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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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President Obama has announced the United States will halt its military withdrawal from Afghanistan, instead keeping thousands of troops in the country through the end of Obama’s term in 2017. There are currently 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The new timeline will keep this number in place through 2016, before dropping to about 5,500 troops around early 2017, depending on conditions on the ground. After 14 years of war, the Taliban now controls more of the country than at any point since the 2001 U.S. invasion. President Obama had declared an official end to the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan last year.
The Israeli government has deployed thousands of soldiers and border police and has erected checkpoints to seal off Palestinian neighborhoods amid escalating violence in Israel and the Occupied Territories. The crackdown comes after a series of uncoordinated stabbing attacks by Palestinians on Israelis.
In the latest violence Wednesday, Israeli police shot and killed a Palestinian youth at the Damascus Gate in occupied East Jerusalem. Palestinian news agencies reported witnesses said Basel Sider was “executed in cold blood” and left bleeding on the ground. Israeli police initially said Sider tried to stab a bodyguard, then later said he lunged at officers with a knife after they approached him because he seemed nervous and suspicious. Graphic video shot by MSNBC appears to show Sider fleeing down a flight of steps with a knife in his hand, before being shot multiple times at a distance. A second Palestinian was shot dead Wednesday in West Jerusalem after Israeli police said he stabbed and injured an Israeli woman at the central bus station. In total, more than 30 Palestinians and seven Israelis have been killed in the recent violence. We’ll have more on the situation from Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem later in the broadcast.
President Obama has told Congress he will send approximately 300 U.S. troops to Cameroon to help fight extremist groups such as Boko Haram. Ninety of these troops have already been deployed. This comes about a month after Boko Haram militants killed about 30 people in an attack on a market and an infirmary in northern Cameroon last month.
In Saudi Arabia, the mother of a protester sentenced to death by beheading for his role in the 2012 pro-democracy uprising has begged President Obama to intervene to save her son’s life. Ali Mohammed al-Nimr was arrested at the age of 17 and convicted of encouraging protests during the Arab Spring. He faces execution any day now. Al-Nimr is the nephew of a prominent cleric who has also received a death sentence following pro-democracy protests. His mother, Nusra al-Ahmed, condemned her son’s sentence.
Nusra al-Ahmed: “No sane human being would rule against a child of 17 years old using such a sentence. And why? He didn’t shed any blood. He didn’t steal any property.”
This comes as Britain has cancelled a multimillion-dollar contract to provide training to Saudi prison officers, amid concerns about human rights abuses in the Saudi criminal justice system.
Meanwhile, Texas has executed death row prisoner Licho Escamilla, who was convicted of killing a Dallas police officer in 2001. He was the 12th person executed by the state of Texas this year. This comes amid reports Texas may be using a lethal injection drug that is expired and could prolong suffering.
In Baltimore, police have arrested at least a dozen protesters who occupied City Hall overnight Wednesday in protest of the plan to appoint permanently Baltimore’s interim police commissioner. The occupation came after a City Council committee approved Interim Commissioner Kevin Davis’ permanent appointment. Activists say since Davis has taken office, there has been a “heightened aggression” toward protest. A coalition of Baltimore activists have issued a list of demands to Baltimore’s mayor and Davis calling for more respect for nonviolent protest, a ban on military-style police equipment such as armored vehicles and rubber bullets, and more investment in education. During the occupation, one of the protesters, Trey Murphy, spoke out.
Trey Murphy: “The three demands that we have is that the interim police commissioner implements the rules of engagement that grassroots folks have put out days ago in an open letter addressed to him and the mayor, in specific, as well as to fire the housing director, Graziano, who has sexual assault charges, claims being filed against him and members of the housing department. As well as the third one is to reallocate $20 million inside of next year’s budget, next year’s fiscal year budget, 2016 through 2017, to reallocate $20 million towards education.”
In Chicago, a man who says he was tortured by Chicago police officers into confessing to a murder he did not commit has been released from prison after spending a quarter of a century behind bars. Shawn Whirl says he was slapped, stepped on, and cut with a set of keys by a detective working under Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge, who has been convicted for lying about torturing prisoners into making confessions. Under Burge’s reign from 1972 to 1991, more than 200 people, most of them African-American, were tortured with tactics including electric shocks and suffocation. Shawn Whirl walked free on Wednesday.
The British government is reportedly refusing Ecuador’s request to grant WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange “safe passage” out of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London so he can go to the hospital for an MRI. Assange’s doctor says he is in constant and severe pain in his shoulder that requires an MRI scan to diagnose. Assange’s lawyer Carey Shenkman says, “By claiming that Mr. Assange must give up his asylum in order to receive medical treatment, the U.K. government is forcing him to choose between the human right to asylum and the human right to medical treatment. No one should ever have to face that choice.”
Germany has ordered Volkswagen to recall 2.4 million of its diesel cars equipped with software intended to manipulate emissions test results. This is the first government-ordered recall since Volkswagen admitted last month that it had installed the emissions-cheating software in 11 million diesel cars worldwide. Meanwhile, U.S. regulators say they have more questions for Volkswagen about the engineering of the 2016 diesel models, which contain software that might make their exhaust systems run cleaner during government tests than in regular driving mode.
In Argentina, a prominent LGBT activist has been found dead in her Buenos Aires apartment on Tuesday. Diana Sacayan is the third transgender woman to have been murdered in Argentina over the last month. In 2012, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner personally gave Sacayan a national identification card recognizing her as a woman. President Kirchner called for an investigation into her death Wednesday.
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner: “In honor of a woman, Diana Sacayan, who was the first trans woman to whom I bestowed identification documents, who was murdered in Buenos Aires, I ask for cooperation between the national security forces and the metropolitan police to quickly get to the bottom of this terrible crime.”
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has weighed in on the first Democratic presidential debate Tuesday night. Speaking in Virginia Wednesday, Trump called Vermont senator and self-described democratic socialist Bernie Sanders a “communist” and a “maniac.”
Donald Trump: “I watched Hillary last night with ’We’re going to give this, we’re going to give that, we’re going to give that.’ She — the poor woman! She’s got to give everything away, because this maniac, that was standing on her right, is giving everything away, so she’s following. That’s what’s happening. This socialist-slash-communist, OK? Nobody wants to say it.”
Trump’s speech was interrupted by a group of immigrant rights protesters who unfurled a banner which read “No human life is illegal” and began shouting “Dump Trump.” A Trump supporter reportedly spit on one of the protesters.
Environmentalists held protests in cities across the United States Wednesday calling for action on climate change and protesting against the institutions that continue to drive fossil fuel extraction. In Washington, D.C., activists held a die-in and a march on the American Petroleum Institute to demand a clean energy economy. In Normal, Illinois, activists gathered in front of the office of a local official to demand a plan to move toward renewable energy. In New York City, about 100 protesters gathered in front of JPMorgan Chase’s office in Manhattan to protest the bank’s investments in fossil fuel companies. Protester Jesse Andre Sassine spoke out.
Jesse Andre Sassine: “JPMorgan’s connection is that they are the number two investor in fossil fuels, in outdated energy, right? And they are a bad player as far as green energy is concerned. And it’s just their M.O. You know, it’s just day-to-day business for them, because they don’t only suck the life out of our planet, but they suck the life out of my community. Right? So, they haven’t done nearly enough to modify the mortgages that were predatory lending in the first place in my community.”
And newly leaked government documents have provided an unprecedented window into the secret U.S. drone assassination program across the globe. In “The Drone Papers,” the website The Intercept reveals drone strikes have resulted from unreliable intelligence, stemming in large part from electronic communications data, or “signals intelligence,” that officials acknowledge is insufficient. The documents also undermine government claims that the drone strikes have been precise. In Afghanistan, strikes on 35 direct targets killed at least 219 other people. This is Jeremy Scahill of The Intercept, which just published an eight-part series on the leaked documents.
Jeremy Scahill: “But the fact that this is the first time that primary source documents have been published that detail the chain of command for assassinating people around the globe. The banality of the bureaucracy of assassination is so clear in these documents—the cold corporate words that they use to describe killing people. The 'basics of manhunting' is one of the terms that they use. The 'tyranny of distance' is another term that they use. 'Arab features,' you know, to describe people that they’re looking at from thousands of feet above. The corporate coldness of the way that these documents reflect what is actually a process of systematically hunting down and assassinating human beings should send chills through the spine of people who care about democracy in this society.”
The documents were leaked to The Intercept by an unnamed U.S. intelligence source. The source told The Intercept: “It’s stunning the number of instances when I’ve come across intelligence that was faulty, when sources of information used to finish targets were misattributed to people. And it isn’t until several months or years later that you realize that the entire time you thought you were going after this target, it was his mother’s phone the whole time. Anyone caught in the vicinity is guilty by association—it’s a phenomenal gamble.” We will link to The Intercept’s exposé on “The Drone Papers” on our site.