Newsweek recently published an article that was highly critical of the Pentagon’s Human Terrain System, the controversial project that deploys anthropologists and related social scientists alongside the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan to better understand the cultures of these occupied countries.
The latest coverage has reignited a row in the world of academic anthropology, whose governing body have questioned the ethics of using professionals sworn to ‘do no harm’ as hired researchers for one side of a military occupation.
As we discussed previously, the project has caused such heated debate that one ex-Human Terrain operative was heckled to the point of tears at a recent conference.
This new article claims that the project is a fiasco with inadequately trained staff. Furthermore, it claims those with prior knowledge of the language and region are being treated with suspicion and sometimes outright hostility by the regular forces with whom they work.
In a response published by Wired, Montgomery McFate, one of the architects of the Human Terrain System has issued a sharply worded condemnation suggesting that the article is both partisan and inaccurate, while Defense Secretary Gates has admitted in a recent speech that the project “is still in its infancy and has attendant growing pains”.
The Newsweek piece has even sparked a response from the American Anthropological Association which, although largely information free, does indicate how important it is for the association to be seen to have its finger on the pulse of this contentious issue.