Anthropologists are united in their displeasure following the revelation that their research has been used by the US military to extract information from Arab detainees in Abu Ghraib and other military installations.
In an article published in The New Yorker, Seymour Hersh unveiled that anthropological research on Arab culture had been exploited in an effort to coerce detainees to “cooperate” with their captors.
The anthropological research includes myriad of disturbing photos from Abu Ghraib that were secreted and released last year which detailed methods of interrogation that have outraged Muslims and civil society the world over.
The American Anthropological Association gathered for their annual meeting on November 17th to discuss the development. The result was a collective dismay that resulted in a unanimous vote to condemn such actions.
Tension over the association between governmental organizations and academics is not entirely new development, however. Arguments for and against such associations have persisted since World War I.
The father of academic anthropology, Franz Boas, has condemned unnamed colleagues for their governmental involvement which he characterized as having “prostituted science by using it as a cover for their activities as spies.”
The most vocal proponent for maintaining and even fostering such associations is Felix Moos, professor of anthropology at the University of Kansas.
In the 60’s, Moos sought to develop and implement programs that would groom prospective intelligence officers from the onset of their collegiate experience in an effort to fully indoctrinate them into the rigors national security pursuits demanded.
Moos’ four decades of proselytizing succeeded in late 2003 when Senator Pat Roberts instituted the Intelligence Scholars Program (PRISP). The program provides scholarships to eligible students who receive grants of up to $50,000 in exchange for guaranteed service as intelligence officers for a specified period of time in one of the affiliated intelligence agencies.
“The United States is at war, and thus, simply put, the existing cultural divide between the intelligence community, the U.S. military and academe has become a critical, dangerous, and very real detriment to our national security at home and abroad,” said Moos.
David Price, associate professor of anthropology at St. Martin’s College, has characterized Roberts’ program and Moos’ advocacy as counterproductive and unfortunate.
“Healthy academic environments need openness because they (unlike the CIA) are nourished by the self-corrective features of open disagreement, dissent, and synthetic-reformulation,” said Price.
Many in the next generation of anthropologists seem to maintain Price’s view.
“Anthropology is about embracing cultures, not destroying the bonds between different cultures. Anthropology is a good way to understand, embrace, and accept other cultures,” said sophomore Sara Rothenberg, University of Maryland’s Anthropology Student’s Association President.
Recent UMD graduate, Isaac Morrison seemed to mirror Price’s position of how insular thinking – that associated with institutions like the CIA, among others – detracts from both scholarship and the proper interpretation of information.
“A good and thorough reading could have predicted a lot of the problems that we are now facing in Iraq,” said Morrison.
As this argument has ebbed and flowed for nearly a century, it will likely persist for some time to come. The possibility for decisiveness in such discussions essentially rests with whether success or failure results from the implementation of programs like PRISP.
Anthropologists’ pursuits to end the project will continue to be advocated as long as programs like PRISP continue.
This article appeared in the December 4, 2006 issue of the Hatchet.