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Democracy Now! Turns 20: A Freewheeling Look Back at Two Decades of Independent, Unembedded News

StoryFebruary 19, 2016
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Twenty years ago today, Democracy Now! went on the air on the eve of the New Hampshire primary. The date was February 19, 1996. The show began as a radio show on a handful of stations. It expanded into television five years later. Today, 5,000 episodes later, Democracy Now! airs on over 1,400 TV and radio stations. We spend the hour looking back at some highlights, including our first broadcast; Amy Goodman and Jeremy Scahill’s investigation, “Drilling and Killing: Chevron and Nigeria’s Oil Dictatorship”; President Clinton accusing Amy of being “hostile and combative”; our coverage of the 2004 U.S.-backed coup in Haiti; Juan González debating Lou Dobbs; the 2008 arrests of Amy, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar at the Republican National Convention; and our live coverage from the Georgia prison grounds where Troy Davis was executed.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Well, 20 years ago today, Democracy Now! went on the air. This is how we began our first radio episode on February 19th, 1996.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! From Pacifica Radio, I’m Amy Goodman in Washington. Today on Democracy Now!, “Live Free or Die,” a look at the political landscape in New Hampshire, where the Republican Revolution has taken its toll.

ARNIE ARNESEN: If you want a taste of the country after the revolution, you might as well visit New Hampshire today, because we’re the state that has the most regressive taxes in the country, that doesn’t have mandatory kindergarten, that doesn’t invest in its infrastructure.

AMY GOODMAN: Also, the politics of race in the Granite State, and “Money Talks: Who are the Millionaires Having Their Way in Washington?”

JEFFREY KLEIN: You need to go up to Bob Dole, now that he’s on the corporate welfare line, and say, you know, “OK, that’s a great—that’s great that you’ve taken up this plank. Whose corporate jet did you fly up here on? Dwayne Andreas, the number three on the Mother Jones list, or Carl Lindner, the number four on the Mother Jones list?” You need to relentlessly expose them.

AMY GOODMAN: All coming up on Democracy Now! Today is President’s Day, and tomorrow is the New Hampshire primary. Welcome to the maiden voyage of Democracy Now!, Pacifica’s daily national election show. Greetings to our audiences in California, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., Washington state, Kansas City and Colorado. In this election year, we’re embarking on a nine-month journey through the country and hope to pick up community radio stations in many more states as we go, as we give voice to the grassroots.

AMY GOODMAN: So that was our first broadcast, February 19, 1996. For the first five years of Democracy Now!, we were only a radio show. We began on eight community radio stations.

Two years later, in 1998, Democracy Now!'s Jeremy Scahill and I documented Chevron's role in the killing of two protesters in the oil-rich Niger Delta. The protesters were occupying a Chevron-owned oil platform called the Parabe platform. The protesters were demanding jobs and compensation for environmental damage to their communities. Soon after landing in Chevron-leased helicopters, the Nigerian military shot to death two protesters and wounded several others. Democracy Now!'s Jeremy Scahill and I traveled to the Niger Delta to investigate, and produced the special report, “Drilling and Killing: Chevron and Nigeria's Oil Dictatorship.” This is an excerpt.

AMY GOODMAN: Until now, Chevron has claimed that its only action against the occupation was to call the federal authorities and tell them what was happening. But in a startling admission in a three-hour interview with Democracy Now!, Chevron spokesperson Sola Omole acknowledged that Chevron did much more. He admitted that Chevron actually flew in the soldiers who did the killing. And he further admitted that those men were from the notorious Nigerian navy.

SOLA OMOLE: I guess—

AMY GOODMAN: Who took them in?

SOLA OMOLE: What’s that?

AMY GOODMAN: Who took them in?

SOLA OMOLE: Who took them in?

AMY GOODMAN: On Thursday morning, the Mobile Police, the navy?

SOLA OMOLE: We did. We did. We did. We, Chevron, did. We took them there.


SOLA OMOLE: Helicopters. Yes, we took them in.

AMY GOODMAN: Who authorized the call for the military to come in?

SOLA OMOLE: Chevron’s management.

JEREMY SCAHILL: And so, here we have, on May 28th, 1998, Chevron flying in the Nigerian navy and the Mobile Police to confront a group of villagers who thought they were in the midst of a negotiation with the oil giant, which brings us to another admission by Chevron spokesperson Sola Omole. Again, listen carefully.

AMY GOODMAN: Were any of the youths armed?

SOLA OMOLE: I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. So I cannot say that they came armed with—there was talk about local charms and all that, but that’s neither here nor there.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you don’t think that they came onto the boat armed, you’re saying?


AMY GOODMAN: The youths.


ORONTO DOUGLAS: It is very clear that Chevron, just like Shell, uses the military to protect its oil activities. They drill. And they kill.

JEREMY SCAHILL: Again, environmentalist Oronto Douglas.

ORONTO DOUGLAS: They are shooting our people for just demanding for their right.

AMY GOODMAN: To see the whole documentary, “Drilling and Killing: Chevron and Nigeria’s Oil Dictatorship,” you can go to our website at

Now, Democracy Now! grew into a daily television show in 2001, but our first TV broadcast took place in August 2000 as we covered the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.

AMY GOODMAN: From Pacifica Radio, this is Democracy Now! “Breaking with Convention: Power, Protest and the Presidency.” George Bush accepts the Republican nomination for president. We’ll get reaction from Barbara Gonzalez and Jello Biafra. Also, a look at the conduct of the Philadelphia police this week and a tour through the Independent Media Center. All that and more, coming up on Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!

You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!, broadcasting on community radio stations around the country, on public access TV stations around the country, on the Internet, both live-streaming and videocasting at, in an unprecedented community-media collaboration. I’m Amy Goodman, here with Juan González, as we continue our reaction to the nomination speech of—the acceptance speech of George W. Bush for nomination by the Republican Party as their presidential candidate. Juan?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes, as I said, an amazing speech by Bush in—you know, he actually attempted, basically, to portray himself as a caring, sensitive, compassionate conservative. But the reality of the message that he was bringing, of increased military spending, of privatization of Social—of portions of Social Security accounts, of charter schools that would help to begin to tear apart the public school system rather than raise the level of the public school system throughout, I think was one that was clearly, clearly at the right fringe of American politics today.

AMY GOODMAN: So that was at the Republican convention. We move forward a few months to Election Day 2000. Then-President Bill Clinton was calling radio stations to get out the vote for Hillary, who was running for the Senate seat of New York—of course, Hillary Clinton—and for Al Gore running for president. Among the places he called was WBAI. While he may have intended to spend a couple minutes on the phone, WBAI host Gonzalo Aburto and I kept him on the line for about half an hour, asking him about topics that weren’t being discussed in the presidential race.

AMY GOODMAN: Mr. President, are you there?

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: I am. Can you hear me?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, we can.


AMY GOODMAN: You’re calling radio stations to tell people to get out and vote. What do you say to people who feel that the two parties are bought by corporations and that they are—at this point feel that their vote doesn’t make a difference?

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: There’s not a shred of evidence to support that. That’s what I would say. It’s true that both parties have wealthy supporters. But let me offer you—let me just give you the differences. Let’s look at economic policy. First of all, if you look at the last eight years, look where America was eight years ago, and look where it is today. We have the strongest economy in history. And for the first time in 30 years, the incomes of average people and lower-income working people have gone up 15 percent after inflation. The lowest minority unemployment ever recorded, the highest minority home ownership, the highest minority business ownership in history—that’s our record.

AMY GOODMAN: President Clinton, U.N. figures show that up to 5,000 children a month die in Iraq because of the sanctions against Iraq.

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: That’s not true. That’s not true. And that’s not what they show. Let me just tell you something. Before the sanctions, the year before the Gulf War—you said this—how much money did Iraq earn from oil? Answer: $16 billion. How much money did Iraq earn last year from oil? How much money did they get, cash on the barrel head, to Saddam Hussein? Answer: $19 billion, that he can use exclusively for food, for medicine, to develop his country. He’s got more money now, $3 billion a year more, than he had nine years ago. If any child is without food or medicine or a roof over his or her head in Iraq, it’s because he is claiming the sanctions are doing it and sticking it to his own children.

AMY GOODMAN: The past two U.N. heads of the program in Iraq have quit, calling the U.S. policy—U.S.-U.N. policy “genocidal.” What is your response to that?

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: They’re wrong. They think that we should reward—Saddam Hussein says, “I’m going to starve my kids unless you let me buy nuclear weapons, chemical weapons and biological weapons. If you let me do everything I want to do, so I can get in a position to kill and intimidate people again, then I’ll stop starving my kids.” And so, we’re supposed to assume responsibility for his misconduct. That’s just not right.

AMY GOODMAN: Many people say that Ralph Nader is at the high percentage point he is in the polls because you’ve been responsible for taking the Democratic Party to the right. What do you say to listeners who are listening around the area right now—

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Well, I’m glad you ask that.

AMY GOODMAN: —to allay their concerns?

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: I’m glad you ask that. That’s the last question I’ve got time for. I’ll be happy to answer that.

What is the measure of taking the Democratic Party to the right? That we cut the welfare rolls in half? That poverty is at a 20-year low? That child poverty has been cut by a third in our administration? That the incomes of average Americans have gone up 15 percent after inflation? That poverty among seniors has gone below 10 percent for the first time in American history? That we have the lowest African-American, the lowest Latino unemployment rate in the history of the country? That we have a 500 percent increase in the number of minority kids taking advanced placement tests? That the schools in this country, that the test scores among—since we’ve required all the schools to have basic standards, test scores among African Americans and other minorities have gone up steadily? Now, what—

AMY GOODMAN: Can I say what some people—

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Let me just finish.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me just say—

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Let me—now, wait a minute. You started this, and every question you’ve asked has been hostile and combative. So you listen to my answer, will you do that?

AMY GOODMAN: They’ve been critical questions.

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Now, you just listen to me. You ask the questions, and I’m going to answer. You have asked questions in a hostile, combative and even disrespectful tone, but I—and you have never been able to combat the facts I have given you. Now, you listen to this.

AMY GOODMAN: That was President Bill Clinton on Democracy Now! in 2000, the day he called into WBAI Radio, where we were broadcasting from. The next day, the White House called and said I would be banned from the White House, because they had said he had a couple of minutes and we kept him on the air for a half an hour. I said, “The president is the leader of the free world, the most powerful person on Earth. He could have hung up if he wanted to.”

Well, today we are celebrating 20 years of Democracy Now! The first broadcast, February 19th, 1996. We’re taking a freewheeling journey through the last two decades. And a bunch of people have wished us happy birthday.

ROBERT REDFORD: I’d be happy to wish you a happy birthday. We have a lot in common. We started small, you started small. And look, here we are. It’s building, it’s growing. And I think it’s all good. So, happy birthday. Don’t wish me a happy birthday, because it draws attention to my birthday, which I want to forget.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you say your name?


ODETTA: [singing] When my way grows drear, precious lord, linger near. When my life is, oh, almost gone, hear my cry, hear my call, hold my hand, lest I fall. Take my hand, precious lord. Lead me home.

AMY GOODMAN: The legendary folk singer Odetta performing “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” in our firehouse studio on September 11, 2002. It was the first anniversary of the September 11th attacks. We did a special four-hour broadcast.

This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we celebrate 20 years of Democracy Now! We go back after the September 11th attacks to revisit a remarkable conversation between two New Yorkers, Rita Lasar and Masuda Sultan. Rita Lasar lost her brother, Abe Zelmanowitz, on the 27th floor of the World Trade Center during the 9/11 attacks. Masuda Sultan was an Afghan woman living in New York at the time of the 9/11 attacks. She soon got word that 19 members of her family had been killed in a U.S. attack in Afghanistan.

When they met in our studio, a lot of New York media were there for this exclusive moment. Masuda Sultan had just returned from her native Afghanistan, where she met with surviving members of her family. We’re going to turn to the conversation between Rita and Masuda. But first, we go to the report Masuda did for Democracy Now! as she made her way to Afghanistan from Pakistan while investigating the killing of her family.

MASUDA SULTAN: There were women and children running for their lives, being shot at by a helicopter hovering over their homes. And these people were not Taliban supporters. They weren’t al-Qaeda fighters. They were simple Afghans trying to stay safe in their own country. The events of September 11th really made me angry, but seeing these people and what they went through makes me angry, as well. You know, they say that in war—they say that you have to break a couple of eggs in order to make an omelet, but when those eggs are your family, what can you do?

RITA LASAR: I live on the 15th floor and ran to my neighbor’s house, and she has a clear view of downtown Manhattan. And I looked out her window and saw the second plane hit the second building. And it dawned on me: My brother works there. …

I went down to the hospitals to see if his name was on a list. And then I realized he had died. And because he had stayed behind to stay with his quadriplegic brother—I’m sorry, friend, who couldn’t get out, although he was on the 27th floor and he could have saved himself, he died.

And then President Bush mentioned him in the National Cathedral speech and cited him as being a hero. And I realized that my government was going to use my brother as justification for killing other people, and that had a tremendous impact on me. I didn’t want that to happen, not in my brother’s name. And so I wrote a letter to the Times, which they printed, asking our government to please be cautious and not do something they couldn’t take back.

And then I was asked to speak at a peace rally, and I did it. And just before I went on, I was told they had started bombing Afghanistan, and I realized something I had never realized before. I had heard the term “collateral damage” all my life. It was always used about people far away from us. And I realized now what it meant, because my brother was collateral damage, in a war that he didn’t want and Masuda’s people didn’t want. And I knew I had to do something, but I didn’t know what.

And then I got a call from this wonderful woman from this marvelous organization called Global Exchange, and she said, “Would you like to go to Afghanistan and meet people like you who have lost their families?” And I thought, “That’s perfect,” because Masuda and I are the same. There’s no difference between us.

MASUDA SULTAN: First of all, I want to express my condolences to Rita. I did before, but I think your brother is a hero, and you’re a hero for continuing his legacy. And it’s amazing to me that someone who’s lost so much isn’t as revenge-hungry as some of the other people that seem to want to, you know, go start bombing whoever, wherever. You know, a lot of this is about revenge, I feel, because—especially having seen the faces of the people there and realizing that these are the farthest things from the enemy that we could find.

AMY GOODMAN: Afghan American Masuda Sultan and Rita Lasar, a New Yorker, meeting for the first time where we were broadcasting, in our firehouse studios at Downtown Community Television. We were blocks from Ground Zero, the closest national broadcast to Ground Zero when the attacks took place.

We’re going to jump forward a few months to May 20th, 2002. That was when East Timor became an independent country. It had been occupied since 1975 by Indonesia. It was one of the worst genocides of the late 20th century. I had been reporting on East Timor for years. On November 12th, 1991, journalist Allan Nairn and I were there when Indonesian soldiers armed with U.S.-made M16s opened fire on thousands of unarmed East Timorese civilians who were gathered at the Santa Cruz cemetery.

JOSÉ RAMOS-HORTA: I lost one sister and two brothers.

EAST TIMORESE WOMAN: [translated] It was 10 days before I was to give birth. The army was shooting people, and they would die at our feet, but you couldn’t stop to help them.

JOSÉ RAMOS-HORTA: I know families that were totally wiped out.

EAST TIMORESE MAN: Two American newsmen badly beaten: Mr. Allan Nairn and Miss Amy Goodman.

AMY GOODMAN: The Indonesian army converged in two places.

ALLAN NAIRN: Hundreds and hundreds of troops coming straight at the Timorese.

AMY GOODMAN: When they came, they opened fire on the people.

PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH: We pride ourselves, and I think properly so, in standing up for human rights.

RICHARD BOUCHER: Military assistance programs expose the trainees to democratic ideas and humanitarian standards.

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: I’m very concerned about what’s happened in East Timor. We have ignored it so far in ways that I think are unconscionable.

AMY GOODMAN: “Massacre: The Story of East Timor.” I’m Amy Goodman.

AMY GOODMAN: You can go to Democracy Now! to see the whole documentary of “Massacre.” At least 271 Timorese were killed on November 12, 1991. My colleague Allan Nairn, the Indonesian military fractured his skull, but we were able to leave that country that day. More than a decade later, May 20th, 2002, East Timor did become, at the time, the newest nation in the world. Allan Nairn and I returned to the capital, Dili, East Timor, for the celebration. And then, President Clinton, who was not president at the time—he was representing the United States under President Bush—went to reopen the embassy in a newly independent East Timor. Allan Nairn questioned him.

ALLAN NAIRN: In 1999, in April, the Indonesian military and their militias massacred 50 people in the rectory in Liquiçá. They hacked them with machetes. Two days later, Admiral Blair, the commander for the Pacific, your commander, met with General Wiranto, the Indonesian commander. He offered to help him in lobbying the U.S. Congress to get full US military training restored. He made no mention of the Liquiçá massacre. During that same period, the Indonesian militias rampaged here in downtown Dili. They attacked the house of Manuel Carrascalão. They massacred the refugees there. Yet you continued for months with aid to the Indonesian military. Why?

BILL CLINTON: What’s your question, sir?

ALLAN NAIRN: Why did you continue with aid to the Indonesian military if they were killing civilians?

BILL CLINTON: Well, first of all, I can’t—I can’t answer the question you asked about Admiral Blair. You’ll have to ask him that, because I’m not aware of that.

ALLAN NAIRN: He was working for you. Why did you continue military aid to Indonesia?

BILL CLINTON: I understand, but—I understand that. I think, first of all, I don’t believe America or any of the other countries were sufficiently sensitive in the beginning and for a long time, and a long time before 1999, going all the way back to the '70s, to the suffering of the people of East Timor. I don't think we can defend everything we did.

I think that—I think that our objective, which was to try to keep Indonesia from coming apart and from having some of the influences that I think we still worry about in Indonesia dominate, led us to do some things, which, in my judgment, made us not as sensitive as we should have been to the suffering of the people here. …

I think we did the right thing in the U.N. I think we did the right thing in bringing the Australians and the ASEAN troops here. And I think the right thing to do is to do what the leaders of East Timor said. They want to look forward. You want to look backward. I’m going to stick with the leaders. You want to look backward, have at it, but you’ll have to have help from someone else.

ALLAN NAIRN: During 1999, when they massacred [inaudible]—

UNIDENTIFIED: Thank you., Mr. President.

BILL CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED: Thank you very much.

BILL CLINTON: Thank you, guys. Thank you.

ALLAN NAIRN: —you were not aware of what was happening?


UNIDENTIFIED: Thank you., Mr. President.

BILL CLINTON: Thank you.

ALLAN NAIRN: When they massacred people in the Liquiçá church, you were not aware of what was happening?

BILL CLINTON: I’ve answered your questions.

AMY GOODMAN: President Bill Clinton responding to questions from journalist Allan Nairn, who survived the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre. Two hundred seventy Timorese were killed.

AMY GOODMAN: That was May of 2002. We’re going to go forward now to February 15th of 2003. More than half a million people rallied in New York—estimates even went higher—to say no to war, joining millions in protests around the world saying no to war in Iraq. Democracy Now! broadcast live from the New York protest on that freezing cold day where protests rocked the world for peace. This is actor and activist Harry Belafonte taking to the stage.

HARRY BELAFONTE: Today is a historic and a proud day in the name of America. The world has sat by with tremendous anxiety and with a great fear that we did not exist. They have been told and they have felt that what our country, with its press and the leaders in the administration, have said. We today invalidate all that. We stand for peace. We stand for the truth of what is at the heart of the American people.

This is not the first time that we as people have been misled by the leadership. We were misled by those who created the falseness the Bay of Tonkin, which falsely led us into a war with Vietnam, a war that we could not and did not win. We lied to the American people about Grenada and what was going on in that tiny island. We’ve lied to the American people about Nicaragua, El Salvador, Cuba and many places in the world. And we stand here today to let those people and others know that America is a vast and diverse country, and we are part of the greater truth of what makes our nation. Dr. King once said that if there is—if mankind does not put an end to war, war will put an end to mankind.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to turn right now to 2004. It was the second ouster of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

AMY GOODMAN: At this hour, the streets of Port-au-Prince are barricaded. President Aristide and his wife, Mildred Aristide, are inside the palace. Armed gangs, paramilitaries are moving closer towards the capital of Port-au-Prince. We turn to the palace, where I just got off the phone with the first lady of Haiti, Mildred Aristide.

MILDRED ARISTIDE: The situation is quite critical. You know, the thugs and the FRAPH and the military, who are heavily armed in the north, are sending messages repeatedly on the airwaves in Haiti that they stand ready at any moment to storm Port-au-Prince.

AMY GOODMAN: From Pacifica Radio, this is a Democracy Now! exclusive.

REP. MAXINE WATERS: He was kidnapped. He said he was forced to leave Haiti.

AMY GOODMAN: Did U.S. security forces kidnap Haitian President Aristide? We’ll speak with Congressmember Maxine Waters and Aristide’s close friend, TransAfrica founder Randall Robinson.

RANDALL ROBINSON: He said tell the world it’s a coup, it’s a coup, it’s a coup.

JOURNALIST: Representative Waters is claiming on Pacifica stations on the West Coast that Aristide was led away in handcuffs by U.S. marines, and claiming the marines were part of a coup to remove him. I wonder if either one of you would gentlemen would comment on her comment or claim? Other than to smile.

DEFENSE SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD: I’m trying to pick the right words. If you’re asking me, “Did that happen?” the answer is no.

JOURNALIST: But any embellishment?


PRESIDENT JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: They forced me to leave Haiti. It was a kidnapping, which they call a coup d’état or, for some others, if nothing else, then something which is resignation for me. It wasn’t a resignation. It was a kidnapping under the cover of coup d’état.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s been an historic 48 hours. Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has defied Washington, returning to the Caribbean. Late last night, I returned to New York after a trip that began on Saturday, when I accompanied a delegation of U.S. and Jamaican officials who set off from Miami, Florida, on a mission to escort President Aristide and his wife Mildred back to the Caribbean. On the plane, I asked President Aristide why he believes the U.S. wants him gone.

PRESIDENT JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: Ask the U.S. the question, they will answer you. I can have opinions, but I will not answer for them. For instance, we are the first black independent country in the world. We just celebrated 200 years of independence last January 1st. Those who want to invest in killing democracy, in bloodshed, they don’t accept you as an elected president. We’ve had 32 coups d’état, plus the last one, 33, in our 200 years of independence. Our goal was to move not from coup d’état to coup d’état anymore, but from elections to elections—free, fair and democratic elections. That wasn’t their goal. They went back to coup d’état.

AMY GOODMAN: That was ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. As we flew over the Atlantic, we got word from Washington that Condoleezza Rice, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell and others were saying the Aristides were not to return to the Western Hemisphere, to which Randall Robinson, who is founder of TransAfrica, in the plane with us, said, “Whose hemisphere?” They said he was not to return to his country, Haiti. Ultimately, the Aristides would land in Jamaica and go into exile in South Africa for a number of years. Ultimately, they came back to Haiti, and Democracy Now! was on the plane when they flew back to Haiti. To see all of our coverage of Haiti over the years, go to, as we today take a freewheeling journey through the last two decades of Democracy Now! It’s our 20th birthday.

ROGER WATERS: Here we are, 2016. This is Roger Waters, wishing Democracy Now! a very, very happy 20th birthday. May you be around for another 20 years and another and another and another. We need your voice.


AMY GOODMAN: That was Sweet Honey in the Rock performing in our firehouse studio back in 2003. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. It’s our 20th anniversary.

MATHANGI “M.I.A.” ARULPRAGASAM: This is Mathangi Arulpragasam, a.k.a. M.I.A. To Democracy Now!, thank you for being here. Happy birthday. I hope you keep going. And I’m here to support you.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, thank you so much, M.I.A. As we celebrate 20 years of Democracy Now!, we’re going to go back in time in this freewheeling journey through our history to the days just after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. We were down in New Orleans, the community of Algiers, and I was speaking with Malik Rahim, co-founder of the Common Ground Collective, who showed us how a corpse still remained on the street unattended two weeks after the storm.

MALIK RAHIM: Now, his body been here for almost two weeks. Two weeks tomorrow, all right, that this man’s body been laying here. And there’s no reason for it. Look where we at. I mean, it’s not flooded. There’s no reason for them to be—left that body right here like this. I mean, that’s just totally disrespect. You know? And, I mean, two weeks. Every day, we ask them about come and pick it up. And they refuse to come and pick it up. And you could see, it’s literally decomposing right here, right out in the sun. Every day we sit up and we ask them about it, because, I mean, this is close as you could get to tropical climate in America. And they won’t do anything with it.

AMY GOODMAN: Malik, do you know who this person is?

MALIK RAHIM: No. But regardless of who it is—I wouldn’t care if it’s Saddam Hussein or bin Laden—nobody deserve to be left here. And the kids pass by here, and they’re seeing it. I mean, the elderly. This is what’s frightening a lot of people into leaving. We don’t know if he’s a victim of vigilantes or what. But that’s all we know is that his body had been allowed to remain out here for over two weeks.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Malik Rahim of the Common Ground Collective. And we’re going to jump forward now to 2007, when Juan González and I interviewed CNN anchor Lou Dobbs for the hour.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Our guest for the hour is Lou Dobbs.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: So that the question is that there is a huge disparity between the economic levels in Mexico and the economic levels in the United States. And you have properly said many times on your show that American companies are creating the problems, rather than helping to alleviate the problems. All that would be needed to do is to raise the economic level in Mexico, and the entire illegal immigration population problems would decline in this country. And not only that, but the country, if it had a higher immigration quota in connection with—

LOU DOBBS: Are you giving me instruction, or are you telling me what we agree upon?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: No, we don’t agree. We don’t agree, because you are demonizing illegal immigration as a separate issue. …

LOU DOBBS: How in the world can you use my name and “anti-immigrant” in the same breath?

AMY GOODMAN: When we hear comments like—

LOU DOBBS: You hear—

AMY GOODMAN: —a third of the—from you—we’ve played them, so we can’t refute the videotape, Lou.

LOU DOBBS: Have you looked, Amy—

AMY GOODMAN: We can’t refute— a third of prisoners are—

LOU DOBBS: Yes. And we discussed that?

AMY GOODMAN: —are illegal immigrants—

LOU DOBBS: Have we discussed it?

AMY GOODMAN: No, a third of prisoners are illegal immigrants, not true. Seven thousand leprosy cases in the last three years because of illegal immigrants—

LOU DOBBS: Christine Romans misspoke—

AMY GOODMAN: —not true.

LOU DOBBS: —we said that. And that’s as straightforward as we can put it.

AMY GOODMAN: And you made an announcement on your show—

LOU DOBBS: Absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: —and you will say it here—

LOU DOBBS: Absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: —that it is not true. Illegal immigrants are not responsible for 7,000 cases of leprosy over last three years.

LOU DOBBS: Not over the last three years.

AMY GOODMAN: To see that whole hour that Juan González and I had with Lou Dobbs, go to But we’re moving forward. We’re racing to the finish line here. On September 1st, 2008, Democracy Now! producers Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Nicole Salazar and I were among well over 40 journalists who were arrested during a police crackdown at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. As the riot police came at Nicole, and they were shouting, “On your face!” she shouted back at them as she was filming, “Press! Press!”

NICOLE SALAZAR: Watch out! Watch out! Press!

POLICE OFFICER: Get out of here! Move!

NICOLE SALAZAR: Where are we supposed to go? Where are we supposed to go?

POLICE OFFICER: Get out of here!

NICOLE SALAZAR: Dude, I can’t see! Ow! Press! Press! Press!

POLICE OFFICER: Get down! Get down on your face! On your face!

NICOLE SALAZAR: I’m on my face!

POLICE OFFICER: Get down on your face!

NICOLE SALAZAR: Ow! Press! Press!

AMY GOODMAN: That was Nicole Salazar screaming as the riot police took her down, bloodying her face. As Sharif Abdel Kouddous told the riot police to calm down, they kicked him twice in the chest, threw him against a wall and arrested him, as well. When I got the call on the convention floor about what had happened, I raced outside to the corner of 7th and Jackson, where the riot police had formed a line, having fully contained the area. I asked to speak with a commanding officer to get Sharif and Nicole released.


POLICE OFFICER: Ma’am, get back to the sidewalk.

DENIS MOYNIHAN: Release the accredited journalists now!

AMY GOODMAN: Sir, just one second. I was just running from the convention floor.

DENIS MOYNIHAN: You are violating my constitutional rights. You are violating their constitutional rights.

POLICE OFFICER: Sidewalk now!

AMY GOODMAN: Sir, I want to talk to your superior—


AMY GOODMAN: Do not arrest me!


AMY GOODMAN: Do not arrest me!

POLICE OFFICER: Hold it right there. You’re under arrest. Stay right there. Back up. Back up.

POLICE OFFICER: Everybody, you cross this line, you’ll be under arrest, so don’t do it.

CROWD: Let her go! Let her go!

AMY GOODMAN: After our arrest, ultimately we were released, but we sued the St. Paul and Minneapolis police, as well as the Secret Service, and ultimately won a six-figure settlement. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report, as we spoke out against the police crackdown on journalists and the illegal arrests of protesters, as well.

But we’re moving forward to 2010 on this 20th anniversary tour of Democracy Now!. The whistleblowing website WikiLeaks released footage of U.S. soldiers firing from a military helicopter on Iraqi civilians. The dead included two employees of Reuters news agency—the videographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and his driver, Saeed Chmagh.

U.S. SOLDIER 1: Let me know when you’ve got them.

U.S. SOLDIER 2: Let’s shoot. Light ’em all up.

U.S. SOLDIER 3: Come on, fire!

U.S. SOLDIER 2: Keep shootin’. Keep shootin’. Keep shootin’. Keep shootin’.

U.S. SOLDIER 4: Hotel, Bushmaster two-six, Bushmaster two-six, we need to move, time now!

U.S. SOLDIER 2: All right, we just engaged all eight individuals.

AMY GOODMAN: Julian Assange, tell us how you got this footage.

JULIAN ASSANGE: We got this footage sometime last year. We don’t disclose precise times for reasons of source protection. When we first got it, we were told that it was important and that it showed the killing of journalists, but we didn’t have any other context, and we spent quite some months after breaking the decryption looking closely into this. And the more we looked, the more disturbing it became. This is a sequence which has a lot of detail and, I think, in some ways covers most of the bad aspects of the aerial war in Iraq and what we must be able to infer is going on in Afghanistan.

AMY GOODMAN: That was WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaking in Washington, D.C., in 2010. To see all of our interviews with him now, as the last three-and-a-half years he’s been in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, having gotten political asylum from Ecuador, you can go to But we’re going now to the Egyptian revolution that ousted President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Democracy Now!’s Sharif Abdel Kouddous was on the ground in Cairo.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: The sun is setting here on Tahrir Square. It’s Thursday night. This is the night after the Mubarak regime launched a coordinated campaign of violence to try and take back the streets of Cairo from the pro-democracy uprising that claimed them one week ago, over nine days ago. We’re here in Tahrir. They remain defiant. They have held onto Tahrir, but they suffered terribly. We’ve seen many wounded. And the battle still rages on the periphery. Rocks are being thrown. There are army tanks. Shots are being fired. Unclear what’s going to happen tonight, but we will continue to follow developments here. It’s still a tense situation. But the people are proud and defiant. And Friday will be a decisive day, regardless of what happens. I’m Sharif Abdel Kouddous, with Hany Massoud, for Democracy Now!

AMY GOODMAN: That report aired on Friday, February 4th, 2011. Hosni Mubarak would resign one week later. Sharif Abdel Kouddous continues to report for us from Egypt.

On September 21st, 2011, Democracy Now! broadcast live for six hours from the grounds of the prison in Georgia where Troy Anthony Davis was executed. We were the only news outlet to continuously broadcast live from the death row prison grounds.

AMY GOODMAN: From Georgia’s death row prison in Jackson, this is a Democracy Now! special broadcast. We are just an hour from the scheduled execution of Troy Anthony Davis, an execution the whole world is watching.

MARTINA CORREIA: And I just would like to say that, you know, I’ve been battling cancer for 10 years. And I’m—I don’t have cancer, but I’m reaping some of the effects of the medicine. Several months ago, I couldn’t—I was doing fine. And after that, I couldn’t get up out of the chair. But I’m here to tell you that I’m going to stand here for my brother today.

[with crowd] I am Troy Davis! You are Troy Davis! We are Troy Davis!

KRISTEN STANCIL: The court-ordered execution of Troy Anthony Davis has been carried out. The time of death is 11:08 p.m. At this time, the media witnesses will be coming out to give their firsthand account of what happened during the execution.

AMY GOODMAN: Again, prison official sharing the news that Troy Anthony Davis was executed at 11:08. That was the time of death. I’m standing with…

WESLEY BOYD: Wesley Boyd. And I’d like to say this has been a travesty of justice. And I’d like to tell the—America ought to be ashamed of yourself. And God help America. And if you’re alive in America, please don’t come to Georgia. Don’t come to Georgia. Don’t buy any Georgia pecans. Don’t buy any Georgia peaches. Don’t buy any trade with Georgia. The whole world, don’t buy anything with Georgia. God bless America. God bless Troy Davis.

AMY GOODMAN: That was September 2011. A few months later, Troy’s biggest advocate, his sister Martina Correia, would also die of cancer. To see all our coverage of the Troy Anthony Davis case, go to

But we’re racing forward to July 2015, when Democracy Now! interviewed all three co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement—Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi and Alicia Garza. This is Alicia.

ALICIA GARZA: The Black Lives Matter movement has to, by its very nature, be intersectional, because of the complexities of who black people are in this country and throughout the world. There is nothing separate about wages from black life and the survival of black people than police violence and police terrorism. We even still have a situation in this country where we have black workers who are not covered by federal labor protections, like domestic workers and farm workers. So we certainly can’t just look at the issues of police violence. Police violence is the tip of the iceberg when it relates to the conditions overall of black people across the globe.

AMY GOODMAN: In our 20th birthday Democracy Now! special, we race forward to October 2014, to the world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author, Noam Chomsky. I went with him to the United Nations to interview him in front of 800 people at the U.N. General Assembly. It included world leaders, ambassadors and people who just crowded into the U.N. to see Noam Chomsky.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think is the most—the single most important action the United States can take? And what about its role over the years? What is its interest here?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, one important action that the United States could take is to live up to its own laws. Of course, it would be nice if it lived up to international law, but maybe that’s too much to ask, but live up to its own laws.

AMY GOODMAN: And today we end with the late, great historian Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States. We spoke to him so frequently over Democracy Now!’s years. This is Howard Zinn in 2005.

HOWARD ZINN: In modern warfare, soldiers fire, they drop bombs, and they have no notion, really, of what is happening to the human beings that they’re firing on. Everything is done at a distance. This enables terrible atrocities to take place. And I think reflecting back on that bombing raid, and thinking of that in Hiroshima and all the other raids on civilian cities and the killing of huge numbers of civilians in German and Japanese cities, the killing of a hundred thousand people in Tokyo in one night of firebombing, all of that made me realize war—even so-called good wars against fascism, like World War II—wars don’t solve any fundamental problems, and they always poison everybody on both sides. They poison the minds and souls of everybody on both sides. We’re seeing that now in Iraq, where the minds of our soldiers are being poisoned by being an occupying army in a land where they are not wanted. And the results are terrible.

AMY GOODMAN: To see all of the highlights of Democracy Now! over 20 years, go to our website at That last voice, the late, great historian Howard Zinn. Special thanks to Mike Burke and all the team that makes Democracy Now! happen over these decades. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. We thank you.

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