American Anthropology Association issues Human Terrain System resolution
The American Anthropology Association has released a statement of resolution by the Executive Board on the Human Terrain System (HTS) Project. The statement, posted online, is dated October 31, 2007 (though I just received the e-mail from the AAA announcing the resolution today, and as as far as I can tell from the metadata on the website, it was only posted online November 7, 2007).
The resolution is brief and it concerns itself almost exclusively with ethics, not with the methodological trouble of working for the military in a war zone (which Greg has discussed here on Culture Matters). The resolution identifies three key areas of ethical trouble that potentially puts anthropologists involved with the HTS at odds with the AAA code of ethics:
(1) the difficulty of distinguishing between anthropologists and the military “places a significant constraint on [anthropologists’] ability to fulfill their ethical responsibility…to disclose who they are and what they are doing”;
(2) the imperative of doing no harm to the people being studied cannot be assured when anthropologists are reporting on these people to the dominant military power; and
(3) the ethical imperative of voluntary informed consent is compromised when anthropologists are working for the military in a war zone.
It also notes that (4) involvement of anthropologists with the HTS project puts at risk other non-HTS anthropologists — and the people they study — all over the world.
“Thus the Executive Board expresses its disapproval of the HTS program.
“In the context of a war that is widely recognized as a denial of human rights and based on faulty intelligence and undemocratic principles, the Executive Board sees the HTS project as a problematic application of anthropological expertise, most specifically on ethical grounds.”
The full text of the resolution can be read here.
The AAA has also created a blog where members can comment on the Executive Board Statement and related issues at http://aaanewsinfo.blogspot.com/. However, as far as I can tell, one need not identify as a dues-paid member of the AAA to comment.
While the AAA statement is primarily about ethics, many of the comments posted on the blog grapple with the complicated entanglement of ethics and methodology. Some, for example, doubt whether an ‘applied anthropology’ can call itself anthropology when it is in the employ of an interested institution. For example, Hugh Jarvis from the University at Buffalo argues that, “Surely to achieve any credibility or scientific objectivity, anthropologists need to be independent observers.” Others profess deep disappointment with the resolution’s seeming rejection of any anthropological cooperation with imperial power on the grounds that, as long as harm is being done somewhere, anthropologists have a duty to try to minimize that harm, if necessary by working for the powers that be. Some criticize the AAA for not going far enough in expressing only “disapproval” and not “condemnation”; others criticize the AAA for taking a position on the war itself.
As of this writing, there are only 14 comments, but I expect we’ll see that explode in the coming weeks, and the matter of anthropology at war is bound to dominate the annual meeting of the AAA later this month. I’ll be attending and I’ll write about it on this blog, so stay tuned.