Friday 4 December 2009

American anthropologists unhappy with HTS

More on anthropologists and the US Army's Human Terrain System (see my entry for 24 Nov). At its annual meeting in held in Philadelphia this week, the American Anthropological Association published another report on the Human Terrain System. Its Commission on the Engagement of Anthropology with the US Security and Intelligence Communities (CEAUSSIC) published its Final Report on The Army’s Human Terrain System Proof of Concept Program which has been gestating since December last year.
The report notes that HTS and similar programs are becoming a greater fixture within the US military, a fact that should be a "source of concern" for the AAA and for any social science organisation or federal agency "that expects its members or employees to adhere to established disciplinary and federal standards for the treatment of human subjects".
In fact there are a total of 27 Human Terrain Teams (HTTs) teams, 21 of which are in Iraq and six in Afghanistan. Those working for the HTS go through a four-and-a-half month training programme before being placed into a Human Terrain Team.
At present HTS has 417 employees (including deployed team members, personnel in training, RRC members, and program staff, including both military and non-military personnel). Of those, 135 have an MA degree, 11 are ABD, 49 have a PhD, and 33 have other technical or military degrees.
The report says that any anthropologist working for HTS will have difficulty reconciling potentially irrreconcilable goals and in determining whether or not s/he will be able to follow the AAA's disciplinary Code of Ethics.
The key statement is as follows: "When ethnographic investigation is determined by military missions, not subject to external review, where data collection occurs in the context of war, integrated into the goals of counterinsurgency, and in a potentially coercive environment – all characteristic factors of the HTS concept and its application – it can no longer be considered a legitimate professional exercise of anthropology."
The AAA does not rule out entirely the possibility of constructive engagement between anthropology and the military, although its panel suggests that the organisation should emphasise the incompatibility of HTS with disciplinary ethics and practice for job seekers.
One obvious point, if the HTS is beyond the pale for the AAA, what about the university departments - for example at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, which offers Afghanistan Immersion training - that offer courses for HTS employees? How do they feel about their role?

No comments: