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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 police officers have been shot during a protest outside the Ferguson police headquarters early this morning. The shooting came just hours after Police Chief Thomas Jackson quit following last week’s Justice Department report finding widespread racial bias in the city’s criminal justice system. Jackson is the sixth Ferguson official to be forced out in the wake of the report, including the city manager and the top municipal judge. Police say both of the wounded officers have “serious” injuries.
Fighting is raging in western Iraq as the Iraqi military continues an Iranian-backed offensive to seize territory from the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Cheering residents greeted Iraqi soldiers and militia members on Wednesday as they retook large parts of the city of Tikrit. There are reports entire villages have been destroyed during the fighting. Meanwhile, ISIS militants launched a series of suicide attacks on government positions in Ramadi, killing 10 and wounding at least 30.
The Obama administration is making its case for an expansive war measure against the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the proposal before Congress could allow strikes against ISIS affiliates in Libya and Nigeria.
A top U.S. official has accused Russia of moving tanks and heavy artillery into Ukraine in violation of last month’s ceasefire. Victoria Nuland, the assistant secretary of state for Europe, made the claim during a congressional hearing.
Victoria Nuland: “And just in the last few days, we can confirm new transfers of Russian tanks, armored vehicles, heavy artillery and rocket equipment over the border to the separatists in eastern Ukraine.”
The Obama administration has just announced $75 million in new nonlethal military assistance to Ukraine. But President Obama continues to resist calls from both parties and from within his own Cabinet to arm the Ukrainian government. According to The New York Times, Obama has told aides he does not want to encourage Ukraine to fight a war it cannot win and also hopes to give the ceasefire a chance. On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest renewed Obama’s rejection of arming Ukraine.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest: “There are a couple of consequences that we have talked about of providing additional lethal military assistance to the Ukrainian military. The first is that it’s likely, I think almost by definition, to lead to greater bloodshed. And the fact is, our engagement here and our support for these ongoing diplomatic negotiations is that we’re trying to avoid greater bloodshed. So that is one thing that the president is mindful of. The second is that the president is mindful of the fact that there is not a military solution to this problem.”
In other Ukraine news, the International Monetary Fund has agreed to extend a $17.5 billion loan package to Kiev in a bid to help prevent economic collapse. The credit will be provided in return for deep structural reforms and cuts to government spending.
Venezuelan lawmakers have given initial approval to decree powers allowing President Nicolás Maduro to make laws without their involvement for six months. Maduro calls the powers a necessary step against U.S. “aggression.” The decree move comes after President Obama imposed sanctions on top Venezuelan security officials and declared Venezuela a national security threat, citing human rights concerns. U.S.-Venezuela ties are at their lowest point since Maduro took office in 2013, but Venezuela remains a top exporter of oil to the United States.
Saudi Arabia and Sweden are in a diplomatic row following criticism of the oil kingdom’s record on human rights. Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström was due to address the Arab League in Cairo, but the Saudi government blocked the move, citing “Sweden’s criticism and statements … about human rights and democracy.” Wallström had previously called out the Saudi “dictatorship” for violating women’s rights and for the flogging of blogger Raif Badawi. Saudi Arabia has recalled its ambassador from Stockholm, while Sweden says it will cancel a military cooperation agreement.
The top U.N. investigator on torture claims the United States is stonewalling his probe of conditions at American prisons. Juan Méndez said he has been refused permission to visit state and federal prisons nationwide.
Juan Méndez: “They said that federal prisons were unavailable, and I’ve sought to clarify what they mean by 'unavailable,' because, you know, I cannot accept an invitation to, say, go to the California prisons, if the federal prisons are off-limits to me, because, you know, if I do that, then every country has every right, like Gambia, for example, to say, 'Yeah, you can visit these prisons, but not this maximum security wing.' And so, I fully expect the United States to secure invitations from state prisons to me, but also to be able to visit federal prisons, as well.”
Méndez says he is particularly concerned with the solitary confinement subjected to some 80,000 prisoners. He also says the United States continues to thwart his bid to investigate Guantánamo Bay by imposing “unacceptable” conditions on his visit.
The Secret Service is investigating two agents for allegedly driving into a White House security barricade while drunk. One of the agents is in President Obama’s security detail. It is the latest in a series of incidents that have raised questions about the Secret Service’s conduct and prompted the resignation of Director Julia Pierson last year. Officers on duty wanted to arrest the agents and conduct sobriety tests, but a supervisor intervened to send them home instead.
The University of Oklahoma has expelled two student fraternity members it says led a racist song caught on video. Members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon are seen on a bus singing a song that includes a racial slur and a vow that no black people will ever join their group. The school says the two students who allegedly led the song were expelled for creating “a hostile learning environment” and that all those involved “will learn … it is wrong to use words to hurt, threaten, and exclude.” Hundreds of students have marched at the school in a show of protest against racism. More on this story later in the broadcast.
Protesters gathered near Atlanta on Wednesday to protest the police shooting of an unarmed African-American man. Anthony Hill was reportedly running naked around an apartment complex when a white officer opened fire. A witness said Hill had approached the officer with his hands raised in the air. The officer reportedly appeared shocked after pulling the trigger, sitting in the streets with his head in his hands. Hill was 27 years old, an Air Force veteran and an aspiring musician. He had bipolar disorder and was reportedly in the midst of a mental episode when he was shot dead.