The other night on John Oliver’s HBO program, I saw a funny montage of President Obama repeatedly stating his intention to close Guantanamo. In the beginning, the youthful president was unequivocal. But with each successive news clip—and as his hair became increasingly grayer—Mr. Obama became less emphatic. He was practically conciliatory in his last public statement about closing the offshore prison. As I said, it was supposed to be funny. But the reality of the situation is not a laughing matter.
Guantánamo represents a monumental failure in US policy and diplomacy since 9/11. It defies everything the US stands for. As I travel around the world, people everywhere want to know why we perpetuate such an affront to democracy and the justice system that we idealize to the rest of the world, a system supposedly based on “innocent until proven guilty."
Why our elected officials are so opposed to transferring prisoners to sites in the continental United States may seem easy to understand. However, it begs the question: why should we subject Cuba or any other country to doing what we ourselves dare not do? This is not just seen as a double standard; it is viewed as outright cowardice.
"The refusal of our elected officials to deny basic legal and human rights to prisoners in Guantánamo is a dark metaphor for the attack on the legal and moral fabric of American society in general."
More than ten years ago in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, I first exposed a group of seemingly legitimate international dealmakers as the Economic Hit Men (EHMs) we actually were. Waiting in the shadows were jackal assassins who stepped in when our EHM activities were not enough to get the job done. At the time, the job was to con developing countries out of billions of dollars by saddling them with overburdening debt. To make matters worse, we stipulated that the loans were to be used to hire our rather expensive companies to build infrastructure projects. Money earmarked for education, healthcare and other social programs was diverted by the cost of the projects to pay interest on the loans, reinforcing a vicious circle that ensured that these countries remained in servitude to the US and global corporations. It was a system secured by fear. Leaders who protested this unfair system were overthrown or assassinated.
In recent years, EHMs have radically expanded their ranks and adopted new disguises and tools. Since I left that occupation and wrote my book about it, we in the United States have been “hit”—badly. It is no longer exploitation of the Third World that we and the rest of the world can choose to ignore. The entire world has been victimized by these economic hits.
People who are paying attention recognize that the world teeters on the brink of disaster — economic, political, social, and environmental disaster. The refusal of our elected officials to deny basic legal and human rights to prisoners in Guantánamo is a dark metaphor for the attack on the legal and moral fabric of American society in general.
Many of our politicians, including senators and congressional representatives, have taken on the roles of EHMs. And the thousands of other men and women who pass through the “revolving door” of government certainly don’t identify themselves as EHMs. They work for consulting or law firms and go by euphemistic titles such as “counselor,” “consultant,” or “adviser in government affairs”—just as I officially was “chief economist” for a highly regarded consulting firm.
However, their real job is—as mine was—to con governments and the public into submitting to policies that make the rich richer and the poor poorer. This is no less true here at home than anywhere else in the world. These EHMs are paid to support and expand a global corporate empire. They hide in the shadows, yet their influence is immeasurable. They spread the tentacles of a death economy across the planet. It is an economy based not only on debt, but on militarization, fear, and the destruction of resources.
"As we listen to the debate over the future of Guantánamo and the people who have been imprisoned there without habeas corpus or any rights whatsoever, without having been accused of any specific crime, let us ask ourselves what message this sends to the world and also what it implies about our own future—and liberties. "And let’s not forget the jackals. In my day, they mostly were assigned to foreign lands. In the aftermath of 9/11, fear has driven many Americans to sacrifice privacy and freedom and give the NSA, the CIA, the FBI, and other agencies unprecedented powers. Tools perfected overseas, including drones, computer hacking, and surveillance aircraft, are now used to spy on citizens of the United States. Are we that far removed from the fate of those imprisoned in Guantánamo?
The stubborn refusal of our officials to address the crimes perpetrated by the US government at Guantánamo is but the tip of the iceberg. Since 9/11, the almost imperceptible decimation of our rights as Americans—not to mention our incomes—has occurred with systematic, and unconstitutional, efficiency.
So, as we listen to the debate over the future of Guantánamo and the people who have been imprisoned there without habeas corpus or any rights whatsoever, without having been accused of any specific crime, let us ask ourselves what message this sends to the world and also what it implies about our own future—and liberties.
In The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (Berrett-Koehler, Feb, 2016), my just-released follow-up to the earlier book, I have more to say about the EHMs and jackals of today and why they must be stopped. I offer strategies that each of us can take to assure that this broken system ends so that we can rebuild a world that offers a sustainable future for all living beings.