected calls to prosecute the officials involved. In a statement Wednesday, Obama maintained his stance, calling on the nation not to “refight old arguments.” Major human rights groups including Human Rights Watch are calling again for senior Bush administration officials to face investigation.
Congressional lawmakers have finalized a spending bill to avoid a government shutdown before the Thursday deadline. The $1.1 trillion measure will fund all government agencies through September except for the Department of Homeland Security, whose allocation expires in February. That will let Republicans challenge President Obama’s executive action granting a reprieve to up to five million undocumented immigrants. The bill also includes cuts to retiree benefits at some multi-employer pension plans, sparking criticism from advocates. In a victory for Republicans, the Environmental Protection Agency will lose $60 million in funding, and its workforce reduced to its lowest level in 25 years. A House vote is expected on Thursday.
Protests have continued in New York City for a seventh straight night since a grand jury decision not to indict a police officer for the death of Eric Garner. On Tuesday, demonstrators staged a “die-in” inside Grand Central Station, lying on the ground, simulating choking, and chanting Garner’s last words, “I can’t breathe.” A group of high schoolers staged a walkout, marching to the Brooklyn office of federal prosecutor and attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch to demand federal intervention. A group of young black activists have organized what they are calling a “Millions March” in New York City as part of a national day of action on Saturday.
In response to the protests, New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton vowed Tuesday to retrain officers and repair strained ties with communities of color. Bratton says officers will be informed on nonviolent ways to make arrests, and said he has emphasized a nonconfrontational response to the ongoing demonstrations.
According to the New York Daily News, NYPD officers have killed at least 179 people over the past 15 years. Of those 179 incidents, only three led to an officer indictment, and only one led to a conviction. For that one conviction, the officer served no jail time.
Protests against police killings of unarmed African Americans also continue nationwide. In Phoenix, around 200 people rallied over the most recent victim, 34-year-old Rumain Brisbon. Police shot Brisbon last week after mistaking a pill bottle in his pocket for a gun. At the march, protesters remembered Brisbon and demanded justice over this death.
Brittany Jones: “First and foremost, he was a family man, definitely there for his kids, loving, caring, a very good friend to everyone.”
AJ Webstar: “Out here for justice for Rumain, out here for justice for all minorities, I’m out here just to like be heard, out here to stand with Phoenix.”
Jenee Polk: “We’re not going to stand for them murdering people. I mean, people are unarmed when they’re being murdered right now. They had no reason to be even following him. He was racially profiled, and that is a huge problem in Arizona.”
The rally was led by Brisbon’s nine-year-old daughter, one of his four children.
The United Nations says it has received pledges from 28 countries to take in more than 100,000 Syrian refugees. The announcement follows a U.N. plea for Western countries to open their doors to more of Syria’s 3.2 million displaced people. U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres unveiled the pledges on Tuesday.
António Guterres: “Today, 28 countries expressed their solidarity with the Syrian refugees, but also with the five neighboring countries that are hosting them — Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt — offering what we estimate will be more than 100,000 opportunities for resettlement and humanitarian admission. Of these, we had 66,254 firm concrete pledges.”
The U.N. World Food Program has also resumed food aid to more than 1.7 million Syrian refugees after a funding shortfall forced it to suspend deliveries earlier this month. An emergency fundraising drive netted over $80 million.
A Palestinian minister has died after a confrontation with Israeli troops at a West Bank protest. Ziad Abu Ein, the head of the Palestinian Authority’s Anti-Wall and Settlement Commission, was taking part in an action against the separation wall when Israeli soldiers reportedly assaulted him. Witnesses say he collapsed after being headbutted and hit in the chest, and then died after inhaling large amounts of tear gas.
Georgia has executed a death row prisoner after his last-minute appeal was denied. Robert Wayne Holsey was convicted of murdering a police officer in 1997. Defense lawyers had filed a challenge on the basis Holsey’s original attorney was drinking up to a quart of vodka a day during his murder trial. They argued the lawyer failed to present evidence that could have helped his client’s case, including a traumatizing childhood and an intellectual deficit that bordered on disability.
The Obama administration has unveiled new limits on racial profiling by federal law enforcement agencies. For the first time, the FBI will no longer be able to claim a Bush-era exemption for racial profiling in cases deemed to concern national security. The rules also expand the definition of illegal profiling to include religion, national origin, gender and sexual orientation. But they contain major exemptions, including for Department of Homeland Security agents at airports and border checkpoints. A number of controversial tactics will also remain in place, include the mapping of ethnic communities and using that information to launch probes and recruit informants. The rules do not apply to local or state law enforcement agencies just as their tactics come under wide scrutiny over racial profiling.
The former president of the corporation that contaminated drinking water in West Virginia earlier this year has been arrested on charges of criminal fraud. Gary Southern is accused of bankruptcy fraud, wire fraud, and lying under oath during Freedom Industries’ bankruptcy proceedings following the spill. Prosecutors say Southern developed a scheme to shield himself from lawsuits and protect his personal fortune from liability claims. More than 300,000 West Virginians were left without drinking water and dozens were hospitalized after Freedom Industries spilled a coal-cleaning chemical into the Elk River.
The Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai and Indian child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi have been jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. At age 17, Yousafzai is the youngest person ever to win a Nobel Prize. In 2012, she was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman who boarded her school bus. She survived and continued to campaign for the right of girls to go to school. Satyarthi, age 60, has been a leader for decades in the international movement against child slavery and the exploitation of child workers. At a ceremony in Oslo today, both laureates were honored as “champions of peace.”