Human Terrain System Criticized by U.S. Congress

Posted on May 21, 2010 by

The U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee (HASC) has issued a criticism of the Human Terrain System, limiting its funding until the U.S. Army can submit a formal review that addresses “certain concerns.” (Thanks as well to “Napkin Chagnon” for the update.)

In a document titled, “H.R. 5136 – Nation Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011,” the HASC stated the following regarding HTS (see page 25):

Human Terrain System
While the Committee remains supportive of the Army’s Human Terrain System (HTS) to leverage social science expertise to support operational commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is increasingly concerned that the Army has not paid sufficient attention to addressing certain concerns. The Committee encourages the Department to continue to develop a broad range of opportunities that leverage the important contributions that can be offered by social science expertise to support key missions such as irregular warfare, counterinsurgency, and stability and reconstruction operations. The bill limits the obligation of funding for HTS until the Army submits a required assessment of the program, provides revalidation of all existing operations requirements, and certifies Department-level guidelines for the use of social scientists.

While the HASC continues to back drafting academics into irregular warfare counterinsurgency–criticized on ethical and professional grounds by the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Anthropological Association (see synopsis of each of these statements here)–it is interesting to note that the HASC is paying at least some attention to the kinds of issues raised in the top three points of the NCA’s “Anthropologists’ Statement on the Human Terrain System Program.” Also striking is the HASC stating that it wants the Army to continue to “to develop a broad range of opportunities” that use social scientists, which would suggest moving beyond HTS, and perhaps into the multiple other human terrain programs. The HASC asks for a “revalidation” of “operations requirements,” which would seem to suggest that the Army needs to justify continued use of HTS. Also important, or potentially important, is the demand that the Army certifies “Department-level guidelines for the use of social scientists” which, one might assume, given the details and the provisos elucidated by John Stanton, that HTS is in compliance with the Army’s internal ethics review board, specifically the protection of human subjects. HTS work has not been subject to formal ethics review, and it is not clear that it was ever offered a waiver by the Army, which would have been a damning move given the intense public scrutiny and criticism of HTS, on ethical grounds, from the AAA.

Though couched in diplomatic and bureaucratic terms, one can assume that HTS directors are not cheering tonight, although their competitors might be.

It seems appropriate to add: hats off to our blogger and independent reporter John Stanton for all of his reports–about three dozen articles–on the mismanagement of the Human Terrain System, which appears to be among the key concerns.

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