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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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Saudi Arabia and other regional allies have launched a military campaign in Yemen targeting Houthi rebels. The Saudi-led airstrikes are intended to thwart the Houthis’ advance after seizing control of the capital Sana’a last year and deposing President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi last month. Hadi called for international intervention on his behalf earlier this week. There are conflicting reports over his whereabouts as Houthis advance on his outpost of Aden. Unconfirmed statements say Hadi has fled Yemen by boat. The Houthi-run Health Ministry says the strikes have killed at least 18 civilians in Sana’a and wounded 24 others. The Saudi government says it has consulted “very closely” with the White House on its military campaign. Hours before it began, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the Houthis are stoking unrest.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest: “The United States continues to strongly condemn the recent offensive military actions undertaken in Yemen that have targeted President Hadi. The actions of the Houthis and former President Saleh have caused widespread instability and chaos that threatens the well-being of all Yemenis.”
Other countries involved in the military intervention are the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar. The Houthis have warned the Saudi-led operation will set off a “wide war.” Iran, which backs the Houthis, has demanded an immediate end to what it calls “U.S.-led aggression.”
U.S.-led coalition warplanes have begun bombing the Iraqi city of Tikrit in an attempt to seize control of the city from the Islamic State. The assault on Tikrit began three weeks ago when Iraqi forces and Iranian-backed Shiite militia launched a ground offensive. The U.S. airstrikes now squarely put Washington and Tehran on the same side in the fight, though the Obama administration insists it is not coordinating military operations with Iran. The Pentagon stressed that the airstrikes are aimed to help Iraqi forces defeat the Islamic State, but by all accounts it has been Iranian-backed militias leading the ground attack. We will have more on Iraq after headlines.
The Obama administration has indicated it expects to reach a nuclear agreement with Iran before next week’s deadline. Differences remain over the pace for ending U.N. sanctions, caps on centrifuges, and how long the deal would last. But according to The New York Times, a senior State Department official gave the administration’s most hopeful prognosis to date, saying: “we very much believe we can get this done,” in time. Ahead of a new round of talks in Switzerland, Secretary of State John Kerry said critics have offered no viable alternative.
Secretary of State John Kerry: “Anybody standing up in opposition to this has an obligation to stand up and put a viable, realistic alternative on the table, and I have yet to see anybody do that. So, we’ll see where we go.”
The U.S. military has charged Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl with one count of desertion and one count of misbehavior before the enemy. Bergdahl was held in Taliban captivity for five years after leaving his Army base in Afghanistan in 2009. An earlier military report found Bergdahl likely walked away from his Army outpost in Afghanistan of his own free will, but stopped short of finding that he planned to permanently desert. Bergdahl has said he was beaten, tortured and locked in a cage by the Taliban after trying to escape. He was freed last year in exchange for five Taliban militants. On Wednesday, an Army spokesperson announced the charges.
Col. Daniel King: “The U.S. Army Forces Command has thoroughly reviewed the Army’s investigation surrounding Sergeant Robert Bowdrie Bergdahl’s 2009 disappearance in Afghanistan, and formally charged Sergeant Bergdahl under the Armed Forces Uniform Code of Military Justice on March 25th, 2015, with desertion, with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty, and misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place, and has referred the case to an Article 32 preliminary hearing.”
Berghdal faces life in prison if convicted. He is currently serving in an administrative role on a Texas military base. A pretrial hearing will be held next month.
The Republican-controlled House has voted overwhelmingly to urge President Obama to arm the Ukrainian military. Obama has resisted calls to send military aid to Kiev, saying he doesn’t want to provoke further conflict. On Wednesday, Ukraine received a new shipment of armored military vehicles from the United States.
The U.S. Army has apologized to veterans wounded by exposure to chemical weapons in Iraq. A report last year found the Pentagon failed to act on claims by more than 600 U.S. servicemembers who reported being exposed to chemical weapons in Iraq since 2003. A New York Times investigation found the Bush administration concealed the discovery of chemical weapons in Iraq that had been developed with U.S. support in the 1980s — and then denied medical care to the wounded U.S. soldiers involved. U.S. Army Under Secretary Brad Carson has admitted the military failed to follow its own policy for treating wounded soldiers and has pledged more medical screening and support.
WikiLeaks has published a leaked chapter of the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership — a global trade deal currently being negotiated between the United States and 11 [other Pacific Rim] countries. The TPP would cover 40 percent of the global economy, but details have been concealed from the public. Now, WikiLeaks has released the “Investment Chapter,” which highlights the intent of U.S.-led negotiators to create a tribunal where corporations can sue governments if their laws interfere with a company’s claimed future profits. WikiLeaks warns the plan could “chill the adoption of sane” health and environmental policies.
In breaking news, a French prosecutor says the co-pilot of a Germanwings plane which crashed in the French Alps, killing all 150 people on board, appears to have crashed the plane deliberately. Audio recovered from the plane appears to show co-pilot Andreas Lubitz crashed the aircraft after locking himself inside the cockpit when the captain stepped out. The audio shows the captain banging desperately on the door, trying to get back in.
Thousands of people gathered in Montgomery, Alabama, on Wednesday to mark the 50th anniversary of the culmination of the historic march for voting rights. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led a third and final march from Selma to Montgomery on March 24, 1965. On Wednesday, King’s daughter, Bernice King, spoke where her father had once stood.
Bernice King: “Fifty years ago, it was malice that would not allow Daddy to speak from the steps of this Capitol. Instead, he spoke his powerful, timeless words from a flatbed truck in the midst of a boisterous and buoyant crowd. Today, I stand where he could not stand, to synthesize our past with our present and to speak those same profound words that he spoke.”