Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein travels across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea, the United States, Britain, Greece, and Australia to witness the reality of disaster capitalism. He discovers how companies such as G4S, Serco, and Halliburton cash in on organized misery in a hidden world of privatized detention centers, militarized private security, aid profiteering, and destructive mining.
Disaster has become big business. Talking to immigrants stuck in limbo in Britain or visiting immigration centers in America, Loewenstein maps the secret networks formed to help corporations bleed what profits they can from economic crisis. He debates with Western contractors in Afghanistan, meets the locals in post-earthquake Haiti, and in Greece finds a country at the mercy of vulture profiteers. In Papua New Guinea, he sees a local community forced to rebel against predatory resource companies and NGOs.
What emerges through Loewenstein’s reporting is a dark history of multinational corporations that, with the aid of media and political elites, have grown more powerful than national governments. In the twenty-first century, the vulnerable have become the world’s most valuable commodity. Disaster Capitalism is published by Verso in 2015.
Vulture capitalism has seen the corporation become more powerful than the state, and yet its work is often done by stealth, supported by political and media elites. The result is privatised wars and outsourced detention centres, mining companies pillaging precious land in developing countries and struggling nations invaded by NGOs and the corporate dollar.
Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein travels to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea and across Australia to witness the reality of this largely hidden world of privatised detention centres, outsourced aid, destructive resource wars and militarized private security. Who is involved and why? Can it be stopped? What are the alternatives in a globalised world? Profits of Doom, published in 2013 and released in an updated edition in 2014, challenges the fundamentals of our unsustainable way of life and the money-making imperatives driving it. It is released in an updated edition in 2014.
Four Australian thinkers come together to ask and answer the big questions, such as: What is the nature of the universe? Doesn't religion cause most of the conflict in the world? And Where do we find hope?
We are introduced to different belief systems – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – and to the argument that atheism, like organised religion, has its own compelling logic. And we gain insight into the life events that led each author to their current position.
Jane Caro flirted briefly with spiritual belief, inspired by 19th century literary heroines such as Elizabeth Gaskell and the Bronte sisters. Antony Loewenstein is proudly culturally, yet unconventionally, Jewish. Simon Smart is firmly and resolutely a Christian, but one who has had some of his most profound spiritual moments while surfing. Rachel Woodlock grew up in the alternative embrace of Baha'i belief but became entranced by its older parent religion, Islam.
Provocative, informative and passionately argued, For God's Sake, published in 2013, encourages us to accept religious differences, but to also challenge more vigorously the beliefs that create discord.
After Zionism, published in 2012 and 2013 with co-editor Ahmed Moor, brings together some of the world s leading thinkers on the Middle East question to dissect the century-long conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians, and to explore possible forms of a one-state solution.
Time has run out for the two-state solution because of the unending and permanent Jewish colonization of Palestinian land. Although deep mistrust exists on both sides of the conflict, growing numbers of Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Arabs are working together to forge a different, unified future. Progressive and realist ideas are at last gaining a foothold in the discourse, while those influenced by the colonial era have been discredited or abandoned. Whatever the political solution may be, Palestinian and Israeli lives are intertwined, enmeshed, irrevocably.
This daring and timely collection includes essays by Omar Barghouti, Jonathan Cook, Joseph Dana, Jeremiah Haber, Jeff Halper, Ghada Karmi, Antony Loewenstein, Saree Makdisi, John Mearsheimer, Ahmed Moor, Ilan Pappe, Sara Roy and Phil Weiss.
The 2008 financial crisis opened the door for a bold, progressive social movement. But despite widespread revulsion at economic inequity and political opportunism, after the crash very little has changed.
Has the Left failed? What agenda should progressives pursue? And what alternatives do they dare to imagine?
Left Turn, published by Melbourne University Press in 2012 and co-edited with Jeff Sparrow, is aimed at the many Australians disillusioned with the political process. It includes passionate and challenging contributions by a diverse range of writers, thinkers and politicians, from Larissa Berendht and Christos Tsiolkas to Guy Rundle and Lee Rhiannon. These essays offer perspectives largely excluded from the mainstream. They offer possibilities for resistance and for a renewed struggle for change.
The Blogging Revolution, released by Melbourne University Press in 2008, is a colourful and revelatory account of bloggers around the globe why live and write under repressive regimes - many of them risking their lives in doing so.
Antony Loewenstein's travels take him to private parties in Iran and Egypt, internet cafes in Saudi Arabia and Damascus, to the homes of Cuban dissidents and into newspaper offices in Beijing, where he discovers the ways in which the internet is threatening the ruld of governments.
Through first-hand investigations, he reveals the complicity of Western multinationals in assisting the restriction of information in these countries and how bloggers are leading the charge for change.
The blogging revolution is a superb examination about the nature of repression in the twenty-first century and the power of brave individuals to overcome it.
It was released in an updated edition in 2011, post the Arab revolutions, and an updated Indian print version in 2011.
Yesterday I appeared on the Al Jazeera English program, The Stream, talking about people and corporations making money from the Syrian war (eg. the new report, Border Wars, from The Transnational Institute on arms dealers finding huge profits from the European refugee crisis).
My segment starts at 1:32:
The holy month in Aleppo
What has Ramadan been like in the Syrian city of Aleppo? There has been little respite from the airstrikes and bombings over the past 30 days, traditionally meant to be a time of fasting and spiritual reflection. We revisit the humanitarian situation in the devastated city as Eid approaches.
Profiting off of the Syrian war
It is one month to the deadline to lay out a political transition plan in Syria. Negotiations are at a stalemate, and there are no meetings scheduled for the rest of this month. As fighting persists on the ground and refugees flee the country, who is profiting from the crisis? Author Antony Loewenstein joins The Stream to discuss how disaster capitalism is fueling the war.
Fasting and feasting away from home
For hundreds of thousands of Syrians refugees in Europe, it has been yet another holy month away from their homeland. As the last days approach, we share stories of how refugee communities have spent this Ramadan and plan to celebrate Eid.
During my recent time in London I was an expert witness at the London School of Economics during a fascinating event putting the UN on trial. 70 years old and always controversial, prosecution and defence lawyers tried the UN and asked both a jury and large audience if the UN should continue. A number of witnesses spoke on their experiences about the UN and I principally discussed my reporting and insights from Haiti, Afghanistan, South Sudan and beyond. My comments start at 46:28:
Last night at WZB Berlin Social Science Centre, where I’ve been a Visiting Researcher this year, I gave a lecture about my book Disaster Capitalism, privatised immigration, the refugee crisis and threats to democracy from the far-right. It was a fascinating evening. Germany is struggling to manage a large influx of migrants and the country is slowing but surely turning against the (mostly) Muslim arrivals. Using private corporations, unaccountable and profit driven, to manage the most vulnerable individuals is guaranteed to bring abuses. I began by giving a lecture on the subject (posted below):
Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist, Guardian columnist and author. He recently held a lecture at the WZB about governments privatizing the refugee crisis. He discussed this issue with Paul Stoop, Head of the Communication Department, showing why making money from misery and outsourcing of responsibility is dangerous for the democracy.
Europe and Germany are struggling to cope with an influx of refugees from the Middle East and Africa. Fences and walls, to keep asylum seekers out, are replacing sustainable solutions. The EU is both unwilling and incapable of formulating a sensible response to the crisis. Antony Loewenstein has investigated how governments around the world are increasingly privatizing and warehousing refugees, outsourcing responsibility to companies running detention centers, health care and surveillance drones for profit. Australia, America and Britain are leaders in the field and Europe is now blindly following.
Europe’s refugee crisis is almost entirely self-inflicted. Unprepared for the influx of mostly Middle Eastern and African migrants in the last 12 months, European leaders remain unwilling and incapable of devising a plan to humanely process asylum seekers. Instead, walls and fences are being built across the continent. Surveillance drones are in the air. Political rhetoric demonises Muslims and the vulnerable fleeing Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq and Eritrea. The future of a united European Union is in jeopardy and groups on both the political left and right are imagining a future of national sovereignty instead of collective inertia. Perhaps this should be welcomed.
Private companies are excited about the chaos. Looking to make a profit from the escalating challenges across Europe, immigration detention operators have the perfect opportunity to exploit the crisis. Australia, the United States and Britain have spent years outsourcing their asylum policies to private interests. Human rights abuses are rampant inside the facilities with sexual abuse, poor healthcare and dirty food guaranteed in a system that rewards austerity. After all, why would a corporation spend money on proper training for guards when it would affect its annual earnings?
“Murder, rape and sexual assaults are common and yet the profits keep rolling in”
Australia is the only nation in the world that has privatised all its immigration detention facilities. British multinational Serco runs the centres on the Australian mainland and Australian firm Broadspectrum manages the facilities on the Pacific island of Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island. Journalists are banned, government employees face persecution in Australia for speaking out against any problems or abuses they witness, murder, rape and sexual assaults are common and yet the profits keep rolling in. Both Serco and Broadspectrum, despite vast evidence detailing their wilful inability to compassionately care for asylum seekers, have received multi-billion contracts from the Australian government.
Many Australians support this system because it’s out of sight and out of mind for them, pushing their fears and hatred about boat people in remote places. Refugees have been so successfully demonised as potential terrorists in the media, one of the many post 9/11 realities across the world, that sympathy for the imprisoned asylum seekers in Australia and offshore is minimal aside from a vocal minority.
In my 2015 book, Disaster Capitalism, I explain today’s political and economic phenomenon:
“Predatory capitalism goes way beyond exploiting disaster. Many ongoing crises seem to have been sustained by businesses to fuel industries in which they have a financial stake. These corporations are like vultures feeding on the body of a weakened government that must increasingly rely on the private sector to provide public services. It is surely arguable that the corporation is now fundamentally more powerful than the nation-state, and that it is often the former that dictates terms to the latter. This represents a profound shift in authority that has taken place over the last half-century. A competing position is that the state and multinationals rely on each other equally, and that companies are only allowed to grow so big by the self-interested largesse of politicians. State oversight is now so weak – often, indeed, non-existent – in both the Western world and developing countries that corporate power can be said to have won.”
A seven-year contract in 2014 was the reward for failure
In Britain, successive governments have outsourced prisons and immigration detention centres to the private sector. Yarl’s Wood, an asylum facility run by Serco, has been embroiled in countless scandals involving mental health problems, pregnant women being imprisoned with inadequate healthcare and sexual assault by guards against detainees. These facts had no impact on David Cameron’s administration awarding Serco a seven-year contract in 2014 to manage the centre. This was the reward for failure.
Across America, the Democrats and Republicans have spent decades privatising the country’s prison and immigrant facilities. Geo Group and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) are the two largest providers and many of their centres are beset by problems. A culture of mass incarceration, intrinsic to understanding America’s political culture, is a perfect fit for companies that rarely have to answer before Congress. President Barack Obama has accelerated the building of these centres including the largest in the country in Dilley, Texas. Housing women and children, and run by CCA, migrants report lack of access to lawyers, poor food and being far away from their families.
European corporations are looking to other Western nations with envy. While the wars in Libya, Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq worsen by the day, fuelled by weapons sold by Washington and its allies to militant groups and autocratic regimes, refugees continue coming into Europe. The reasons for their journeys are always the same; fleeing persecution and conflict, genocide and discrimination, gender inequality, quashing of free speech and free association, ISIS sexual slavery and indiscriminate barrel bombs dropped by Syria’s Assad regime in civilian areas.
In Norway and Sweden, the firm Hero Norway is feeding and housing refugees for a fee. Bloomberg Businessweek recently reported:
“For-profits now care for about 90 percent of Norway’s refugees. A gold rush has commenced, and it’s also a bit of a circus. Just outside Oslo, a savvy entrepreneur named Ola Moe recently rented a vacant hospital for $10,000 a month, did minimal upgrades, and began charging the government $460,000 a month to house and feed 200 refugees. At a refugee center in Southern Norway, 50 resident asylum seekers went on a two-hour march in November to protest the poor food, prompting one politician, an Iranian Norwegian named Mazyar Keshvari, to proclaim, ‘These ungrateful people should immediately leave the country.’”
ORS Services, a Swiss corporation, runs refugee facilities in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. The UN has reported finding conditions in the centres less than acceptable but governments are so desperate to outsource the migrant crisis, thereby transferring responsibility to corporate players who aren’t answerable to freedom of information requests or parliament.
It’s a democratic deficit at the heart of the asylum crisis but it’s exactly how corporations and governments like it. I’ve reported on the immigration issue for over a decade, in Australia, Britain, America, Greece and beyond, and one recurring theme is privatised refugee policies being far less accountable than publicly-run facilities. Government-managed centres aren’t utopian, abuses can be rampant there, too, but involving the profit motive in the equation guarantees secrecy and mismanagement.
“A key failing of Chancellor Angela Merkel was not providing enough state resources for the job”
The refugee crisis in Europe is the clearest sign yet that its various nation states are tied together more due to geography than belief, reason or ideology. When a major problem hits, like large numbers of asylum seekers crossing European borders, the first response is finding ways to repel them. Although Germany has taken in over one million migrants in the last year, with many more set to arrive in 2016, there’s no coherent plan to manage them. The result is the rise of the far-right, public anger and dwindling backing for a more humanitarian approach. Corporations are called in to save the government’s program.
A key failing of Chancellor Angela Merkel was not providing enough state resources for the job. A Berlin-based journalist told me that volunteers across Germany have been on the frontline in refugee camps, doing the work state employees have not. As volunteers tire of the work and go home, nobody is replacing their labour. The result is migrants facing years in limbo waiting on their asylum claims to be processed.
The disconnect in Europe and many Western nations about the real reasons behind the refugee numbers is instructive. Failed states in the Middle East didn’t implode for no reason. Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya were destabilised by either Western occupation or outside interference. Syria, the world’s most-deadly conflict, has collapsed due to a toxic combination of Syrian government brutality (backed by Russia and Iran), Saudi Arabian and Qatari funding for ISIS and American arming and funding of extremist militants. Until one side destroys the other, Syrians will continue fleeing for their lives.
Privatising the refugee crisis is a short-term fix for an existential problem. Believing Europe has a plan for a unified future, multicultural and strong, is an illusion currently challenged by the facts. For disaster capitalism to thrive requires desperate governments to outsource their problems to the highest bidder. The result is dehumanising for refugees and citizens who don’t believe that the most vulnerable people on the planet deserve to be key indicators of profit.
Australia’s refugee policies are designed to inflict harm on the most vulnerable. Last week I was interviewed by Turkish international news channel TRT World in Berlin about the issue (my interview starts at 19:54):
During my recent New York book tour for Disaster Capitalism, there was a book event in October at The New School hosted by The Schools of Public Engagement and New School for Social Research. I was in conversation with Nitin Sawhney, Assistant Professor of Media Studies, co-director of the great film on Gaza, Flying Paper, and friend who I met in Cairo in 2010 during the Gaza Freedom March. Thor Neureiter, the director of my documentary in progress, Disaster Capitalism, also spoke about our project:
Novara Media is one of Britain’s most interesting new independent media outlets with a large reach (I was interviewed by its radio station recently). Here’s an online video interview on my new book, Disaster Capitalism, that tackles journalism, privatised immigration and democracy:
AMYGOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. When disaster strikes, who profits? That’s the question asked by journalist Antony Loewenstein in his new book, Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe. Traveling across the globe, Antony examines how companies, such as G4S, Serco, Halliburton, are cashing in on calamity. He describes how they’re deploying for-profit private contractors to war zones and building for-profit private detention facilities to warehouse refugees, prisoners, asylum seekers. Now Loewenstein has teamed up with filmmaker Thor Neureiter for an upcoming documentary by the same name that chronicles how international aid and investment has impacted communities from Haiti to Afghanistan to Papua New Guinea and beyond. This is the trailer.
ANTONYLOEWENSTEIN: For three years, I’ve investigated what happens after the spotlight fades from disasters in developing countries. What comes when the money and goodwill ends?
UNIDENTIFIED: This country is like a republic of NGOs. And these people, as employees, they are getting paid very fat salaries.
ANTONYLOEWENSTEIN: Often these natural and man-made disasters create an atmosphere reliant on foreign money.
UNIDENTIFIED: They say first we should bring security, then investment. I say first we should invest, then security will come.
ANTONYLOEWENSTEIN: When aid runs out and most NGOs move on to the next disaster, pro-business policies are created in the name of recovery. This investigation has taken me to the streets of Haiti, the mountains of Afghanistan and the lush forests of Papua New Guinea, where I’ve met the people caught up in a struggle between recovery and the policies that cater to foreign interests.
UNIDENTIFIED: When you talk about disaster capitalism and the capitalists coming in and sweeping up and taking over, they don’t need a conspiracy, because those are the interests that prevail, and they’re going to get their way.
AMYGOODMAN: The trailer for the forthcoming documentary based on Antony Loewenstein’s new book, Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe. Well, journalist and author Antony Loewenstein joins us now in studio, also a columnist for The Guardian.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!
ANTONYLOEWENSTEIN: Thanks for having me.
AMYGOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us, Antony. So, explain disaster capitalism.
ANTONYLOEWENSTEIN: People who make money from misery. So, one of the reasons—I was inspired by Naomi Klein’s book, The Shock Doctrine, and she coined the term “disaster capitalism” in 2007. For me, it was really about deepening and widening that definition. So I focus particularly on Afghanistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea, U.S., U.K., Greece and Australia. Immigration is a key part of that. So, the fact that—as you said in your introduction, there are key companies—G4S, Transfield, Serco and others—who are very happy about the massive influx of refugees. Warehousing refugees is huge profit-making business. So I was focusing on that, going to these places and actually seeing the effects of that on both immigrants and also those who work in those centers; looking at, say, in Haiti, the issue of aid and development after the earthquake in 2010, which was a key reason why the U.S. government, as WikiLeaks documents showed, were keen for U.S. contractors to make a fortune; in Papua New Guinea, a country near my own country, Australia, a situation where you have massive mining interests—Rio Tinto and others—again, making a fortune from mining and misery. So, for me, it was about making the connections between various different countries and corporations, and saying—I’m not arguing that Afghanistan is the same as Greece, of course they’re different, but ultimately often the same corporations are at play, and the fact that the corporation has become more powerful than the state, which, to me, is a problem.
AMYGOODMAN: I want to ask you about a place some call the Guantánamo Bay of the Pacific. The Manus Island detention center is paid for by the Australian government and run by an Australian contractor, Transfield Services, but located offshore on Papua New Guinea’s soil. The prisoners are not accused of any crimes; they’re asylum seekers from war-ravaged countries who are waiting indefinitely for their refugee status determination. Earlier this year, Democracy Now! spoke to Australian human rights lawyer Jennifer Robinson about Manus Island.
JENNIFERROBINSON: I’ve been to PNG, and I’ve spent times in West Papuan refugee settlement camps, so I can speak with first-hand experience that PNG is not a state that is capable of accepting our asylum seekers and refugees. Ninety percent of these people who come by boat to Australia have been determined to be refugees in the past. The conditions in PNG are terrible. Australia is—it is unlawful for Australia to be continuing to send asylum seekers to conditions the U.N. has found to amount to inhuman, degrading treatment. We are in breach of our international obligations.
AMYGOODMAN: That’s Australian human rights lawyer Jennifer Robinson. Antony Loewenstein?
ANTONYLOEWENSTEIN: It’s a problem. I mean, one of the things also we should also say is there’s Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, but also Nauru, which is a Pacific island. So, Australia for the last years has been sending thousands of refugees to essentially prison camps in these islands, as you rightly say. They run for profit. It was G4S, it’s now Transfield. In a recent Australian Senate report, it was found, clear evidence, that often refugees are being raped and tortured. This is not an allegation, this is a fact. There was one allegation by a guard that he saw evidence of waterboarding. So, ultimately we have a situation where the Australian government, which increasingly, I might add, is being used by the European Union as inspiration in potentially how to deal with their refugee crisis—the key point about the offshore detention camps, and indeed onshore in Australia, is that they’re privately run. And the key problem—it wouldn’t make a difference if it was publicly run. I mean, it shouldn’t be there in the first place. But Australia wants an unaccountable system. Journalists can’t get there, as Jennifer rightly said. You essentially have a—it’s a black site. The journalists can’t get in there, human rights workers can’t get in there. You can visit Manus Island as a tourist, but you can’t get into the center. Nauru charges $8,000 to apply for a visa. And if you don’t get the visa, which you wouldn’t, you don’t get that money back. So, essentially, many Australians—and sadly, I would argue, only a minority of Australians are outraged by this. But the truth is, like in Europe and like in the U.S., after decades in my country have privatized detention camps, sadly, a lot of people regard those people as a threat who need to be essentially seen as silenced and as a number, that’s all. It’s a massive problem, and I write about that in the book.
AMYGOODMAN: I want to go to the larger issue of for-profit prisons. Last month, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the Democratic presidential candidate—
AMYGOODMAN: —introduced new legislation aimed at banning government contracts with private prisons. Sanders said banning for-profit incarceration is the first step to ending the system of mass incarceration.
SEN. BERNIESANDERS: As a first step, we need to start treating prisoners like human beings. Private companies, private corporations should not be profiteering from their incarceration.
AMYGOODMAN: That’s presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, also a senator.
AMYGOODMAN: So he’s introduced legislation.
ANTONYLOEWENSTEIN: So encouraging. I mean, one of the things that is less talked about in the U.S., Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio have taken massive amounts of money from the private prison industry. I’m not saying that their policies are solely based around that, but it’s an important part. In the book, I visit some private detention camps in Georgia, particularly run by CCA, which is the largest American privatized corporation running prisons and detention camps. In these centers, human rights are awful. Healthcare is bad. Food is bad. Mental health is bad. And ultimately, like we see in Australia and the U.K. and elsewhere—
AMYGOODMAN: And CCA is Corrections Corporation of America.
ANTONYLOEWENSTEIN: Indeed, indeed. And ultimately, I think one of the things is, these corporations have no incentive to provide decent care. I mean, that’s the bottom line. Profit, of course, is the most important. So putting aside the rights of refugees and immigrants themselves, what I find also in the book is that the guards who are working in those centers, without proper training, they’re almost by definition going to abuse refugees. That’s part of the problem. I think Bernie Sanders’ call was an important one, but sadly, no other major candidate has come out and agreed. And I think one of the interesting things in the U.S., as we move forward with your presidential campaign, someone like a Donald Trump, who talks, as we know, about potentially getting rid of 11 million undocumented migrants, the private prison industry is very excited about his presidency, and they’re scared of any serious reform in the U.S. One of the things that CCA and GEO Group, the two major companies, talk about in their annual reports are that serious reform—in other words, less people locked up—is bad for business. And they’ve spent over the last 20 years at least $30 million to $40 million. One of the things that comes out in my book, in my investigations, is that this is legalized corruption, that it’s nothing—it’s not illegal for CCA to assist a congressman or woman in their campaign. That’s legal. But the problem is that the result, in state—in state after state in the U.S., is a mass incarceration culture. And sadly, even under President Obama, there’s been no serious look at removing that incentive. I mean, there’s a Congress-approved quota that every single night there are 34,000 refugees locked up in the U.S.—every night.
AMYGOODMAN: “Richard Sullivan”—this is from The Intercept, I believe—”of the lobbying [group] Capitol Counsel, is a bundler for the Clinton campaign, bringing in $44,859 in contributions in a few short months. Sullivan is also a registered lobbyist for the GEO Group, a company that operates a number of jails, including immigrant detention centers, for profit.”
ANTONYLOEWENSTEIN: That’s the nexus, Amy, that I’m talking about in the book, that is—again, this sort of thing is not illegal. It is legal. But the problem is that almost by definition that means that major candidates—Hillary Clinton has said, Jeb Bush, particularly Marco Rubio in his state, as well, has taken massive contributions. And the fact is, without those contributions, the policies would be different, obviously.
AMYGOODMAN: I want to turn to Afghanistan. Wednesday marked the 14th anniversary of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, which began on October 7, 2001. President Obama declared an official end to the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan last year; however, the U.S. has around 9,800 troops there. And according to Foreign Policy magazine, there are three times as many for-profit private contractors in Afghanistan than U.S. troops, not including the contractors supporting the CIA, State Department, USAID or other government agencies. You have traveled to Afghanistan, Antony Loewenstein, and spoke to some of these contractors. What did they tell you?
ANTONYLOEWENSTEIN: They are worried about the war winding down. For them, they are scared about—I was there in 2012 and also this year in May, in 2015. And one of the things that many of them were saying, both in 2012 and in 2015, is that they realize that the U.S. is winding down its war, but ultimately, as you say, Obama has declared the war finished. It’s been rebranded. The occupation continues. There is now talk about possibly raising troops. The Afghan security forces, which, I might add, were trained by private companies—DynCorp trained the Iraqi security forces and the Afghan security forces, massive failures on both fronts, which has had no impact on DynCorp getting more contracts, I might add. So, ultimately, one of the things in Afghanistan—and the attack on the Kunduz medical center, MSF medical center, goes to the heart of that—there’s a reduction in space for humanitarian actors.
I mean, I was there this year with my film partner, Thor Neureiter. We were looking at what Afghanistan’s likely to look like in the next five or 10 years. And the resource industry is what the Afghan government and the U.S. government talks about. Briefly, there are apparently $4 trillion of resources under the ground in Afghanistan, mostly untapped, including copper. And one of the things we do in our film is go to an area called—in Logar province about an hour from Kabul, which has the largest copper deposit in the world, run by a Chinese company. They are desperate to start mining those resources. And the problem is, in the last years, the U.S. has given hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars to support a resource industry there. So the nexus between private security and mining industry in that country is devastating for the local people.
AMYGOODMAN: I wanted to go to testimony just yesterday in the House. The U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General John Campbell, is pushing to keep more U.S. troops in Afghanistan than under President Obama’s scheduled drawdown, following the Taliban seizure of Kunduz last week. California Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez pressed General Campbell during his testimony to the House Armed Services Committee Thursday.
REP. LORETTASANCHEZ: So, within your own current testimony, let alone the testimony that Mr. Jones brought before you from before, you basically are saying, “I don’t know that there’s a long-term viability for these security forces.” We’re paying the majority of that. How much is the majority? How much money does that mean, to have a force that you don’t believe has a long-term viability?
GEN. JOHNCAMPBELL: Ma’am, if I could—
REP. LORETTASANCHEZ: How much? How much? That’s the question. How much?
GEN. JOHNCAMPBELL: Yes, ma’am. Today, for calendar year ’15, the United States put $4.1 billion to build the Afghan security forces.
REP. LORETTASANCHEZ: $4.1 billion.
GEN. JOHNCAMPBELL: For ’16, $3.86 billion.
REP. LORETTASANCHEZ: Thank you. $4.1 billion.
GEN. JOHNCAMPBELL: Every year we continue to reduce that by gaining efficiencies. We’re not providing infrastructure that—
REP. LORETTASANCHEZ: General, I’ve heard this. I’ve heard this for 14 years.
AMYGOODMAN: This comes as Doctors Without Borders says 24 of its staff members are still missing, following the U.S. airstrike on its hospital in Kunduz Saturday. That’s in addition to at least 22 people who died in the strike, including 12 medical workers, 10 patients, including three children. Antony Loewenstein?
ANTONYLOEWENSTEIN: I mean, what that testimony shows is that the U.S. has spent over $100 billion since 2001. As you say, it’s the 14-year anniversary now. And even the U.S. government itself, SIGAR, which is the sort of the government arm to investigate where money has gone, has found that the vast majority of that has gone to corruption. It’s disappeared. It’s gone to helping a failing mining industry. It’s gone to pay private security. Afghanistan is one of the great disgraces, in some ways, of our time, because, in many ways, the fact that private companies—U.S. companies, Australian companies, British companies—have been used as a replacement for government. One of the things that’s so often ignored, and I talk about this in the book, is that the U.S. routinely was paying, to transport goods from A to B, Afghan security, private security or foreign security to basically give money to pay off insurgents to not hit them, to not attack them. So, really, the U.S. taxpayer is weirdly either comfortable or doesn’t know about the fact that America is fighting a war against insurgents that they’re also paying off to not attack them. It’s a crazy situation, but that’s what’s been happening for years.
AMYGOODMAN: I want to end with Haiti. This year marks the fifth anniversary of the devastating Haiti earthquake that killed, oh, 300,000 people and left more than one-and-a-half million Haitians homeless in what was already the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. In tent camps housing the displaced, Haitian residents said international donors have left them behind.
CLAUTAIREFENEL: [translated] My message to the international donors is that the money they gave to help the people in Haiti is being put to use for the interest of other people instead. It is used to buy luxury cars, pay for hotels and go to high-priced restaurants paid in U.S. dollars.
EUNICEELIASSAINT: [translated] I don’t see a future here. I can’t hide anything from you. There is no tomorrow. Last night, the children went to bed without anything to eat.
AMYGOODMAN: Lay out what’s happened in Haiti, Antony.
ANTONYLOEWENSTEIN: Soon after the Haiti earthquake in 2010, the U.S. ambassador at the time—WikiLeaks documents showed this—wrote a cable essentially saying that a gold rush is on, a gold rush meaning for U.S. corporations and others. The U.S. has spent billions of dollars there, mostly for U.S. contractors. Most of the money the U.S. has spent there since the earthquake has remained in America. Haitians are not really being trained. Haitians are not really being supported. The solution that the Obama administration gave for Haiti, pushed by Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton, their daughter, were industrial parks—essentially, places that Haitians can get underpaid and not trained to make cheap clothing for Gap and Wal-Mart that you and I maybe, hopefully, won’t buy in the U.S. That’s the solution that the U.S. sees for Haiti.
AMYGOODMAN: You know—
ANTONYLOEWENSTEIN: And many Haitians—sorry—actually also argue that they feel occupied by foreign interests, the U.N. and the U.S.
AMYGOODMAN:Democracy Now! went down to Haiti a number of times before and after the earthquake. And I remember one of those times, President Clinton, he was down in Haiti giving a speech, saying there’s two things he cares about in the world. One is his daughter’s wedding. She was just—Chelsea Clinton was about to get married. And the other is restoring Haiti.
ANTONYLOEWENSTEIN: Well, the legacy of the Clinton Foundation—and I examine this deeply in the book—is utterly appalling. There are example after example of the Clinton Foundation funding a number of centers that have been infected by chemicals, which also, I might add, the Clinton Foundation were investing in failed things after Hurricane Katrina, as well, here in the U.S. Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and others—I mean, they’re one example—their solution has primarily been industrial parks. And one of the things that comes out very clearly, the suggestions—and we talk about this in our film, as well—that the solution for Haiti is not to build massive industrial parks to make clothing that you and I can buy in the U.S. The solution is empowering locals. It’s about speaking to locals and saying, “We actually have a solution that empowers you and trains you.” And one of the things that comes out also clearly is that so many Haitians feel pretty pissed off with the fact that so often there’s actually little or no encouragement of them. And ultimately, Haiti really has never been an independent country, Amy. I mean, the U.S. has had involvement there for a hundred years. And many Haitians ultimately feel that they actually really need to separate themselves from the U.S., but America doesn’t actually view that as a viable option. And the book goes into detail about why that is the case. Haiti is seen as too economically viable for America to let it go.
AMYGOODMAN: Finally, where do you see the hope in this dark history of multinational corporations and the plunder of the most vulnerable?
ANTONYLOEWENSTEIN: The hope are hearing local stories. And one of the things I talk about in the book, and we do in the film, is actually say that so many in the media—and I’m obviously part of that, and you are, as well—I know Democracy Now! is an exception to this—but too often don’t report local stories, don’t actually hear local people saying what they want. So when disaster strikes in Haiti, don’t just focus on celebrities like Sean Penn, focus on other people actually there who are doing good work, empower them, pay them, train them. It’s not rocket science how to change this. Ultimately, Haiti’s economic structure, as one example, needs to change, but it’s not going to change with U.S. contractors doing the job.
AMYGOODMAN: Antony Loewenstein’s new book is Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, the new U.S. poet laureate. Stay with us.