January 09, 2009

Human Terrain System

Wired's DangerRoom blog has been following a strange and somewhat spooky story for that past few months. In September 2007, they posted an item about how in search of better tactics for conducting an insurgency, the military was turning to social scientists for conducting field research in Afghanistan and Iraq in order to understand who might side or join a militant or terrorist group.

Since then they have posted a number of additional items on how this program has been going. In September they featured a cultural anthropologist who had impressed General Petraeus enough to help start up this program. One notable point was how the professional Anthropologist Associations thought that this was a very bad idea:

In sum, AAA says, the "HTS program creates conditions which are likely to place anthropologists in positions in which their work will be in violation of the AAA Code of Ethics and (ii) that its use of anthropologists poses a danger to both other anthropologists and persons other anthropologists study."

Today's little story (via Laura Rozen) was about the outcome from a particularly horrible incident that recently happened in Afghanistan. Early November, one of the social scientists, Paula Loyd, from the Human Terrain Team who had been traveling with the Army was doused in flammable liquid by a local man she was interviewing and set on fire. Although her companions rescued her, she still had 2nd and 3rd burns over sixty percent of her body and was medivac'ed to Texas for treatment. According to news reports, she died today.

As Wired reported, the Taliban took credit for the crime: "The Taliban has a long history of setting women on fire as a way of punishing them for perceived immodesty."

The guy who did this was immediately subdued by one of Paula's companions, Don Ayala, and upon hearing how badly burned she was, Ayala shot the fellow in the head. Ayala faces the grand jury by the end of the month.

The impression on gets reading these reports is what a flaky outfit is running the program and leaves one with questions on what exactly will be gained from this approach, especially when the contractor running the program not very creditable.

Posted by Mary at January 9, 2009 12:45 AM | War on Terrorism | Technorati links |

Why not co-opt anthropologist? An identical phenomenon took place as military psychologists and psychiatrists gave over their professional ethics to support torture-interrogations domestically with Jose Padilla and overseas with Abu Ghraib and Gitmo at the behest of the DoD. Of course, look no further than one Colonel Elspeth Ritchie, Army physician-psychiatrist and DoD spokesperson for military psychiatry issues, for the canned, ready-made rationalization of such behavior. "Our appeal is to a higher ethical and moral standard than the Hippocratic Oath and that is our duty to Justice."

Posted by: RICH at January 9, 2009 11:31 PM