Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Anthropologists on the Front Lines (TIME Magazine)

TIME Magazine
Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2007
Anthropologists on the Front LinesBy Ken Stier

Academic conferences tend to be fairly sedate affairs, at least to the uninitiated, and the American Anthropological Association's (AAA) annual meetings are usually no exception. But this year's, held recently in Washington, D.C., was a downright raucous gathering, certainly the liveliest and most intemperate since the divisive days of the Vietnam War, when some anthropologists were attacked for willingly or unwittingly abetting violent counter-insurgencies. There was some serious name-calling ("torture-deniers," even "war criminals") as well as threats to name names, censure or expel certain colleagues.

The reason for the furor was a small but growing number of colleagues who are collaborating with the U.S. government's war on terror. Two years ago, the CIA quietly started recruiting social scientists, advertising in academic journals and offering princely salaries of up to $400,000. But in the past few months the Pentagon has taken its work with the ivory tower to a new level. In September, Washington turned a pilot project called Human Terrain Teams into a full-fledged, $40 million program to embed four- or five-person groups of scholars — including anthropologists, sociologists and social psychologists — with all 26 U.S. combat brigades in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Although too early to fairly assess how these new field teams are faring, some preliminary reports are encouraging. From Afghanistan, the 4th brigade (82nd Airborne Division) reported a 60-70% drop in attacks — and a dramatic spike in capture of Taliban and allied Pakistanis and Arabs — after anthropological advisers recommended redirecting outreach from village elders to focus on the local mullahs. One mullah was reportedly so moved after being invited to bless a restored mosque on the nearby U.S. base that he quickly agreed to record an anti-Taliban radio ad. "That sounds too good to be true, and I am sure there are other sides, but the principle is certainly logical, which is whoever is in charge is the one you want to deal with," says James Peacock, an Indonesia expert at the University of North Carolina, who chaired an ad-hoc AAA commission to study the profession's involvement in national security matters. (He notes it is the same lesson Holland learned — in Indonesia, in 1870 — from a Dutch anthropologist, Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje, who helped end a 30-year war with independent-minded Aceh province virtually overnight.)

In the wake of the colossal mishandling of the Iraq occupation, this new partnership manifests the military's renewed appreciation of the importance of culture. "The more unconventional the adversary, and the further from Western cultural norms, the more we need to understand the society and underlying cultural dynamics," argues Montgomery McFate, a Navy anthropologist, and early advocate of what she says is best described as anthropologizing the military, not militarizing anthropology.

Yet many in the profession contend that any collaboration of this nature compromises their field's integrity. Anthropology deployed under such circumstances will become "just another weapon...not a tool for building bridges between peoples," argues Roberto Gonzalez, an associate professor of anthropology at San Jose State University and leading member of the Network of Concerned Anthropologists.

Because of its tainted history as the "handmaiden of colonialism," modern anthropologists have always been on guard to avoid anything that smacks of exploitation or oppression of their subjects. Core professional ethics standards require voluntary, informed consent from subjects, and that anthropologists (like doctors) do no harm. But the AAA is not actually a certifying body, which means that despite fervent petitioning, it has no real power to ban members from working with the national security agencies — leaving it to individuals to decide where to draw ethical lines.

Even anthropologists who are already working with the military acknowledge that this is a major challenge. "You are trying to be loyal to two communities — your subjects, and to the brigade you are attached to. It puts you an impossible situation," says one of the dozens of civilian anthropologists working within the military, who requested anonymity because of his opposition.

Given such ethical dilemmas, it's no wonder that Washington is also trying to develop its own in-house expertise in the social sciences. As it now does to help recruit experts in foreign languages, the government has begun programs to attract anthropologists and other academics before they develop any of their profession's qualms. Typically, students are connected with an intelligence agency early on in their academic career, attending special summer camps and soaking up the agency's own unique culture. David Price, who teaches the history of anthropology at St. Martin's University in Lacey, Washington, notes that such cultivation can end up defeating the purpose. "The intelligence agencies are [seeking social scientists] because they want to get smarter, to think outside the box, but it is very clear to me this will just reinforce what the box is," he says. "They are trying to capture their minds before they enter the class, so that they will already be thinking in agency-like way — so these programs will have the opposite effect."

In any event, it will tbe years before the government can be self-sufficient in these increasingly important fields of study. "Across all the services, if you could wave a magic wand and make all the changes that needed to happen in professional military education overnight, in 20 years they would have caught up in terms of cycles of how long it takes to build general officers," explains Kerry Fosher, an anthropologist currently teaching Marines. "Until that happens, intelligence and pre-deployment training have to spin at triple time in order to make up for the fact that the schools are not yet spitting out people who can be more intelligent consumers of cultural information."

Nor is there any guarantee that more social-science expertise in the U.S. military will mean more enlightened policy. "We had a lot to tell them [the Administration, about post-invasion governance] before they actually invaded but they were clearly so completely besotted by the idea that this was going to be a quick strike," says William O. Beeman, an Iran expert and chairman of the AAA's Middle East chapter. "They just blew us off, they absolutely would not talk to us, [and] it is no satisfaction to be able to say, 'we told you so, and we were right.'"

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

William O. Beeman--Iran's Nuclear Weapons Program Never Existed (New America Media)

Iran's Nuclear Weapons Program Never Existed

New America Media, News Analysis, William O. Beeman, Posted: Dec 05, 2007

Editor’s note: The recently released National Intelligence Estimate says Iran had “suspended its nuclear weapon program.” But Iran’s purported nuclear weapons program never existed, writes NAM contributing editor William O. Beeman. Beeman is professor and chair of the department of anthropology at the University of Minnesota and author of “The ‘Great Satan’ vs. the ‘Mad Mullahs’: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other.”

Iran has never had a proven nuclear weapons program. Ever. This inconvenient fact stands as an indictment of the Bush administration’s stance on Iran.

The recently released 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that Iran “suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003” caught the Bush administration flat-footed. In his panic, Bush grasped desperately at the idea that the weapons program may have once existed. However, the report does not offer a scintilla of evidence that the weapons program was ever an established fact.

Designating 2003 as the date that Iran “stopped” its program is telling: this is the year the Bush administration first decided to create a case for attacking Iran based on the purported danger of its nuclear program.

In February 2003, the U.S. government-designated terrorist group Mujahedin-e Khalq, better known as the MEK (or MKO) “revealed” the existence of Iran’s nuclear facilities to Washington. The MEK, which had been purged from Iran during the period following the 1979 revolution, took up residence in Iraq under the protection of Saddam Hussein. The MEK, sometimes identified as an “Islamic Marxist” organization, is dedicated to the overthrow of the current Iranian government. It has been assiduous in courting American lawmakers to recruit U.S. support for its cause. Legislators such as Kansas Senator Sam Brownback and Florida Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen have championed this cause, and neoconservatives Patrick Clawson and Daniel Pipes lobbied for its removal from the U.S. list of terrorist organizations in order to use the MEK in the Bush White House drive for regime change in Iran.

Subsequently, the Bush administration claimed that Iran had “concealed” its weapons program for decades, and began a campaign to shut down all nuclear development.

In fact, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) grants all nations the “inalienable right” to peaceful nuclear development. Further, it does not require any nation to report its facilities to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) until fissile material, such as uranium, is actually introduced into the facility.

Iran did indeed have a brief reporting lapse. It revealed the start of its nuclear enrichment experiments at the time they began, rather than announcing this to the IAEA 180 days before experimentation as was required. This was in 2003, and it was the only serious breech of protocol.

The National Intelligence Estimate now identifies 2003 as the date when the weapons program stopped — literally at the point when the Bush administration first became aware of it.

2003 was two years before the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It was more than a year before the United States began to lobby for U.N. economic sanctions against Iran. Claiming that “international pressure” had caused Iran to modify its behavior, the Bush administration tried desperately to justify its exaggerated characterizations of the danger Iran posed to the world. The only event that the Bush administration can now claim as constituting “international pressure” is the May 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.

If the international community understands that Iran never had a weapons program, President George W. Bush’s statement that Iran could start the program up “again” is clearly absurd.

It is now clear that the Bush administration’s campaign to convince the world of the danger of Iran’s purported immanent nuclear weapons was a sham. The campaign was one in a series of public pretexts to effect regime change in the Islamic Republic. No amount of equivocation, or bluster about Iran’s “continuing” danger can mask the fact that American credibility on this issue has been irrevocably damaged.

The only positive outcome of this debacle may be that the Bush administration may finally accept that differences with Iran can only be solved by actually talking to the leaders of the Islamic Republic. Restoration of diplomatic relations, even at a low level, will begin the process of reducing the hostile atmosphere that has been created, and will start the long, slow process toward the restoration of productive and peaceful relations.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Secrecy and Anthropology (Inside Higher Ed)

Inside Higher Ed

Secrecy and Anthropology

Anthropologists Oppose Attacking Iran, Serving Secret Intellignece

With debate over the role of anthropologists in aiding the military machine a theme threading through their annual meeting, scholars voted Friday to demand that the American Anthropological Association reinstate strict language from its 1971 code of ethics prohibiting secret research. Members at the meeting – who, for the second time in about 30 years and the second year in a row constituted a quorum in excess of the required 250 — also voted overwhelmingly to oppose “any covert or overt U.S. military action against Iran.”

The language anthropologists want reinstated on secrecy – which, the resolution’s sponsor affirmed would apply to anthropologists doing work for corporations too – stipulates that “no reports should be provided to sponsors that are not also available to the general public and, where practicable, to the population studied.” Like every item of business discussed Friday other than the resolution on Iran, the resolution on secrecy was not filed for consideration 30 days in advance, as is required under association rules, and so will be submitted to the association’s executive board on an advisory basis only.

But Friday’s vote only strengthens a recommendation contained in a new report from the AAA Commission on the Engagement of Anthropology with the U.S. Security and Intelligence Communities, which suggests that the membership or ethics committee “should consider” reinstating those same sections (1.g, 2.a, 3.a, and 6) of the 1971 code. The report centers on whether the association’s ethical standards bar ties to the military or intelligence agencies. The commission’s short answer: Not necessarily, although more scrutiny is needed. Stressing the diversity of roles anthropologists can play in military and intelligence apparatuses, the panel determined that while certain interactions would violate the ethical code, members also “see circumstances in which engagement can be preferable to detachment or opposition.” On issues of secrecy, for instance, the commission offered one particularly complex dilemma as illustration: “Some situations might be counterintuitive for most of us: consider a situation in which a research project is kept secret from the scholarly community, but not from the local population or community under study – as when an anthropologist employed by a government agency helps a special operation to get medical supplies to a remote town in northern Afghanistan.”

Debate on the resolution to reinstate the 1971 secrecy language Friday was short and terse. Terence Turner, a professor emeritus at the University of Chicago and a retired professor from Cornell University, offered the resolution, which was immediately seconded. Deborah Nichols, of Dartmouth College, expressed concern that reinstating the language would have the effect of rendering archaeologists in violation of the AAA ethics code for keeping the location of archaeological sites secret (to reduce looting) – which Turner then refuted, saying that the language does not restrict AAA members from protecting the identities of their subjects, informants or fieldwork locations.

Another member suggested that “the language of 1971, as excellent as it is, may need to be revisited” in a post 9-11 world (“We don’t know the scope of this new landscape,” she said). Hugh Gusterson, of George Mason University, spoke in support. Others clarified what the measure would and would not do. J. Anthony Paredes, professor emeritus at Florida State University, said that he had opposed considering the resolution because he didn’t remember the language of the 1971 code (because it was only brought up Friday, no paper copies of the resolution being voted upon were available). Paredes later asked for clarification from the resolution’s sponsor about whether it would apply to anthropologists working on proprietary reports in the corporate world (which Turner responded to by saying yes).

An AAA member called for a vote, seeking to cut debate short not long after it began. After a voice-vote on whether to end debate that garnered more yays than nays – but still generated significant noise from opponents – AAA President Alan Goodman, a professor at Hampshire College, declared the two-thirds majority needed to proceed to a vote. But a group cried “No” from the back of the room, at which point Goodman called for a headcount before finding there was in fact a two-thirds majority and the vote could proceed.

After the vote, Gerald Sider, of the City University of New York, expressed his dismay with the use of AAA as a platform for anthropologists who work for the military, and said he’d like to see the association publicly register its condemnation of the practice. But Paredes, who fills the practicing/professional seat on the AAA executive board, stood up to explain why he had opposed the board’s recent statement against the Human Terrain System, a project in which anthropologists work as contractors for the U.S. military in war zones for the purpose of collecting cultural and social data for military use. If the project is having any part in reducing harm, he said, he wants no part morally in condemning it.

Also on Friday, members approved a resolution submitted by Roberto J. Gonz├ílez, of San Jose State University, and William O. Beeman, of the University of Minnesota, to oppose the use of military action in Iran, condemn any public relations campaigns designed to convince the U.S. public to support any military action, and urge the president and Congress to work toward a peaceful and diplomatic solution. The resolution was the only one submitted 30 days in advance, and therefore, per the organization’s bylaws, it will be put to the entire AAA membership for a vote.

Anthropologists also lamented the failure of recent business meeting deliberations to effect change at the highest levels of the AAA. John Kelly, a professor at the University of Chicago, sponsored a motion asking that the executive board take the recommendations that come out of the business meeting seriously and, if they don’t apply them, offer very good reasons why not. “Because of the urgency of the relationship of anthropology to the military, we want [the secrecy resolution] taken as written,” Kelly said after the meeting of his reasons for sponsoring the motion. “We’re concerned that the board respond in good will and faith to the advice they’re given.”

Finally, board members approved items – again on an advisory basis to the board – that would establish a task force to study the rise of food prices worldwide and urge the U.S. Census Bureau to alter its questions and classifications relative to individuals who speak languages other than English. In a resolution sponsored by Laura Graham of the University of Iowa, anthropologists urged the bureau “to include a question about proficiency in languages other than English, and to stop classifying those who speak English less than ‘very well’— and all members of their households — as ‘linguistically isolated’ because the term is inaccurate and discriminatory.”

— Elizabeth Redden

Monday, December 03, 2007

U.S. Wants to Have it Both Ways on Iranian Nonintervention Pact--Algiers Accords Make Intervention in Iran Illegal (Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore Sun

U.S. wants to have it both ways on Iranian nonintervention pact

By Reese Erlich
November 28, 2007

President Bush and leading Democratic presidential candidates have said a
military attack on Iran is a viable option. According to the president,
Iran's pursuit of nuclear technology puts the Middle East "under the
shadow of a nuclear holocaust."

Yet the 1981 Algiers Accords, backed by Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald
Reagan and Bill Clinton, prohibit such an attack.

The Bush administration has defended the validity of the Algiers Accords
in court, and the courts agreed, so there can be no doubt of the
documents' legality.

Issued Jan. 19, 1981, and brokered at the end of the Carter
administration, the accords declared, "It is now and will be the policy of
the United States not to intervene, directly or indirectly, politically or
militarily, in Iran's internal affairs."

The accords mostly dealt with potential legal disputes arising out of the
1979 hostage crisis. They prohibited individual lawsuits against Iran and
established a procedure for the resolution of future disputes between the
two countries.

A group of former hostages challenged that agreement in 2000 and sued Iran
for subjecting them to 444 days of captivity. Iran never responded to the
lawsuit, and the former hostages won a default judgment. They wanted $33
billion in damages. But the State Department invoked the Algiers Accords,
arguing that individuals suing sovereign governments would interfere with
U.S. foreign policy. A federal appeals court agreed in 2004 and upheld the
Algiers Accords.

The hypocrisy is obvious. The administration supported the dispute
resolution portions of the accord while ignoring the nonintervention
provisions. Barry Rosen, a former press officer at the U.S. Embassy in
Iran who was part of the 2000 lawsuit, put it bluntly: "This
administration has not been shy about breaking international agreements,"
he told The Washington Post last year. "The administration appears to be
in contradiction of itself. "

The situation has only gotten worse. Two years ago, the Bush
administration initiated a covert program of military attacks against Iran
by disaffected ethnic minority groups, as Seymour M. Hersh documented in
The New Yorker.

Last year, I interviewed leaders of PJAK, a branch of the Kurdistan
Workers Party (PKK), which is on the State Department's list of terrorist
organizations. As I reported in Mother Jones this year, PJAK receives
money and arms from the United States in a program designed to destabilize
northern Iran. The PJAK guerrillas claimed they killed more than 100
Iranian Revolutionary Guards last year. Iran retaliated by shelling
Kurdish villages in northern Iraq.

Turkey says it captured PKK guerrillas possessing U.S. arms. In recent
weeks, because of PKK attacks, Turkey has sent helicopters to attack the
PKK in northern Iraq. U.S. policy is destabilizing the entire region.

According to the ABC Evening News, similar covert actions are under way in
Baluchistan, a province near the Pakistan border. ABC reported that the
U.S. is funding Jondollah, the insurgent group behind the February 2007
bombing in Baluchistan that killed 11 Revolutionary Guards and wounded
several civilians. Jondollah is headed by a former Taliban member turned
freedom fighter against Iran.

These proxy troops are similar to the Afghanistan mujahedeen that the U.S.
armed and funded to fight the Soviets in the 1980s. Some of those
fighters, including Osama bin Laden, later attacked the U.S. Will history
repeat itself?

By engaging in this covert war and selectively ignoring the Algiers
Accords, the U.S. undermines efforts to make Iran follow United Nations
resolutions and international law. To support the Algiers Accords and
reject them at the same time is consistent with the general illogic of the
Bush administration. But to allow this backdoor war to continue is to
court disaster.

Reese Erlich is the author of "The Iran Agenda: The Real Story of U.S.
Policy and the Middle East Crisis." His e-mail is