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Anthropology Goes to War, and Bad Things Happen
January 9, 2009 5:36 AM   Subscribe

Paula Loyd, a 36 year old anthropologist and US Army reservist, is the third social scientist to be killed within the last 8 months while working for the US Army's controversial Human Terrain System project in Afghanistan.

The circumstances of her death were gruesome. Her death was then brutally avenged by a fellow HTS worker and military contractor, Don Ayala, now awaiting trial for murder.

HTS, has been controversial from the start (NY Times). The American Anthropological Association has opposed the project in no uncertain terms, recognizing a long history of anthropologists' complicity with military and colonial power. Loyd herself had been critical of the role of US military contractors in Afghanistan (YouTube video, 2006).
posted by fourcheesemac (63 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Talk about an overreaction. It's not like Salam got into a fight on a BART train or anything.
posted by TrialByMedia at 5:55 AM on January 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


I should add that at the time Ayala pulled his BART cop imitation, Paula Loyd was not dead yet.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:56 AM on January 9, 2009


Wait a sec. I don't want to impugn the dead, and what happened to Paula Lyod is terrible.

But the Taliban is known for setting "immodest" women on fire, Lyod was a cultural athropologist who presumably knew this, and she approaches a guy a with a jerry can of gas and starts quizzing him?

What is this terribly named "Human Terrain Program" about, anyway? Why are anthropologists being embedded with troops? None of this makes much sense.
posted by orthogonality at 6:11 AM on January 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


>>> Ayala pulled his BART cop imitation ...

Ayala was wrong, without a doubt. His act of action-movie-esque revenge might even reflect poorly on how well he understood the mission of HTS. But Officer Mehserle didn't witness the immolation of a colleague, a sight that would certainly threaten the rationality of more than a few people, so to equivocate Don Ayala's admittedly rash and inappropriate action with the BART cop's needless slaying of Oscar Grant -- who did not just set someone on fire -- is more than a little ignorant of context and situation.
posted by grabbingsand at 6:13 AM on January 9, 2009 [7 favorites]


Michael Bhatia previously...
"The way in which HTS [Human Terrain System] has been packaged – as a kinder, gentler counterinsurgency – is completely unsupported by evidence," writes San Jose State University anthropology professor Roberto Gonzalez. "It is far more likely that HTS was created as an espionage program."
it's sad that the anthropologists haven't bothered to study the US Army. Not that the US could actually do this, but the model for 'counter-insurgency' is the safer and happier 'civilians' feel, the less 'militants' will be able to organize resistant. the anthropologists aren't spies, they are soldiers. The way for the US to succeed in occupying Afghanistan or Iraq is to have less civilians killed... the way for resistance to succeed is to have more. It's a basic and brutal calculation.
posted by geos at 6:14 AM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


So the invasion(s) get(s) criticized because we don't understand the tribal relationships in the various countries, we don't understand how to work well there, what the cultural norms are, etc etc. In response, the military starts a program to use trained, independent scientists to learn and teach about these various problems.

They then get criticized for using social science as a tool of war. Talk about a rock and a hard place.

I'm fully in support of these programs. There's a long history of anthropologists' talking about 'savages' as well, but we've learned how to conduct ethnography without ethical woes.
posted by Lemurrhea at 6:14 AM on January 9, 2009 [8 favorites]


orthogonality: basically, they're like interpreters - except instead of translating the local language, they "translate" cultural situations, making them more understandable for the troops.
posted by daniel_charms at 6:18 AM on January 9, 2009


geos, anthropologists HAVE studied the Army. One of the finest ethnographies I've ever read is Cathy Lutz's (military brat herself) extraordinary book, Homefront, an ethnography of the culture of Fort Bragg's community. I could not recommend any book more highly. It moved me deeply.

Grabbingsand, I take your point. I almost made it myself. I'm sure I'd want to shoot someone in the head if I had just seen them douse my friend in gas and burn her alive. But the US military is not supposed to act like that, right? Trained social scientists are not the same thing as trained soldiers.

Lemmurhea, I take your "we" to mean you're an anthropologist. I'd dispute your claim that "we" now conduct ethnographic research "without ethical woes."

But what's good for the US Army is not necessarily good for social science or anthropology. Read the AAA position statement. The "ethical woes" of HTS are myriad and intractable and I share the AAA's view. Loyd's case is a little more complicated, because unlike most HTS workers, she was actually an Army reservist and thus also a "trained soldier."

This subject arouses deep passions and anger in anthropologists. HTS reps presented a defense of their work at a Q&A session at the 2008 AAA meetings in San Francisco. It only made the doubts most of us have that much worse. The prime directive in anthropology, these days, is that our first obligation is always to the people we work with. It is not possible to serve two masters if one of them is killing the people we work with. It can produce fine anthropology -- Bourke's studies of the Apache, Evans-Pritchard's study of the Nuer, and Leach's study of Highland Burma, all classics, were only possible as side effects of military/colonial activities that had instrumental uses for anthropological knowledge. So were thousands of other ethnographies that we still read today as classics. But in each case, anthropology was a handmaiden to brutality and -- in Bourke's case at least -- genocide.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:23 AM on January 9, 2009 [14 favorites]


Gotta agree with Lumurrhea. What would be better, for the military to be completely ignorant of the local culture? This is exactly the sort of program that the army needs to minimize bloodshed and resentment. Opposition to it sounds like knee-jerk anti-militarism.
posted by Edgewise at 6:26 AM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Few Westerners understand just how different Afghan culture is from our own; an anthropologist brings the ability to systematize descriptions of values, worldview and social structure based on their experience and communicate them to others. The disagreements over HTS are, I think, more political in nature than practical. It's a smart idea and, as the NYT article shows, is having good effects on the ground.

There's also a significant ideological disagreement here as well. Anthropologists, in general, tend to be opposed to using their expertise and findings to change the contexts that they investigate (hence all of the outrage from academic circles over HTS). That's a position that I respect, although I disagree with it.

The thing that I find deeply annoying is when this is spun as "OH MY GOD ANTHROPOLOGISTS ARE DYING WHAT ARE THEY DOING THERE WHAT HAVE WE BECOME?!?!?". The answer is that they are there because they chose to be, and possibly even competed to join the HTS project. There's a rank odour of classism in the outrage over HTS, as if to say "It's BAD ENOUGH when a bunch of rednecks get killed over nothing, but when someone actually VALUABLE dies that's the last straw!"
posted by xthlc at 6:30 AM on January 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Sorry, i meant to respond to geos, not grabbingsand, when I mentioned Lutz's book Homefront.

I'm going to plug it again. It may be the best anthropological ethnography I have ever read, and certainly the one that affected me most deeply as a US citizen. It will change the way you understand the culture of military communities, and the meaning of war, I swear. Here's a review, and an interview with Prof. Lutz (who is also a peace activist, and doing similar work in other places the US military has settled around the world) to whet your appetite. I don't use the word often, but Homefront is *profound.*
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:30 AM on January 9, 2009 [5 favorites]


fourcheesemac: that Q&A session sounds fascinating. Is there anything similar online, e.g. a defense and a response to that defense?
posted by xthlc at 6:35 AM on January 9, 2009


xthlc: Here's an account of the AAA Q&A session, from http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2008/11/24/anthro. Can't find video -- it may have been prohibited. The Army put some serious limits on what the reps could say, as we found out when they simply refused to answer some important questions.

This is not a simple issue. I really don't think it reduces to yay or nay. Just as an example, the long history of anthropologists working covertly for the CIA and other intelligence services in Latin America and Southeast Asia has poisoned the well (just as the history of our complicity in the genocide of Native Americans has for far longer, with Indians). By working for the military, these anthropologists harm the entire field. American ethnographers are quite commonly assumed to be (or accused of) working for the CIA to this day in many countries.

I'm opposed the HTS as it's been organized and conducted. I am not opposed to the principle that the military should understand local culture. There just has to be a less foolish way to do it.

I'll back off now -- I'm too close to this issue and apologize for editorializing so much instead of letting the post breathe. I just thought a few more issues needed to be laid out before this became a polarized discussion. There are way more than two sides to this issue.

posted by fourcheesemac at 6:44 AM on January 9, 2009 [5 favorites]


One more important link for context and perspective on the critique: The Network of Concerned Anthropologists. And an intriguing post on that site, "US Army Spies on NCA at AAA meeting."
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:53 AM on January 9, 2009


Anthropologists should just get over it. There is going to be war and if these army anthropologists do there job well it should be shorter and less brutal. As long as these people are open about what they are doing rather than say spying covertly then there should be no poisoning of the well. It looks like the AAA is opposed to any anthropology/military project.
posted by caddis at 7:08 AM on January 9, 2009


Not that the US could actually do this, but the model for 'counter-insurgency' is the safer and happier 'civilians' feel, the less 'militants' will be able to organize resistant. the anthropologists aren't spies, they are soldiers. The way for the US to succeed in occupying Afghanistan or Iraq is to have less civilians killed... the way for resistance to succeed is to have more.

Edward Luttwak had a thought-provoking essay in Harper's awhile back addressing this central tenet of counterinsurgency and why the U.S. is so bad at CI in general. If his analysis is correct, I'm not sure all the anthropologists in the world could make the counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan a success.
posted by longdaysjourney at 7:29 AM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Those people in the social sciences and other academic areas ought to realize that
(1) our govt now privatizes all things, (2) wars create job opportunities for those unable or unwilling to work in their disciplines in an academic setting, (3) people thus engaged can feel they are out in the real world and sneer at their cloistered academics who are merely embedded on campuses with lefty professors all over the place.

I am very sorry about the death of that young woman but, as noted, you don't need much training to know Afghanistan is not the place for a lone lady, especially a Westerner, face uncovered, to sidle up to an unknown guy and begin chatting as though at some American airport.

As for the revenger: very human reaction, training or notl.
posted by Postroad at 7:30 AM on January 9, 2009


So the invasion(s) get(s) criticized because we don't understand the tribal relationships in the various countries, we don't understand how to work well there, what the cultural norms are, etc etc. In response, the military starts a program to use trained, independent scientists to learn and teach about these various problems.

They then get criticized for using social science as a tool of war. Talk about a rock and a hard place.


straw man. the invasion was criticized because

a) it was an invasion and for no good reason
b) if you were good at imperialism you would never get yourself into the situation of having to occupy iraq or afghanistan, no matter how good your cultural understanding was (or maybe because you had a clue how things worked in either country.)

Sorry, i meant to respond to geos, not grabbingsand, when I mentioned Lutz's book Homefront.

you kind of totally missed my point. i wasn't lamenting that anthropologists hadn't done anthropological studies of the US military, but that they didn't seem (even the critics) to understand the purpose of the job they were taking on at 'Human Terrain.' I think it's pretty simple: do you want to be a soldier for the US or not. I know that people like Bhatia saw themselves as helping to make the lives of Afghanis better, I'm not so sure that he saw how that was a war aim of the US as well.

You can't pretend that you are neutral and advancing your own agenda when you goals line up with those of an occupying army. I don't know about Loyd, but I saw Bhatia as being someone trying to "make a difference" but not really understanding what they were getting into or choosing not to.

In generaly, I think academics are very bad (by design) at seeing themselves as part of a culture and society and judging the consequences of their careers and thoughts in the context of the society they live in. it's messy, it's political, and it might not be good for your career. This is an extreme example of that but these are extreme times...
posted by geos at 7:31 AM on January 9, 2009


As an anthropologist in training, this is all really disturbing stuff, and I can't imagine what it must have been like to be in Lloyd's , Ayala's, or Salam's shoes.. I'd never willingly participate in such a project myself for many reasons. I don't think anthropologists should be there, but I understand why some are. But in this case, what do the deaths actually have to do with them being social scientists and in the HTS? It was an encounter between opposing sides in a country occupied by a foreign military. The fact that Lloyd was a social scientist doesn't make these deaths any more or less tragic than the many others that are happening there every day.
posted by mariokrat at 7:41 AM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


"a) it was an invasion and for no good reason"

Even as a Bush hating liberal, I support the idea that we should be able to defend ourselves against people who declare war on us and then crash airliners into our cities. I think the invasion was a disaster for the U.S., but there seems to have been a very good reason to invade.

How many buildings would you need to see leveled before though it was a good idea to attack Al Qaeda?
posted by aapep at 7:57 AM on January 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Never quite got the argument against the invasion of Afghanistan, myself.
posted by AdamCSnider at 8:18 AM on January 9, 2009


You know, it's weird, but I find myself sympathizing for all parties involved here.

Salam has watched the occupation of his country by a foreign power that pisses on his beliefs and values, has probably had people close to them killed in the course of that occupation, and then has someone acting in a manner incredibly disrespectful of his beliefs walk up to him and start pestering him about trivial bullshit. He'd been spat upon one too many times over the course of *years* and he finally snapped.

Lloyd was just doing her job, and it's a good job that will help less people be killed and reduce the anger and helplessness people like Salam feel on a daily basis.

And Ayala watched a man - a member of a group of people that have been shooting at and possibly killing friends and coworkers of his for months - set a female co-worker on fire right in front of him. Yes, the fact that she's a woman is a double-standard, but it's a double-standard that's been ground into us at a genetic level for millions of years. I think his was a case where the 'temporary insanity' defense would actually be appropriate.

To me the whole thing is tragic, and I just find myself feeling terribly sorry for everyone involved. The whole HTS concept means less people angry and less people dead on *both* sides - I can't think of too many military programs with a more noble goal than that.
posted by Ryvar at 8:19 AM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


How many buildings would you need to see leveled before though it was a good idea to attack Al Qaeda?
posted by aapep at 10:57 AM on January 9 [+] [!]


Never quite got the argument against the invasion of Afghanistan, myself.
posted by AdamCSnider at 11:18 AM on January 9 [+] [!]



because there was never a good answer to: what do you do after you 'win'? What was conceived as an imperial adventure was sold a 'bullet in the head' to the 9/11 attackers ala Ayala.

Is revenge really what our government should be in the business of doing? If there is justice you have to ask what the consequences of your actions will be...

and then there is the argument from self-interest.
posted by geos at 8:36 AM on January 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


The whole HTS concept means less people angry and less people dead on *both* sides - I can't think of too many military programs with a more noble goal than that.
posted by Ryvar at 11:19 AM on January 9 [1 favorite +] [!]


this is exactly the sentiment that got those anthropologists killed.

there is only one military goal: to get your enemy to give up. HTS is just another weapon...
posted by geos at 8:41 AM on January 9, 2009


So the short version of this story is "A military contractor was killed in
Afghanistan, and her compatriot is on trial for a revenge killing. They
were a part of Operation Enduring Freedom, started in October, 2001
and continuing to this day."

I'm not sure how I'm supposed to feel about this. They doing a job that
they volunteered for, and it was a dangerous job, and they got killed.
posted by the Real Dan at 8:43 AM on January 9, 2009


Terrible news, but I've got to be honest: there are some great links here.

Thanks for the post, foucheesemac. Also, thanks for the Homefront references.

Thanks for the Harper's essay, longdaysjourney.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:44 AM on January 9, 2009


I love the false choice here. "This program or complete ignorance"?

The US has had ties into Afghanistan for a long, long time- remember when the Russians were trying to take it? Who do you think we were supporting and arming then? Naturally by the time of the invasion, most of the moderates had been driven out of power, and everyone is painted as "enemy" and all that network building goes out the window.

Also, just before and during the initial invasion, a bunch of translators get fired for their sexual preferences, because clearly that's more important than national security (Waterboarding = Necessary, Gays = OH NOES?)

And we're supposed to look at this shitty patchwork plan as a step up?

We can criticize a poorly considered program, criticize bad choices (war zones are not safe), criticize the lack of oversight for private contractors, criticize misogyny, criticize murder, and not be contradictory...
posted by yeloson at 9:16 AM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


geos, sorry for misinterpreting. we agree on most of your points, except the somewhat broad dig at academics as cloistered people unaware of the social effects of their work or their membership in a broader social structure beyond academia.

(cultural/social/linguistic) anthropologists are not cloistered people, as a general rule. i spend large amounts of time doing research in conditions i dare say you and most people would find quite challenging physically, morally, emotionally, and spiritually, and am acutely aware not only of my own personal differences from the people i work with, but of the structural differences that overdetermine even the possibilities for transcendence of historical limits on dialogue, be they as present as a war in the next valley or as distant as the slave trade. or in other words, how much raw caribou meat have you consumed this year? how many 11 year old children have you seen die, right in front of you, for stupid, preventable reasons? how many of your friends live in trailers? or don't have health insurance? or can't read? or have done jail time? or for that matter, served in iraq or afghanistan. or had their children serve and come back a different, darker person? how many teenage mothers do you know, and feel responsibility towards? (do you know how much it costs to send a box of diaper wipes 6000 miles? less than it costs to buy them in a store there, it turns out, especially if you have a boyfriend with a drug habit to support with your meager money).

i'm describing a good part of my own current life, and my present concerns, in those sentences. and it's not that atypical a life for a cultural anthropologist who is passionate about her/his work and who has built long term relationships with communities and individuals who are often poor and disempowered (not always, we study up too), often suspicious of anthropologists in general for very good reasons. it's hard work becoming so enmeshed in a disempowered or poor or deeply traditional or indigenous community that people trust you with their most sacred thoughts and their deepest fears, of moving between contexts where you might as well be a Rockefeller and contexts where you're just another middle-class academic with student loan payments. or worse, teaching 6 classes as an adjunct. very few anthropologists are tenured professors, despite the caricatures in some of the linked articles above. and there's all of about 10,000 of us in the whole damn US who profess it for a living.

i just yesterday had to plead poverty when a friend of mine in a poor, rural community in the south called me last night trying to raise a down payment for a 2000 Kenworth truck. he's recently done jail time (for bullshit, but he's black and it's the south) and can't get hired on as a driver anywhere, made worse by the economic turmoil, despite having a specialized skill as a hauler of very large bridge components. he needs only a few thousand dollars to make the downpayment and work for himself. he's a highly decorated vietnam vet. he's a hell of a friend. but to him, i represent the powers that be even if we love each other. he doesn't quite believe i can't come up with 10 grand right now. (and i would if i could, i have faith in him making it back. he's logically figuring the Obama infrastructure bailout will mean work for haulers of bridge components.)

try living between worlds like that for a few decades, as middle aged (and middle class, and white, and male) anthropologists like me have, and you come to see the conditions under which we are received in the world as deeply important, the integrity of our profession's ethical commitments as sacred. so much harm has been done by anthropologists in the name of progress and conquest, much of it inadvertent, but not all of it. we've spent the last 30 years beating ourselves up over it, and we still are. we're not that different from psychologists debating whether or not to condone the presence of their colleagues at interrogations, or MDs as executioners. the stakes are higher and the context a little different in those instances, but the logics are the same.

we want to do good in the aggregate, like most real professionals. we tend to consider the effects of our own conduct on the aggregate effects of our profession in the world very extensively, and constantly. do we err on the side of panglossian self righteousness? all the damn time. do we get lost in theoretical recursions, or take overweening pride in our professional standing? you bet. name me one profession that is not beset by these faults.

like i said, i don't condemn the HTS project outright. war will happen, and so will interrogations and executions, and they are part of the human condition anthropology is charged with studying, with the scientific intent of both understanding and, often, criticizing what we examine, which is how people conduct themselves as members of social groups, when it all boils down to basics. at some point, you have to *do* anthropology, apply it to the world and make knowledge or make some kind of critical intervention or policy decision. HTS is that. we take government money for most anthropological research, actually, just not usually directly military money. hell, generations of anthropologists were able to work in southeast asia or eastern europe or -- now -- the middle east -- because the government spends money on such research in the name of intelligence and national security, not just cross-cultural understanding. like i keep saying, there are no clean lines here, or clean hands, or positions from which to take a bird's eye view.

the whole point of ethnographic cultural anthropology is to be in the world rather than above it. it's why i think there is no such thing as automatically ethical field research, or that we've solved the ethical contradictions of our enterprise. but amazing knowledge and beautiful insight has come from the work we do, and good things have happened because of it -- hopefully the one big good thing of people learning how to account for cultural difference in their responses to the world has been advanced in some small way by a century of professional anthropology (what went on before Boas is another matter).

i guess i am saying the field has a right to voice its own critique of its own commitments without being mocked for it, or told to get a life and deal with it. if a majority of anthropologists are queasy about the HTS project, then it bears considering why that might be, or if it might stem from something other than a total lack of awareness of the real world or our place in it, the unintended consequences of our practices, or the moral frameworks that motivate other segments of society for perfectly logical reasons. we are different from the military. the fusion of anthropological and military goals, no matter how noble in intent, is going to produce heat along with whatever light it produces. it's happened for more than a century, over and over again. this is nothing new. we almost always represent power when we work among the powerless. sometimes we represent it directly, sometimes indirectly. but the option is not to go into the world in order to represent the power that puts us there.

the question is *how* we represent it. and the answer is not reducible to a caricature of the academic, scientific, and very much activist enterprise of anthropology. our prime directive is *not* that we shouldn't intervene in the contexts we study. the crew of the starship enterprise were soldiers and explorers, not anthropologists. and damn did they intervene, no matter what their prime directive was. our prime directive is to intervene consciously, to make things better and not worse for our presence, to bring reason to bear on subjects refractory to reasoned discourse in the usual order of politics and business and labor. a reasoned understanding of all the ways humans are not quite rational is an important component of modern scientific accounts of the world as it is.

that's my prime directive, anyway, and that's true for any good and serious professional ethnographer i know really well (which is several dozen).

we get it wrong a lot. i know i have. i could have died doing fieldwork, at least once violently, a dozen times. and in fact, at least a few times, i did things that could have gotten other people killed. i knew it going in, and i would accept my own death, at least, if it happened in the field, if it's possible to accept something posthumously. i would not ask anyone to grieve for me dying doing fieldwork, any more than they would grieve for me dying of old age. Paula Loyd probably felt the same way. i'm willing to bet she did.

Loyd seems like she was a hell of a person, and a serious, professional anthropologist who cared about Afghanistan and its people. i don't have the details to really gain a fine grained sense of it, but to a first approximation, she could be one of my students or a younger colleague. indeed, she *is* a younger colleague in the broadest sense of that word. i'm horrified at the way she died, and i don't think it was in vain, and i am still not sure she made the wisest choice working for that project, but lord knows we all make unwise choices, and fieldwork is chock full of them all the time. i meant, by making this post, to offer an obituary for her as much as an occasion to make more people aware of the war being fought in our names, and the myriad ways it is destroying lives and the strange bedfellows it is creating. that is not to say i oppose the war in Afghanistant (though I deeply oppose the war in Iraq, and war in general) -- i have strong reservations about its conduct, but i think it was justifiable (except not "winnable," meaning it was bound to be tragic) at the outset, and war is not an easy thing to predict. i think most of our soldiers there are honorable, and acting honorably in impossible conditions. and i think that about Paula Loyd even while i disapprove of the HTS project.

i think it's fair to ask if this -- HTS specifically -- is the best way to achieve a noble goal that cannot but be perverted by the deeply ignoble nature of war. someone upthread said "independent" social scientists were a good thing, and indeed they are. but HTS social scientists are hardly independent at all, in any way. none of us are truly independent, but there are different kinds of dependency, and this one is fraught with obstacles to the very goals it asserts.
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:22 AM on January 9, 2009 [16 favorites]


*i dare say you and most people would find quite challenging

meant to say, most people reading this thread, without meaning to imply *all* people reading this thread
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:24 AM on January 9, 2009


One of the architects of the HTS is Montgomery Sapone (here, here & here). Her mother-in-law is Mary Sapone, a woman who made a career our of infiltrating gun-control activist groups for the NRA, with support from Montgomery & her husband Sean. These are the people who designed HTS.
posted by scalefree at 9:58 AM on January 9, 2009 [5 favorites]


Wow, thank you scalefree. Amazing.

From your first link, but they're all incredibly good stuff if you want to curl your toes for the big dance:

BAE Systems, the prime contractor on the project, has repeatedly been pressured by the HTS program manager and his staff to hire individuals who are not field-experienced ethnographers/anthropologists, but rather Google-fed political and social scientists

and from your third:

Led by a wildly unpopular program manager (Steve Fondacaro) and a detached social science advisor (Mrs. Montgomery McFate Sapone), the HTS program continues to unravel. Program morale is at its lowest point in the short and controversial life of the program. Sources predict that more civilian HTT team members and soldiers will be killed/wounded because of lousy management practices and zero program oversight . . . they have compromised warfighters-in-theater, destroyed lives, and created a get-rich program for the most mercenary of HTS personnel and private contractors looking for lucrative employment.


Ah yes.

How could we forget who was in charge, here? Heck of a job, Monty, heck of a job.
posted by fourcheesemac at 10:07 AM on January 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


In response, the military starts a program to use trained, independent scientists to learn and teach about these various problems.

This word, independent, does not mean what you seem to think it does.

on preview: fourcheesemac beat me to it.

Also, as a professional anthropologist, I second pretty much every thing the fourcheesey one says upthread.
posted by Rumple at 10:15 AM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


There is a decent blog post from last September or so about HTS that gives some more perspective.
posted by Rumple at 10:19 AM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


WHOA. Wait a second here. Let me get this straight. What you're telling me is that I can actually get a job with my anthropology degree?
posted by Telf at 10:19 AM on January 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


Ayala was wrong, without a doubt. His act of action-movie-esque revenge might even reflect poorly on how well he understood the mission of HTS. But Officer Mehserle didn't witness the immolation of a colleague, a sight that would certainly threaten the rationality of more than a few people, so to equivocate Don Ayala's admittedly rash and inappropriate action with the BART cop's needless slaying of Oscar Grant -- who did not just set someone on fire -- is more than a little ignorant of context and situation.

Ayala was wrong, but not because he shot Abdul Salam. He was wrong because he didn't shoot him, he stopped him, then restrained him, called for back up, tied him up, left to check on the status of Paula and then like 10 minutes later comes back and shoots him.
The correct answer in this scenario is as soon as you have a shot, you take it and kill him quickly. Then you walk away and don't even acknowledge the pile of shit.
posted by MrBobaFett at 10:32 AM on January 9, 2009


The correct answer in this scenario is as soon as you have a shot, you take it and kill him quickly. Then you walk away and don't even acknowledge the pile of shit.
...posted by: MrBobaFett

Eponysterical. Depending on which version you believe.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:13 AM on January 9, 2009


Not according to the UCMJ, to which, of course, Mr. Ayala was not accountable. We'll see what civilian law says, but momentary insanity seems plausible here for sure. I note the shouts of racism any defense of Ayala elicits on some blogs, but I suspect a jury would have a hard time convicting anyone who did this anywhere and any time. As someone said above, it's just a tragedy of destroyed lives all around, though I'd grant no excuse for lighting someone on fire.

It's done in our names all the time, though. Look up "white phosphor."

I wholly understand the sentiment. In his place I think I might have done it too. I've never shot someone, and never seen someone shot in person, just hunted (and damn near gotten shot doing it). But I can imagine pulling that trigger in that moment very easily, if someone had just immolated a colleague in front of me. Sure I can. Subdued prisoner or not.

That doesn't make it right. Just understandable, and it's true that the BART cop analogy above (I made it too) is a bad one. Shades of gray. And blood red.
posted by fourcheesemac at 11:15 AM on January 9, 2009


I'm a bit confused. A basic presumption I have is that the military has come around to understanding and institutionalizing the need to understand the cultural environment that they will operate in, and that this is unlikely to change. It follows from this presumption that they will acquire (and presumably train) people to support that need. The issue (as near as I can tell) is that the need of the military and the institutional ethos of the professional anthropologist are at odds. The nearest analogy I can think of is military chaplains and civilian clergy.

My confusion arises from; given that:
- the military will and should understand the culture it is operating in, and will employ people to do this task
- this task is not ethical for a professional anthropologist

the following unanswered questions seem to follow:
- what professional criteria should be applied to those that do HTS work
- what role (if any) should the anthropological community play in the determination of those professional criteria?

Thanks for an interesting (if tragic) post that highlights all kinds of dilemmas.
posted by forforf at 11:23 AM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Afghanistan: Payback's a Bitch
posted by jcruelty at 11:32 AM on January 9, 2009


great questions forforf.

one place to begin to address them: the American Anthropological Association has a formal code of ethics, adopted in 1998 through a painstaking and fairly democratic process. it is ethically binding on all AAA members, and i would argue on any professional American anthropologist. i tell any student i train that they are bound for life by this code as i am, unless and until it changes. we don't swear an oath to it. but it has real force, and is the basis for our broad approach to human subjects protection, which most assuredly is binding on anyone doing federally funded research, legally so.

so in my opinion, the anthropologist working for the Army is as bound by the AAA code of ethics, just like the chaplain working for the Army is bound by the rules of her/his religious denomination or a doctor is bound by the Hippocratic oath.
posted by fourcheesemac at 12:03 PM on January 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


How many buildings would you need to see leveled before though it was a good idea to attack Al Qaeda?
Just one. But there's no evidence that Al Qaeda was involved in the 9/11 attacks.
posted by MaxK at 12:33 PM on January 9, 2009


From Human Terrain Systems' most recent findings:

Four out of five* sociologists agree:
Afghanis don't like being occupied by a foriegn power.


* The other sociologist was ritually executed during the process of this report.

posted by markkraft at 12:47 PM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Don Ayala's behavior was completely inappropriate, and showed that these sociologists don't have the proper military training to responsibly perform their duties.

Any regular Army grunt stationed in Afghanistan knows that you're supposed to take prisoners back to the base, complete the security screening / check-in procedures, file an incident report... and *THEN* you kill 'em!
posted by markkraft at 12:55 PM on January 9, 2009


"This is exactly the sort of program that the army needs to minimize bloodshed and resentment. Opposition to it sounds like knee-jerk anti-militarism."

How about opposition to having any ground troops there at all, because it was a really, really bad idea in the first place?!
posted by markkraft at 1:07 PM on January 9, 2009


But there's no evidence that Al Qaeda was involved in the 9/11 attacks.

Except for perhaps Osama Bin Laden's own admission
posted by caddis at 1:44 PM on January 9, 2009


Anthropology and Ethnography are different things. That's an interesting discussion by Tim Ingold. I think it might be very important to have real anthropologists in there. We need to look more closely at conflict situations, and learn why such things happen. There are biological kinds of things going on underneath that are independent of the immediate cultural appearance. Anthropology is an appropriate tool to study our own collective nature. Ethnography is a much more limited task of describing foreigners.
posted by fcummins at 2:46 PM on January 9, 2009



“There just has to be a less foolish way to do it.”

Y’know that old saw about all government equipment being made by the lowest bidder?
Actually, yeah, I’d like to see this not-privatized. Hell, I’d like to see the entire defense industry socialized and regulated. Take the profit out of it.

“because there was never a good answer to: what do you do after you 'win'? What was conceived as an imperial adventure was sold a 'bullet in the head' to the 9/11 attackers ala Ayala.”

Well, the idea was to stabilize Afghanistan and stop it from being a breeding ground for terrorists in general.
I think the former is a good idea, the later is a bit rough in terms of execution. But a failed state is a danger to everyone and I think the nations of the world have a responsibility to not leave people in such a state.
I favored trying to stabilize Somalia as well. But we beached that mission when it started to get too bloody.
And now we’ve got pirate ships raiding all through that region and using money to raise hell all over the place.
Go figure.
I’m not refuting the idea there may be economic interests in Afghanistan, but I do think the world community needed to engage that area. Invasion, maybe not so much. Packaging it as going in to bust heads, not so much either. But we shouldn’t have abandoned the region in the first place.

“But there's no evidence that Al Qaeda was involved in the 9/11 attacks.”

Other than the wealth of video surveillance, expense tracking, passport and travel data, admission by secondary sources, the plethora of pre-strike indicators (such as the report “Osama bin Laden determined to attack within the U.S.”) and the intelligence information from the FBI that laid out scenarios that they were going to use airplanes to crash into skyscrapers in downtown New York, the prior 1993 bombing of the world trade center by al-Qaeda elements (Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, et.al.) and other attacks such as the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole Philippine Air flight 434, the Khobar attacks, the half million traceable dollars spent on finance ($100k wired - from who we don’t know, but definately to al-Qaeda elements), and oh, yeah, their stated endorsement for the attacks, you mean?

I give pretty wide latitude for (reasonable - that is - none of the ‘missle’ or ‘set charges’ business) conspiracy theory on this, since a lot of fishy stuff was going on, but there’s little doubt these guys were involved.


And I’ll Nth the ‘tragedy of destroyed lives all around.’
posted by Smedleyman at 3:23 PM on January 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ryvar: Salam has watched the occupation of his country by a foreign power that pisses on his beliefs and values, has probably had people close to them killed in the course of that occupation, and then has someone acting in a manner incredibly disrespectful of his beliefs walk up to him and start pestering him about trivial bullshit. He'd been spat upon one too many times over the course of *years* and he finally snapped.

There have been plenty of atrocities over the years committed against women by radical islamists in countries that have not been occupied or oppressed. I suspect that he would have done the same thing if the US had never invaded the country, or to a foreigner from a nation who had never oppressed his country. Someone lashing out against foreign occupation attacks armed soldiers or military facilities, not peaceful scientists.
posted by Mitrovarr at 4:42 PM on January 9, 2009


the American Anthropological Association has a formal code of ethics, adopted in 1998 through a painstaking and fairly democratic process. it is ethically binding on all AAA members, and i would argue on any professional American anthropologist. i tell any student i train that they are bound for life by this code as i am, unless and until it changes.

If that's the case, fourcheesemac, you're doing it wrong. The AAA Code is not designed to render statutory ethical provisions, but rather to elucidate already existing ethical obligations. It's not designed to be a thing you can point to and shout j'accuse! It's to help already-ethically-situated subjects navigate the complex terrain of their multiple obligations. But then, you already knew that, because IT'S BUILT INTO THE CODE ITSELF:

"The purpose of this Code is to provide AAA members and other interested persons with guidelines for making ethical choices in the conduct of their anthropological work. Because anthropologists can find themselves in complex situations and subject to more than one code of ethics, the AAA Code of Ethics provides a framework, not an ironclad formula, for making decisions."
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:19 PM on January 9, 2009


Where did I say it provided ironclad formulae? It's a set of principles, not rules. You cannot make a set of rules to cover all the real world contingencies of field research (and it doesn't only cover field research). But principles -- as in "first do no harm" -- can be binding as much as rules can.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:47 PM on January 9, 2009


And you can adjudicate whether principles have been observed. I'm not looking for a j'accuse! script here. I'm looking for somewhere to start when you need to make a difficult ethical choice.

Albeit, in practice, the scandals that have come over the transom since the 1998 code have proved pretty damn refractory to its illumination (the Yanamamo affair, for example). It's at best a place to start.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:51 PM on January 9, 2009


Highly interesting thread, thanks very much!
posted by Wolof at 5:57 PM on January 9, 2009


It seems a lot of you don't read the newspapers.

Not one of the 9/11 hijackers was actually from Afghanistan. Certainly the Taliban (one of the nastier people in the world) were sheltering Bin Laden and crew but no one ever claimed that Bin Laden told them - or anyone - what he was going to do.

After 9/11, Afghanistan told the US, "Give us some evidence that these people did it and we'll give them up." Bush's response was that no evidence was needed.

Far more Afghanis were killed than Americans over 9/11. Not one Afghani did it.

Tell me - most of the hijackers were Saudis - all of the money was Saudi - so why didn't the US invade Afghanistan?

I'd like to add another point:

I am very sorry about the death of that young woman but, as noted, you don't need much training to know Afghanistan is not the place for a lone lady, especially a Westerner, face uncovered, to sidle up to an unknown guy and begin chatting as though at some American airport.

You write as if the perpetrators are an impersonal force. In fact, one human being took another one, one who had never done them any harm, poured "gasoline" over them and set them on fire. There is no excuse for this activity. If this is what your culture requires, you live in a sick culture.

"She was asking for it" doesn't apply here in the US, and it doesn't apply in Afghanistan either.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:56 PM on January 9, 2009


Oh, and anotherpanacea, I was pretty clear about this too: the IRB human subjects protocol approvals that I and my students must obtain, after (usually) painstaking work (because we work with vulnerable, or poor, or illiterate, or unable-to-self-consent subjects a lot) do indeed contain *ironclad formulae* that guide many ethical decisions (by no means all) in the field, or that establish the parameters of those decisions. One is indeed "bound" by the terms of the IRB protocol for the duration of the project or funding for which it is issued. And for anthropology, the conditions specified in IRB protocols are broadly encompassed within the principles stated in the AAA code. You can derive best practices from good principles, always with some room for debate and disagreement, of course.

If I violate my IRB, or let it lapse, my project may well be over, or my funding for it.

I've trained quite a few PhD students who are having quality careers, and my own work is known for, among other things, its explicitly ethical critique of field research norms. I don't think I'm "doing it wrong," if you'll pardon the pushback at that snark.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:01 AM on January 10, 2009


Ayala was wrong, without a doubt.

I do have my doubts.

I can have respect for different cultural standards, and perhaps the usual verbal abuse and mid-grade oppression would have been fine. But Salam set a woman on fire. Every human being who's been alive for half a decade or so knows the suffering a small 1st or 2nd degree burn can bring. Body-wide third-degree burns? Deliberately set someone aflame like that is not only a likely death sentence. It is certain agonizing brutal torture. Not to mention lasting brutal torture (physical and psychological) if the person survives.

So I'm not sure I have a problem with actions that demonstrate swift, certain, and final results for anyone who is willing to set someone on fire. I can see suspending judgment and letting my americentric sensibilities be stepped on by verbal abuse and beatings and imprisonment under subhumane conditions, but there are some lines that should not be crossed and I am 100% certain setting someone on fire is one of them, and to the utter nine hells with damnable cultural considerations if we're that far.

My few doubts about Ayala's actions are mostly practical, not moral. It's possible there was a more socially effective way to send a message with Salam's death via some deliberated process.
posted by weston at 12:22 PM on January 10, 2009


Sorry fourcheesemac: I came off a bit harshly. However, your use of the phrase 'ethically binding' suggests you embrace the equation of ethics and legality, probably because you're speaking in terms of the administrative regulation of social science. If you think about normativity, ethics, and value theory much, you must know there are:

a. differences between the AAA code and the rules promulgated by an IRB.

b. questions regarding the value of codification for inculcating ethical attitudes and enforcing norms.

c. reasons to believe that we are not obliged to obey laws or rules qua laws and rules, but only insofar as they map already existing ethical obligations.

If ethical thinking truly began with good principles, best practices would be a long time coming. Thankfully, we humans tend to start with practice and from there grope toward principles, pausing occasionally to adjust our practices for principled reasons.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:53 PM on January 10, 2009


I wrote a longer response that got wiped by a wireless dropout. Sigh.

But I've said enough, several times. Since I talked about the relationship between codes of ethics and context-specific rules (like an IRB protocol) twice, obviously I get a). I would never say all the rules can be codified in advance, and certainly concede the dialectic of practice and critical theory has to underlie any ethical system. No set of principles is above continued critical revision and refinement, be it the US constitution or the AAA code of ethics. c) strikes me as a red herring, a restatement of b), to which I just responded.

Ethical thinking does not begin with good principles; but nor can we trust our experience as a sole guide to ethical conduct. My current work involves, directly, an attempt to keep promises made -- and broken -- by my own professional ancestors, and entails the development of a community wide consensus on best practices and guiding principles alike, in an indigenous community of several thousand members. Two years of calibrating anthropological and indigenous values has been fascinating work, and I'd say it's working to at least a good first approximation. A council of tribal elders recently approved a six page single spaced document produced over dozens of public meetings, private interviews, consultations with elders, teachers, artists, students, and political leaders, that precisely specifies the ethical frameworks and the best practices for our project, to the point of describing how unanticipated problems will be identified and the consensus revised. Long story. But these aren't side interest for me.

My main point is to defend the arch distinction in several comments in this thread between the supposedly ethereal discourse of anthropological ethics and the "real world" of military conflict.

A majority of all anthropological research has been conducted, since the inception of the field, under conditions of war, brutality, occupation, repression, and domination. We have learned important ethical lessons in the real world, and to pretend they don't apply to anthropologists working for the military strikes me as denying that anthropology *is* a profession. Social scientists have worked for the military since the dawn of social science, directly or indirectly. Military ethical culture, with its own principles (the oath a soldier takes, for example) and rules (say, the UCMJ, the Geneva convention) is not lacking in concepts which would at least encompass the professional obligations of anthropologists in theater as a category of independent obligation -- just as they do for chaplains, doctors, and lawyers. I said the AAA code of ethics was a place to *start,* several times. I didn't say it was a prescription that could be used to define the limits of anthropological conduct in the service of the military or anywhere else.
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:12 AM on January 11, 2009


My main point is to defend the arch distinction in several comments in this thread between the supposedly ethereal discourse of anthropological ethics and the "real world" of military conflict.

Ugh. My main point is to *challenge* that distinction, and the diminishment of the force of a professional standard of ethics that applies to anyone who calls her/himself an anthropologist, no matter for whom they work.
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:15 AM on January 11, 2009


Trained social scientists are not the same thing as trained soldiers.

Don Ayala's behavior was completely inappropriate, and showed that these sociologists don't have the proper military training to responsibly perform their duties.

From TFA:

Now, more than a month after the Nov. 4 incident, Ayala, a decorated former member of the Army Rangers and Special Forces, stands accused of second-degree murder.

Regardless of how you feel about his reaction, making judgements based on assumptions is a quick and easy road to the land of wrong.
posted by musicinmybrain at 7:26 PM on January 11, 2009


The Afghan Scam: The Untold Story of Why the U.S. Is Bound to Fail in Afghanistan
posted by homunculus at 11:28 PM on January 11, 2009


My main point is to defend challenge the arch distinction in several comments in this thread between the supposedly ethereal discourse of anthropological ethics and the "real world" of military conflict.

If this were really a matter of resisting the claim that some rules are 'ethereal' and some are practical, in the spirit of pushback to 'grub first, then ethics,' I'm not sure why you would have dwelt so much on the ethically binding nature of the AAA code. As you've said again and again, the AAA code is a the place to start: it may not be 'ethereal' but it is ethically prior. That's where I disagree: a person with a hyphenate identity (anthropologist-solider) starts with a fundamental ambiguity, a first decision: soldier or social scientist? By claiming that the AAA code has the character of a fundamental norm for all anthropological work, you're claiming that that initial decision is already made, that loyalty to the anthropological profession, and especially to its code, trumps fidelity to the soldier's conscience, comrades, branch of service, or nation. Yet in contrast, the AAA code itself recognizes that anthropologists belong to other communities and networks with separate and sometimes prior ethical obligations.

Of course, I'm not just interested in this as an abstruse meta-ethical discussion. The ethically prior obligation is not to one or another profession, but to mitigate suffering, danger, and risks. If there are going to be soldiers in Afghanistan, they'll do less damage and make a swifter transition to autochthonous but secular rule if they understand the communities they're occupying. If they're to gain that understanding, they're going to need information gathered by professionals in your field.

It's become quite clear that the program under discussion is a train-wreck. Its organizers appear to be grifters and its officers are apparently unprepared for the work in which they're engaged. Based on your comments, it seems that a contributing factor in the death of Lloyd and her killer was that the military couldn't find any competent social scientists to do this work, because everyone with adequate training has also been inculcated with a strict and unyielding code that prevents them from engaging in harm reduction if that would mean helping the military, the imperialists, even an iota. That seems wrong to me.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:21 AM on January 12, 2009


“It seems a lot of you don't read the newspapers.”

Totally. That’s how everyone became a counterterrorism expert after 9/11. I read a book on NASA once, I’m going to be an astronaut.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:34 AM on January 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


'Human Terrain' Contractor Guilty of Manslaughter
posted by homunculus at 3:45 PM on February 3, 2009


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