Ah, the days go by and even I cool down. While I am very critical of the wording the Executive Board chose for its statement on the HTS, I am not sure I would have wanted to be on the “AAA Ad Hoc Commission on the Engagement of Anthropology With the US Security and Intelligence Community”. They were in what has to be a lose-lose position. No matter what they said, some large group of people were going to be really ticked off. So, let me precede my high-end rant by saying that I recognize that the Ad Hoc Commission was given a job that assured maximum heat.
The Human Terrain System is a highly controversial topic within the anthropology community. I understand that, and it is something that deserves a lively, vigorous and reasoned debate. Unfortunately the reasoned part is an element that seems sadly lacking. The statement issued by the AAA board reflects this. The second paragraph starts with these disturbing sentences:
“The Commission’s work did not include systematic study of the HTS project. The Executive Board of the Association has, however, concluded that the HTS project raises sufficiently troubling and urgent ethical issues to warrant a statement from the Executive Board at this time.”
In a larger frame, it shows how the governing body of the AAA is moving the discipline farther away from anything resembling a science and to more of an ideology. How can any organization that purports to represent a scientific discipline issue a statement that says they have not actually studied the group that is the topic of the controversy to start with? I know that all of the people on the Executive Board are anthropologists of some stripe. How serious can someone take such a statement when its board openly admits they have not completed the basic research? Did they even talk to anyone connected to the HTS?
The HTS is not a covert activity. It’s widely written about; there are at least two anthropologists in Iraq that blog about their work. In short, contacting them and or the even the creators of the program is pretty easy.
Are there problems with the program? Of course. But to issue a statement apparently without actually going to the source material or speaking with those actually involved (how I am interpreting what is meant by no systematic study) does not build credibility for the EB’s position.