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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 Justice Department is expected to file hate crimes charges against Dylann Roof, the white supremacist arrested for last week’s massacre at a historic South Carolina church. Federal investigators have reportedly honed in on the racist manifesto Roof posted online earlier this year.
The nine massacre victims were killed as they took part in Bible study at the Emanuel AME Church. On Wednesday, Bible study resumed at the church just one week after the shooting. This comes as thousands of mourners gathered at the South Carolina state House to pay tribute to Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a state senator and the Emanuel AME Church pastor, who was among the nine victims. Pinckney’s body lay in state ahead of his funeral on Friday. Pinckney is the first African American since reconstruction to lie in honor in the state rotunda.
The public viewing came just steps from where the Confederate flag still flies on the state Capitol grounds. South Carolina lawmakers voted this week to consider taking it down. Meanwhile in Alabama, Governor Robert Bentley has acted on his on by ordering the flags removed from the state Capitol grounds. Also Wednesday, Mississippi Republican Senators Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran backed calls for removing the Confederate battle flag from the state flag.
Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been formally sentenced to death for his role in the attack that killed three and injured hundreds in 2013. Addressing survivors inside the courtroom, Tsarnaev apologized for the first time, saying in part: “I am sorry for the lives that I’ve taken, for the suffering that I’ve caused you, for the damage that I’ve done.” After the hearing, Boston Marathon survivor Henry Borgard responded to Tsarnaev’s statement.
Henry Borgard: “For me to hear him say that he’s sorry, that is enough for me. And I hope, because I still do have faith in humanity, including in him, I hope that his words were genuine. I hope that they were heartfelt. … When I made eye contact with him, it wasn’t like looking in the face of a criminal; it was like looking in the face of a boy.”
The U.S. has told France it’s no longer spying on its leaders following disclosures by the group WikiLeaks. Documents published this week show the National Security Agency spied on President François Hollande and his two predecessors from 2006 to 2012, including listening to and recording cellphone conversations. At the White House, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said President Obama has assured French counterpart François Hollande the spying is no more.
Josh Earnest: “The president was very clear about the fact that the United States does not target and will not target the communications of the president of France, and this is consistent with the conversation that President Obama had with President Hollande during President Hollande’s visit to Washington, D.C., last year, a little over a year ago. You know, we’ve been very clear that foreign intelligence activities are only conducted when there is a specific, validated national security interest involved.”
France has denounced the spying, calling it “unacceptable.” Hollande held an emergency meeting with his ministers on Wednesday as his government summoned the U.S. ambassador. At a news conference, Secretary of State John Kerry said the spying revelation is based on an “old document.”
Secretary of State John Kerry: “This is an old WikiLeaks document. I don’t even know what the date is specifically that it starts out or refers to. I’m just telling you point blank we are not and will not target the conversations of any friendly president, anybody that I know of, and certainly not President Hollande or the French ministry. That is not happening.”
The death toll from a heat wave in the Pakistani city of Karachi has grown to around 800. Morgues are said to be overflowing with bodies while one hospital has reported treating some 8,000 patients in just four days. Temperatures have reached as high as 113 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat wave in Pakistan follows another in neighboring India last month that killed over 2,500 people.
The Obama administration has announced efforts to reduce the long-term detentions of undocumented immigrant mothers and children caught entering the country illegally. Those with relatives in the U.S. to sponsor them will now be offered bond as they apply for asylum. Announcing the change, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said the “detention of families will be short-term in most cases.” Some 2,600 mothers and their children are being held at two facilities in Texas and one in Pennsylvania. The vast majority are fleeing violence and domestic abuse in Central America.
President Obama’s immigration policy came under direct challenge Wednesday from a heckler at the White House. As Obama spoke to a gathering celebrating LGBT Pride Month, an undocumented LGBT activist from Mexico called for an end to deportations.
President Obama: “I want to thank all of you—advocates, organizers, friends, families—for being here today. And over the years, we’ve gathered to celebrate Pride Month, and I’ve told you that I’m so hopeful about what we can accomplish. I’ve told you that the civil rights of LGBT Americans”—
Jennicet Gutiérrez: “President Obama”—
President Obama: “Yeah, hold on a second.”
Jennicet Gutiérrez: “Release all LGBTQ detention centers! President Obama, stop the torture and abuse of trans women in detention centers! President Obama, I am a trans woman. I’m tired of the abuse. I’m tired [inaudible]”—
President Obama: “Listen, you’re in my house.”
A grand jury has indicted three state employees over the death of a 21-year-old Nigerian native in a Savannah, Georgia, jail. Matthew Ajibade died on New Year’s Day of what the coroner described as “blunt force trauma,” including “abrasions, lacerations, skin injuries about the head and some other areas of the body.” At the time of his death, he was restrained in an isolation cell after authorities said he became combative during an altercation that injured deputies. On Wednesday, two former jail employees and a contract health worker were all charged with involuntary manslaughter, among other counts. Nine Chatham County deputies were fired in connection with the case last month.
President Obama has formally unveiled his policy shift on private ransoms for U.S. hostages overseas. While the U.S. government will continue to rule out paying ransoms to militant groups, it will stop threatening to prosecute families who raise private funds to win their loved ones’ freedom.
President Obama: “It has been my solemn commitment to make sure that they feel fully supported in their efforts to get their families home and that there is a syncing up of what I know to be sincere, relentless efforts within government and the families, who obviously have one priority and one priority only, and that’s getting their loved ones back. These families have already suffered enough, and they should never feel ignored or victimized by their own government.”
The move follows criticism from family members of American hostages. A number of U.S. captives have died in captivity while European hostages were released after their governments paid a ransom.