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You turn to Democracy Now! for ad-free news you can trust. Maybe you come for our daily headlines. Maybe you come for in-depth stories that expose government and corporate abuses of power. This week Democracy Now! is celebrating our 23rd birthday. For over two decades, we've produced our daily news hour without ads, government funding or corporate underwriting. How is this possible? Only with your support. Right now, in honor of Democracy Now!'s birthday, every donation we receive will be doubled by a generous supporter. This means if you give $30 today, Democracy Now! will get $60 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. Thank you! -Amy Goodman
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In Afghanistan, the United States military on Thursday dropped its most powerful non-nuclear bomb ever—the Massive Ordnance Air Blast, or MOAB, nicknamed “The Mother of All Bombs”—on the Achin district near the Pakistan border. The 21,600-pound bomb reportedly unleashed an explosion equivalent to 11 tons of TNT with a mile-wide blast radius. Bill Roggio of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies told the Military Times, “What [it] does is basically suck out all of the oxygen and lights the air on fire.” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer acknowledged the attack.
Press Secretary Sean Spicer: “The GBU-43 is a large, powerful and accurately delivered weapon. We targeted a system of tunnels and caves that ISIS fighters used to move around freely, making it easier for them to target U.S. military advisers and Afghan forces in the area. … The United States took all precautions necessary to prevent civilian casualties and collateral damage as a result of the operation.”
Thursday’s blast was so powerful that it shook the ground in neighboring districts. A parliamentarian from Nangarhar province told The Guardian the explosion killed a teacher and his young son. Other Afghan officials said 36 ISIS fighters were killed. The U.S.-backed former president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, denounced Thursday’s attack, saying, “This is not the war on terror, but the inhuman and most brutal misuse of our country as testing ground for new and dangerous weapons.” Marc Garlasco, a Bush-era Pentagon official, told The Intercept the weapon was built for use in Iraq but never used “due to collateral damage concerns.” At the White House, President Trump said he was “very, very proud” of those who carried out the bombing.
Reporter: “Did you authorize it, sir?”
President Donald Trump: “Everybody knows exactly what happened, so—and what I do is I authorize my military. We have the greatest military in the world, and they’ve done a job, as usual. So, we have given them total authorization, and that’s what they’re doing. And, frankly, that’s why they’ve been so successful lately.”
Democratic Congressmember Barbara Lee of California said in a statement, “President Trump owes the American people an explanation about his escalation of military force in Afghanistan and his long-term strategy to defeat ISIS.” We’ll have more on the attack in Afghanistan after headlines.
In Syria, the Pentagon says a U.S.-led coalition airstrike in Tabqa killed 18 Syrian rebels backed by the United States. U.S. Central Command said in a statement the attack accidentally targeted fighters with the U.S.-supported SDF rebel alliance who requested air support in a fight against ISIS. CENTCOM offered condolences and called the deaths “tragic.” The attack followed a series of coalition raids that killed civilians. The journalistic monitoring group Airwars cited four separate U.S.-led airstrikes in April alone that killed 24 noncombatants.
Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has denied his forces used poison gas to attack a rebel-held town in Idlib, which killed 87 people, including more than 30 children. In an interview recorded Wednesday with the AFP news agency, Assad said reports of the attack were “100 percent” fabricated.
President Bashar al-Assad: “There was no order to make any attack. We don’t have any chemical weapons. We gave up our arsenal three years ago. Even if we have them, we wouldn’t use them. And we have never used our chemical arsenal in our history.”
Assad suggested that children seen in widely circulated video of the incident were in fact child actors pretending to be dead. Assad’s interview was broadcast as inspectors with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Thursday samples taken from the site tested positive for the nerve agent sarin.
Elsewhere in Syria, rebel groups and Syria’s government have begun an exchange that could see the relocation of some 30,000 residents. If completed, the deal would see civilians in two towns besieged by rebels exchanged for residents of two towns cut off by government forces.
NBC News is reporting the Trump administration is prepared to launch a preemptive attack on North Korea if it proceeds toward a nuclear weapons test. NBC cited multiple senior U.S. intelligence officials, who say a pair of U.S. naval destroyers are positioned near North Korea’s nuclear test site and prepared to fire Tomahawk cruise missiles. The Pentagon declined to comment on the NBC report. North Korea on Thursday condemned the U.S. for bringing an aircraft carrier group and other nuclear-armed assets into the region, and threatened an assault on South Korea, Japan and U.S. bases. In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged the U.S. and North Korea to de-escalate.
Wang Yi: “On the issue of the Korean Peninsula, it’s not about who can say the most hateful words, about who can raise the biggest fist, who will win. Rather, once war breaks out, there will be losses on all sides. No one is the real winner.”
U.S. intelligence officials claim North Korea is preparing what would be its sixth nuclear weapons test—possibly as early as Saturday, which marks the 105th anniversary of the birth of the country’s founder, Kim Il-sung. The anniversary comes as Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to travel to Seoul, South Korea, Sunday to kick off a 10-day trip to Asia.
President Trump signed legislation Thursday that will allow states to withhold federal funds to Planned Parenthood and other women’s health clinics that provide abortions. The bill narrowly passed the Senate in March, when Vice President Pence cast a tie-breaking vote in favor of the bill. In a statement, Planned Parenthood Vice President Dawn Laguens said the Trump administration had launched the worst political attack on women’s health in a generation, writing, “People are sick and tired of politicians making it even harder for them to access health care, and this bill is just the latest example.”
In New York, police arrested 25 people in the lobby of Trump Tower, as they staged a protest against President Trump and his administration. The protesters chanted, “No ban, no raids, no wall”—citing Trump’s attempts to ban Muslim travelers; ICE immigration raids; and Trump’s plan to expand the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
CIA chief Mike Pompeo blasted WikiLeaks Thursday as a “hostile intelligence service,” in a stark reversal from his previous praise for the group. Pompeo made the remarks at a Washington, D.C., think tank in his first public address as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Mike Pompeo: “It’s time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is: a nonstate hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia. … In reality, they champion nothing but their own celebrity. Their currency is clickbait; their moral compass, nonexistent; their mission, personal self-aggrandizement through destruction of Western values.”
Pompeo went on to call WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange a “narcissist” and a “fraud” who would have sided with dictators in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. Last July, then-Congressmember Pompeo praised WikiLeaks for publishing emails hacked from the servers of the Democratic National Committee, writing in a tweet that has since been deleted, “Need further proof that the fix was in from Pres. Obama on down? BUSTED: 19,252 Emails from DNC Leaked by Wikileaks.”
In Libya, at least 97 African migrants are missing and feared dead after their boat capsized Thursday in the Mediterranean near Tripoli. Libya’s coast guard said it rescued 23 survivors. According to the International Organization for Migration, at least 590 migrants have died attempting the dangerous ocean voyage to Italy so far this year.
In Brazil, a Supreme Court judge has launched a corruption probe into 98 politicians for allegedly taking bribes from a Brazilian construction firm. Among those under investigation are eight members of President Michel Temer’s Cabinet, the heads of both chambers of Congress and dozens of senior lawmakers. This is political scientist Geraldo Tadeu of the State University of Rio de Janeiro.
Geraldo Tadeu: “This demonstrates that we are talking about a system that drains public resources, a corrupt system which needs to be––and must be––uncovered. These investigations have to go deep, so that we can reduce the level of corruption.”
Last month, a federal court sentenced Brazil’s former speaker of the lower house, Eduardo Cunha, to more than 15 years in prison for corruption. Cunha was a key leader in the push to impeach Dilma Rousseff, who was Brazil’s first female president, in a process Rousseff and others have called a coup.
In Arkansas, death penalty opponents are set to rally at the State Capitol in Little Rock today for a Good Friday protest ahead of the planned execution of seven prisoners over an 11-day stretch. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has approved the plan, which would see Bruce Earl Ward and Don William Davis put to death by lethal injection on Monday in back-to-back executions. Five more prisoners are scheduled to die before the end of April, when the state’s supply of the sedative midazolam—one of three drugs used by Arkansas to stop a prisoner’s heartbeat—is set to expire. This is Robert Dunham of the Death Penalty Information Center.
Robert Dunham: “Arkansas has a supply of the drug midazolam. That supply expires on April 30th. Think of it as a—if you were shopping in the supermarket, and there’s a use-by date. Well, what Arkansas has essentially done is taken the concept of the use-by date and converted it to a kill-by date.”
On Thursday, a pair of pharmaceutical companies filed suit in federal court seeking to prevent their drugs from being used in the executions, saying Arkansas acquired its supplies of potassium chloride and midazolam from an unauthorized seller.
The lawyer for a United Airlines passenger who was beaten and dragged from a flight by airport security guards said Thursday his client lost two teeth, suffered a broken nose and concussion, and might need reconstructive surgery. Dr. David Dao sustained the injuries after the airline ordered him to leave his seat on a Kentucky-bound flight last Sunday, saying it was overbooked, and then called in Chicago Department of Aviation security officers to forcibly remove the 69-year-old physician when he refused. At a press conference Thursday, Dr. Dao’s daughter, Crystal Dao Pepper, said the incident has left her family scarred.
Crystal Dao Pepper: “It has been a very difficult time for our entire family, especially my dad. And we are truly grateful for your support. What happened to my dad should have never happened to any human being, regardless of the circumstance.”
Dr. Dao’s lawyer said his client would “probably” sue United and the city of Chicago over the incident.
Canada has taken a major step toward legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday unveiled a bill that would allow adults to possess up to one ounce of the drug, while strictly licensing and regulating growers. Among those supporting the legislation is Ralph Goodale, Canada’s minister of public safety.
Ralph Goodale: “If your objective is to protect public health and safety, and keep cannabis out of the hands of minors and stop the flow of illegal profits to organized crime, then the law, as it stands today, has been an abject failure. Police forces spend between $2 [billion] and $3 billion every year trying to deal with cannabis, yet Canadian teenagers are among the heaviest users in the Western world. And criminals pocket $7 [billion] to $8 billion in illicit proceeds. We simply have to do better.”
If the bill is approved, Canada would join Uruguay as the only nations to fully legalize recreational marijuana use.