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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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Israel has bombed dozens of Iranian targets inside Syria in the largest attack by Israel since fighting began in Syria in 2011. The bombing raid came a day after Israel accused Iranian forces in Syria of firing 20 rockets at Israeli forces in the occupied Golan Heights. Israel’s military said it hit all of Iran’s infrastructure inside of Syria overnight, including a munitions storage site at Damascus International Airport and logistics headquarters of the Iranian Quds forces. The bombings lit up the night sky and rattled windows across Syria’s capital city. Monitoring groups say the strikes killed 23 fighters, including many Iranians and five Syrian soldiers.
On Capitol Hill, President Trump’s nominee to head the CIA, Gina Haspel, repeatedly refused Wednesday to call the CIA’s post-9/11 treatment of prisoners “torture,” and declined to state whether she believes torture is immoral. CIA Deputy Director Haspel’s comments came in testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee as she made her case to become CIA director.
Haspel is a 33-year CIA veteran who was responsible for running a secret CIA black site in Thailand in 2002, where at least one prisoner was waterboarded and tortured in other ways during her tenure. Haspel also oversaw the destruction of videotapes showing torture at the black site. This is Democratic Senator Kamala Harris of California questioning Haspel.
Sen. Kamala Harris: “Do you believe, in hindsight, that those techniques were immoral?”
Gina Haspel: “Senator, what I believe, sitting here today, is that I support the higher moral standard we have decided to hold ourselves to.”
Sen. Kamala Harris: “Can you please answer the question?”
Gina Haspel: “Senator, I think I’ve answered the question.”
Sen. Kamala Harris: “No, you’ve not.”
Gina Haspel’s hearing was repeatedly interrupted by protesters, including members of the group CodePink, who shouted “Bloody Gina! You are a torturer!” and other slogans, as they were hauled out of the hearing by Capitol Police.
Tighe Barry: “Stop torture! Stop torture! Stop torture! Gina, stop the torture! Gina Haspel is a torturer!”
CodePink protester: “Stop crucifying Muslims! Stop crucifying Muslims!”
Among those arrested was Ray McGovern, a 78-year-old retired CIA officer, whose arm was reportedly dislocated after he was thrown to the ground by officers.
Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul has said he will vote against Haspel, but she appears headed for confirmation after two senators considered swing votes said Wednesday they would vote for her. We’ll have more on Gina Haspel after headlines with journalist Jeremy Scahill.
Three U.S. citizens who had been held as prisoners in North Korea have been returned to the United States, where they were greeted by President Trump early this morning at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. The release of Tony Kim, Kim Hak-song and Kim Dong-chul came after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang, and as the U.S. continued to negotiate terms of what would be an unprecedented meeting between Kim and President Trump. On Wednesday, Trump told reporters he’d ruled out a meeting at the Demilitarized Zone separating the North from South Korea, saying he’d announce the time and place of the summit by the end of the week. The announcement leaves Singapore as the likely location for the meeting.
The White House said Wednesday it’s preparing to impose new sanctions on Iran—as early as next week—after President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear deal. The move came as President Trump warned Iran of “severe consequences” if it restarts its nuclear program. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said shortly after Trump’s announcement Tuesday that Iran may start enriching uranium if the multilateral nuclear agreement collapses completely. On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, told CNN his kingdom is prepared to build its own nuclear weapons if Iran proceeds toward a warhead.
Adel al-Jubeir: “We will do whatever it takes to protect our people. We have made it very clear that if Iran acquires a nuclear capability, we will do everything we can to do the same.”
Meanwhile, hopes are fading for the release of at least five U.S. citizens being held prisoner in Iran on what supporters say are trumped-up charges. Relatives of the prisoners say President Trump’s move to withdraw the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal will likely prompt Iran to add to harsh prison terms. This is Babak Namazi, whose father Baquer and brother Siamak were given 10-year sentences for “collaborating with a hostile power”—the United States.
Babak Namazi: “Nothing prepares you for the horror of having, not one, but two, family members taken away from you, the feeling of despondency, the feeling of utter confusion, of being stuck in a situation where your loved ones are in horrible conditions, that they’ve been held in situations which is deplorable, and all of it being so unjust and unexplainable.”
The New York Times reports President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen leveraged his access to the president as he solicited donations to a shell company used to pay hush money to Stormy Daniels, an adult film star who says she had an affair with Donald Trump in 2006. Cohen used the promise of White House access as he brought in a total of $4.4 million in payments to his shell company, Essential Consultants LLC, from clients including AT&T, Korea Aerospace Industries and a company controlled by a Russian billionaire. Cohen also received $1.2 million from the drug maker Novartis for “consulting” services.
An unnamed Novartis employee told the medical news site Stat, “We were trying to find an inroad into the administration. Cohen promised access to not just Trump, but also the circle around him. It was almost as if we were hiring him as a lobbyist.” Novartis acknowledged Wednesday that company officials were questioned by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team about the payments.
Meanwhile, Michael Cohen refused to answer reporters’ questions except to say that the document revealed by Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for Stormy Daniels, was “inaccurate.”
Reporter: “Any response to Avenatti?”
Michael Cohen: “His document is inaccurate.”
At the White House, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders refused to say whether President Trump knew about Cohen’s solicitations.
Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders: “As you know, due to the complications of the different components of this investigation, I would refer you to the president’s outside special—or outside counsel to address those concerns.”
John Roberts: But is the president concerned that major corporations were giving money to somebody very close to him at a time when they had business before the federal government?
Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders: “I haven’t heard the president express any specific concerns about that.”
Speaking to Bloomberg News, Trump’s lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, said, “The president was unaware of this. The president is not involved in any respect.”
In Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, ISIS and Taliban fighters are claiming responsibility for a pair of suicide attacks Wednesday that killed at least seven people and wounded 17 others. The near-simultaneous attacks appeared to target an Afghan intelligence agency near an Asian Development Bank office, as well as a police headquarters. Meanwhile, in western Afghanistan, Taliban gunmen overran a police station Wednesday, killing eight officers. That assault came as a nearby airstrike killed six police officers, in an attack that local officials blamed on the U.S.-led coalition. In a statement, a Pentagon spokesperson questioned whether the dead were in fact police, and promised an investigation.
In Nicaragua, tens of thousands of people marched through the streets of the capital Managua Wednesday, calling for President Daniel Ortega to resign, and demanding justice for those killed by government forces during protests last month against a rollback of social security benefits. Human rights groups say at least 40 people were killed in the April uprising; they say police used live rounds on demonstrators. Among those killed was journalist Ángel Gahona, who was shot dead as he broadcast coverage of the protests on Facebook Live.
In Argentina, protests erupted in the capital Buenos Aires Wednesday, after President Mauricio Macri said his government was prepared to take on loans from the International Monetary Fund—the IMF. Argentina is still recovering from a massive economic crisis and default on its debts in 2001, which followed years of neoliberal reforms backed by the World Bank and IMF. This is Roberto Baradel, secretary general of the Argentine education workers’ union.
Roberto Baradel: “We’ve already lived through this. We don’t want to go back to the International Monetary Fund. Eighty percent of Argentina is opposed to the president’s statements, and that’s why we’re getting mobilized.”
In Malaysia, an opposition alliance led by the former authoritarian leader Mahathir Mohamad has won a parliamentary majority in a stunning upset that will see the ruling BN coalition lose its grip on power for the first time since Malaysia’s independence from the U.K. 60 years ago. Mohamad is set to be sworn in today as the world’s oldest prime minister, at 92 years old.
Back in the United States, Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders has introduced a bill that would repeal anti-union “right-to-work” laws, while streamlining union elections and requiring employers to negotiate in good faith. The Workplace Democracy Act would also crack down on employers who punish employees for organizing unions. This is Jose Ramirez, an Illinois truck driver who says he was fired from his job at XPO Logistics over his union organizing.
Jose Ramirez: “In October 2016, my co-workers and I decided we needed a voice and respect on our job. We organized with the help of the Teamsters union and won our election. But XPO, one of the world’s largest logistics companies, still refuses, a year and a half later, to recognize our union and negotiate a contract. Now, XPO has fired me to scare and intimidate my co-workers. We played by the rules. XPO didn’t.”
California is slated to become the first U.S. state requiring solar panels be installed on all new single-family homes. The unanimous move by the California Energy Commission is expected to raise housing costs amid a dire housing crisis—but savings from reduced energy use will lower the cost of homes over their lifespans due to lower energy prices. California has set a goal of all new homes being “zero net energy” by 2020.