Anthropologists told to get out of the wars

When anthropologists travel to foreign lands, it’s generally for an academic endeavor, intended to enrich the world as a whole. There’s a group in this community, however, with a much different mission … and they’re about to be out of work. Army anthropologists tasked to gather intelligence on the counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Iraq have been told to call it quits.

A new report by the American Anthropological Association’s ethics commission, entitled “Final Report on the Army‘s Human Terrain System Proof of Concept Program,” says that anthropologists can’t participate in this project any longer. It has involved embedding five-person social scientist teams with soldiers and has been going on since 2005. Three Human Terrain System research team members have been killed during this period.

The deaths, though, aren’t the reason why the association is calling for an end to the program. Rather, it believes that the research violates the “do no harm” ethics of the anthropology field, because there is a “significant likelihood that HTS data will in some way be used as part of military intelligence.”

The House Armed Services Committee is planning to hold hearings on the HTS program next year, in order to see how effective it’s been. Only six of the 49 social scientists involved in the program are anthropologists.