Anthropology and the Military: Current Reports (updated)

Briefly, Part One of a series by Adam Geller, writing for the Associated Press, on the Human Terrain System was just published a few hours ago (07 March 2009) — see: “1 man’s odyssey from campus to combat.”

Note the following contradictory statements regarding whether Michael Bhatia, the first scholar-victim, was to be put in any danger while in Afghanistan, and the extent to which he may not have been prepared to enter conflict situations:

From the beginning, Bhatia and other Human Terrain social scientists were told explicitly that they would be going out on patrols, and that the missions could be dangerous, McFate said.

But when a recruiter from BAE Systems — the contractor that staffs civilians for Human Terrain teams — contacted Bhatia, he offered a job with limited risk, “embedded with the Brigade Combat Team but not accompanying the BCT on patrols.”

“The HTS team would stay in the ‘Green Zone’ and collect information from returning BCT patrols,” the recruiter wrote in a Feb. 14, 2007, e-mail to Bhatia. McFate said that job description was wrong, and that Bhatia knew that.

On a long walk around Providence’s East Side, Bhatia tried to reassure his sister he’d be safe. He left the impression, Tricia Bhatia said, that he wasn’t going to be leaving base all that much. “I think when he got there it became a very different story.”

Update 1: Part Two of the series by Geller is now online (March 9, 2009): “‘Professor’ pays a heavy price.”

On, Lorenz Khazaleh has just published a post titled, “War in Iraq: Why are anthropologists so silent?” featuring the article by Antonius C.G.M. Robben in the current issue of Anthropology Today, “Anthropology and the Iraq war: An uncomfortable engagement.” It is well worth reading, over and over, and may be especially useful for those without paid access to the periodical itself.

Update 2: For unknown reasons, The Dallas Morning News has decided to rehash one of the oldest stories told about an alleged success of a Human Terrain Team in Afghanistan, a story that has been abundantly retold already (and debunked by David Price who discovered that the Army had recorded no documentary evidence whatsoever to substantiate the story). See Jim Landers, “Base’s former commander credits Human Terrain Team for reduced casualties,” March 9, 2009.


2 thoughts on “Anthropology and the Military: Current Reports (updated)

  1. Cleo Awards

    Congratulations to Mr. Adam Geller for writings such a one sided advertising piece for Fondacaro and McFate! I trust you were well paid for doing their advertising and for ignoring all the real controversies surrounding Human Terrain, and I hope your own HTS advertising contract included a non-swallowing clause, because I’d hate to think that anyone could really believe all this crap or that you may of gotten any of this on your shirt.

    I’m willing to be paid to write lies like this too, does anyone understand how HTS pays the journalists who write these advertising pieces?

    1. Maximilian Forte

      I recall one “independent journalist,” Steve Featherstone who wrote an article for Harper’s Magazine. Much of it, to me, read like a meandering piece of aimless description that simultaneously raised no uncomfortable questions and presented no troubling details of a program that has been at the centre of a hell storm. He resented my suggestion that he was tied to HTS.

      A few weeks later I noted that several photographs that appear on the HTS website were marked as “courtesy of Steve Featherstone.” They appear in no other place that I have seen. That is certainly one concrete indication of a relationship that is less than independent, and possibly mutually supportive.

      Other articles in little known newspapers routinely produced entirely one-sided, and rosy accounts of HTS.

      This one by the AP is not different than those…however, whether intentional or not, it does offer a very serious contradiction of what we have been told to date, and it seems to be on the basis of documentation and statements from family of Bhatia: he may have been exposed to danger without his knowing in advance to what extent. If true, and here it is documents and family versus “McFate said” (which is why I underlined it), then this is another extremely serious charge against HTS, and it then gets part of the blame for his death.

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