Dahr Jamail: How Some Anthropologists Have Learned to Stop Worrying and Start Loving the Army





[Dahr Jamail, an independent journalist, is the author of "Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq," (Haymarket Books, 2007). Jamail reported from occupied Iraq for eight months as well as from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey over the last four years.]

Anthropologist Audrey Roberts works for Human Terrain System (HTS), a Pentagon program. Referring to the information produced by HTS scholars, she says, "If it's going to inform how targeting is done - whether that targeting is bad guys, development or governance - how our information is used is how it's going to be used. All I'm concerned about is pushing our information to as many soldiers as possible. The reality is there are people out there who are looking for bad guys to kill. I'd rather they did not operate in a vacuum."

In a recent article on this site I have described HTS as comprising American scholars, primarily in the field of anthropology, along with sociologists and social psychologists, embedding themselves with the US military in the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Their brief is to enable the military to make better decisions by helping it to understand the social mores and customs of the cultures it is occupying.

As a program that is likely to have a long tenure, it deserves further examining. The US military would like the US public to believe it is a benevolent program, but it does not require a crystal ball to recognize the insidious reality. HTS teams actively engage in targeting the "enemy" in Iraq and Afghanistan. Team members often wear military uniforms and body armor, and even carry weapons. Like Ms. Roberts, they are not overly concerned about the fact that the "intelligence" they produce is instrumental in capturing and killing people. The social scientists who choose to employ themselves within HTS clearly are not having a moral struggle with the fact that they are allowing their knowledge to be used as a weapon of war.

The military's benign description specifies that HTS will "improve the military's ability to understand the highly complex local social-cultural environment in the areas where they are deployed." Proponents of the program go as far as to claim that its goal is to help the military save lives.

Those who know better, like US Army Lt. Col. Gian Gentile, will tell you, "Don't fool yourself, these Human Terrain Teams, whether they want to acknowledge it or not, in a generalized and subtle way, do at some point contribute to the collective knowledge of a commander, which allows him to target and kill the enemy in the Civil War in Iraq." ...


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