Updated: Human Terrain Researcher Set on Fire in Afghanistan; plus new Articles on the Human Terrain System

Army Social Scientist Set Afire in Afghanistan
Danger Room
06 November 2008

and see

Cleaning Up US Army/TRADOC’s Human Terrain System (HTS): Terminate Current Management, Move HTS to Civil Affairs
by John Stanton
06 November 2008

UPDATE #1: Taliban offer differing account, claim children burned & killed the researcher:

Taliban insurgents said children had poured petrol on a female foreign soldier and set fire to her while she was searching homes in the town of Maiwand in the southern province of Kandahar.

“The soldier caught fire immediately after petrol was poured on her and then explosions were set off because of the ammunition on her,” the Taliban said on their Web site.

“As a result the female soldier was killed instantly and a large number of other foreign soldiers were wounded,” it said.

UPDATE #2: Either the Taliban report is incorrect, or they are referring to some other incident. Either way, Paula Lloyd was flown to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, and contrary to the Taliban report is alive.

See also:

Social-support worker attacked in Afghanistan
By Lee Hill Kavanaugh
The Kansas City Star, Monday 10 November 2008

[“social-support worker”? The euphemism industry has yet to recognize its own bankruptcy given the continued media bailouts of military propaganda]

UPDATE #3: Unable to learn about the meaning of rage at home, Human Terrain Teams sent into war zones…

In a new article in the Military Review that is ironically titled, “Sociocultural expertise and the military: beyond the controversy,” Pauline Kusiak tries to mute criticisms of the Human Terrain System from anthropological critics. In a remark that proves instructive she writes, “the rhetoric in this debate often rapidly disintegrates into a polarized polemic that is often as unenlightening as it is nasty.” That is enlightening all by itself, especially from such a nasty program as HTS, the only “social science research program” in the world that comes with its own death toll. What it displays, while pleading for more favourable understanding of HTS, is that these researchers are unable or unwilling to even begin to comprehend rage in terms that they should understand. They dismiss the opposition as nasty, polemical, etc., but they do not seek to understand it, the way self-proclaimed researchers and ethnographers should be expected to do. From that position, they parachute into bloody war zones, having already betrayed the fact they cannot understand conflict and opposition to their goals and their technologies. On the same day that U.S. air strikes slaughtered dozens of women and children in Afghanistan, they send a woman to interview a man holding a gas can. When you cannot even learn the basics at home, what are you doing inserting yourself into people’s war torn lives abroad? Rather than convince yourself of your righteous invulnerability, try learning what rage is all about, and start at home.

NOTE: in the article by John Stanton, as in the memorial post about Michael Bhatia, this is at least the second time that we have reports of social scientists serving in Human Terrain Teams becoming actively engaged in fighting. The attacker in this latest case was tracked down and killed by another HTT member. Virtually every single assertion made by HTS spokespersons about what these social scientists do has in fact been reversed, contradicted, or simply shelved subsequently. For some it seems the new HTS rallying cry is “fuck anthropologists, fuck ethics,” exhibited in sometimes more polite terms by at least one anthropologist who blogs from Iraq where he is a HTT member, whose only reports consist entirely of his incoherent disdain for the whole American Anthropological Association even while dismissing criticisms as coming only from a “vocal minority.” Ladies and gentlemen, if we are only a minority…then why don’t you go ahead and rewrite the AAA’s Code of Ethics to better suit your self-interests? Replace the document with a series of blank pages.

Previous articles by John Stanton on the Human Terrain System can be found here, here, and here.

Feel free to leave comments here, I will try to answer them when I return (see my previous post).

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17 thoughts on “Updated: Human Terrain Researcher Set on Fire in Afghanistan; plus new Articles on the Human Terrain System

  1. afghanjohn

    I’m not aware of the current situation but I’ve provided Afghansitan cultural awareness training for military and civilians working there. If your interested, click on the “training” link at Kabul Media, http://www.kabulmedia.com.

  2. rafe sagarin

    I do not details on the HTS program, but I do know Paula Lloyd, the civilian who was attacked. You make some remarkably casual and spurious comments about her apparently not “understanding” rage and conflict and the situation in Afghanistan. In fact, I’m quite certain Ms. Lloyd has a much better understanding of these issues in their localized real world context than you. She served in the military in Iraq and Afghanistan and as a civilian in Afghanistan since the beginning of the US wars there, probably one of only a few graduates of the elite schools she attended to do so. Paula has always been someone who wanted to learn about a situation deeply and first hand rather than being satisfied with a theoretical understanding “at home”. I find it fairly offensive that most accounts of this attack portray her as some naive, unprotected woman bumbling into a situation she couldn’t possibly understand. Finally, accusing her of having a sense of “righteous invulnerability” from your blog station just simply makes you look like an asshole. I highly doubt that anyone who has served in combat situations for years has any sense of invulnerability, but I am quite sure of this in Paula’s case. She is an incredibly sensitive, self-aware and self-critical person. I’m wishing her well in her recovery and wishing that you would keep your potentially valid criticisms of this program within the realm of things that YOU actually know about and understand. The abilities, motivations and preparedness of Paula Lloyd is clearly not one of those things.

  3. Bob's Friend

    I had meet and worked with Paula in the Zabul Province, and Rafe Sagarin is correct in every thing he has said.

    Paulas’ thoughts and the things she did in Zabul while I knew her was about helping the Afghan people in Qualat / Zabul

  4. Alexis Meshi

    Rafe is extremely accurate in what he writes. I am also very angered and offended by the way that Paula Lloyd has been portrayed in these accounts of the attack on her. I know Paula from our years at Wellesley College together. Her wish to understand rage, conflict, the situation in Afghanistan, war in general and humanity is unquestionable and apparent in so many ways. It is only blindness and bias for not readily seeing this. She studied at some of the best academic institutions in the world. I don’t think you could find anyone who knows the theory better than her. She also learned about rage and war in real life everyday in combat for years.

    You could not find a better person to be intelligently and fairly fighting and bringing peace to this region of the world. She is the epitomy of the soldier of modern warfare. She is the future.

    How dare you comment and criticise and most of all attempt to define Paula Lloyd. How can one fail to see the irony, the bias and the sadness here. It is you that does not have complete and accurate information about this situation and about Paula but are so freely and recklessly defining the situation and Paula and doing so from behind your desk. There are certainly a lot of cowards in this situation.

    Paula is a free, independent, intelligent and accomplished woman who defines herself. This world needs to stop attacking women like her.

  5. Mary

    This tragedy is another mark on Montgomery McFate’s record or achievement. How can she sleep at night? Human Terrain was designed so that this sort of burning and then Human Terrain revenge murder were predictable elements of the program, and McFate had to have known this. This is why McFate’s Human Terrain Teams are equipped with executioners, who function just as the executioner did in this case. If McFate believes in her program, she needs to be out there talking to angry people carrying gas cans who are prisoners in their own country. Why isn’t McFate out there on the front lines? Why is she sending others out to die or to be wounded for life? Paula Lloyd didn’t deserve this.

    McFate has a lot to answer for, and now she has a seriously burnt Human Terrain Team member and another death on her hands. She’s always been proud of her “fuck ethics” stance, and look where it has gotten her; to an about half-million dollar a year job and she gets to do whatever she wants without any accountability. Who else could be involved in the plagiarizing of other anthropologists writings, the spying on gun control groups, ignoring ethical oversight procedures and never have to answer any questions about any of this and be a cover girl. Pretty bitchen deal, we all should have such special treatment. I think she’ll get a special medal or honor from Bush for this disaster, that’s the way things work at the Pentagon.

    But I saw her name in the American Anthropological Association meetings program next Saturday, and I’m going to go ask her to account for herself. She’s become a pretty famous coward, only appearing Human Terrain PR people who control what she can and can’t say, but I don’t care, she can try and hide behind her Pentagon people, I have questions and I want answers. Hiding will only make things worse. Time for answers.

  6. Richard.Schumann

    Yes Mary, have the courage to leave your real name or take your anger and spite filled comments elsewhere, or better yet, keep them to your self.

    I do not know much about the issues between the “purist” Anthropologists/Social-Scientists-and don’t much care.

    This thread is about one of the most honest, hardworking, and altruistic people I have ever had the pleasure of working with. I worked with Paula in Afghanistan in 2002-2003 and she always was working to learn more about the Afghan people and their customs. She always worked for the betterment of the Afghans.

  7. Courtney


    I am a Wellesley alum ’08, and wanted more information regarding Paula (I’m shocked at what happened and my deepest sympathy goes out to her). I’m in army ROTC at MIT/ Wellesley/ Harvard and they told us today what happened to her. I don’t see your information on the W network- how can I reach you? I’m so glad you wrote what you did…

    Thanks, Courtney

  8. Maximilian Forte

    It seems that I have to first leave for a couple of weeks and let the last post stand idle for there to be any serious amount of comments — which is different from receiving serious comments. I won’t respond to much of what was written above, especially from offensive morons (such as Rafe, who disgraces himself with the petty and infantile nature of his commentary), except to say that if I had really wanted to be critical of Loyd I would have said MUCH more. Some were obviously straining for ANY example they could find online of anyone who might conceivably be rejoicing in the attack on Lloyd, even when the primary target here has been HTS and not Loyd.

    I cannot say that I am happy about what happened to Loyd, just as I am not happy about the HTT civilian who murdered her local attacker.

    Whatever the perceived merits of Loyd from her American chums, she had no bloody business being in Afghanistan in the first place. If you cannot understand that, then you cannot understand anything other than your righteous blather, which seems to be the case above.

    If the argument is that Loyd fully understood Afghan rage at imperialism, then her presence there is all the more audacious, unjustifiable, and repugnant. Either way it is certain that she now understands that rage far better.

  9. Maximilian Forte

    Mary does not need to do anything to suit others who comment here. In fact, her comment was the only one that was welcome, the rest stay up only to provide fodder for this blog as evidence of the selective humanity that underscores the nationalism and imperialism that accompanies the greed and arrogance of those who jump on the HTS bandwagon.

    As HTS itself likes to say after the death of one its own: it’s a war. The tragedy comes from far more than just the select case of an attack on someone like Loyd, one of the invaders.

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  12. Maximilian Forte

    I just saw that Richard Schumann works with the U.S. military, and is here posting about honesty, altruism, and the betterment of Afghans.

    One has to wonder what someone who works for the most dangerous and oppressive military institution in the world would know about any of those concepts.

    The larger point that is being missed by some of the commenters is who Loyd is, what her personal qualities may be, hardly matter here. Much of the puffery and pompous piety of some of the comments above are mere distraction and diversion. It only ever comes out for American “victims”, and it therefore disqualifies itself in my view as little more than a subtle racism that expects masses of Afghans to die without comment, while a single American “victim” is cleansed by an elegiac whitewash. The result is that the American intrusion and occupation continue to remain unscathed by any critique. Sorry, but if you came here expecting such an argument to fly without being challenged, you made a mistake.

    Lastly, while I leave it open to people to comment, and generally welcome comments of all perspectives, I do not tolerate being abused on my own blog, and worst of all, having other commenters brow beaten by guests. With such a pushy, ill mannered attitude, is it really a wonder that you get such a hostile reception in places like Afghanistan?

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  14. Pamthropologist

    Sometimes I find myself thinking things that make sense to me but may not work well with others. The anthropologist in me likes to find other contexts for the issues.

    Lately I have wondered what it would have been like if France or Britain, or even the princely state of Mysore, had come to America to stop our own Civil War. Say they were driven by moral outrage/concern for life/desire for profit/fear for their own national security. Suppose they committed troops and with the troops sent those who wanted to “help”. Maybe they would be “good” people, dedicated people. Would the Confederate or Union soldiers care? Would the populace care? Would it be the “right” thing to do? How would we expect this to play out?

    I can see clearly how it would play out. I can anticipate all the respondents who will tell me that it is not the same thing. But, I think it is.

    Thank you, Max, for your forbearance. This has been on my mind, and as I said, probably only makes sense to me.

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