Sunday, October 14, 2007

Concerned Anthropologists have a reason to be


The above looks like a US soldier in the United States Army, but who knows? He could, after all, be an anthropologist.

Wednesday on NPR's The Diane Rehm Show, USA Today's Susan Page (filling in for Diane Rehm) attempted to tackle the issue of anthropologists being used to spy on the people of Afghanistan and Iraq so that their knowledge can then be used against the people by the US military. Those social scientists engaging in the appalling behavior prefer to see it differently, but that is what it amounts to.

You can't talk appalling behavior without inviting Montgomery McFate -- thankfully, no longer a part of the Bay Area -- who apparently couldn't get a real job in her field so she went to work for the US military long before the Iraq War started. Monty was up to her usual "creativity" (she was humored growing up by having lies passed off as creativity) even when addressing an anthropologist who pops up David Rohde's "Army Enlists Anthropology in War Zones" (New York Times) and is billed in the article only as "Tracy."

The Fool Monty denied that anything untoward was going on. Anthropologist David Price raised issues about what exactly Monty's team of social misfits were doing, how they were conducting themselves and what was being done with the information they gathered. Monty dismissed it all and insisted, near the end, that things would be much worse if she weren't 'engaged' in 'the process.' She insisted that "they are not conducting covert or clandestine activities. They identify themselves by name and the unit that they're with to anyone they talk to so it's not a secret program by any means." And she took offense to Price's questions over whether or not people were giving informed consent by insisting that "no one is forced" to talk to the anthropologists and everyone who does is making a choice.

How much of a choice are they allowed?

That's an important question and it only became more important as the hour discussion continued. Page brought up the issue of Tracy.

Susan Page: . . . there was a New York Times article last week which actually prompted us to do this show today. And it did talk about this anthropologist named Tracy, but it wasn't clear to me, Montgomery McFate maybe you know, whether her [full] name was just not disclosed to the New York Times article, or if her full name is not being disclosed to the people she's interacting with in Afghanistan. Do you know -- do you know the answer to that.

Monty : Her name was held from the New York Times story and in other media that's come out of Afghanistan at her own request.

Susan Page: But does she give her [full] name to the Afghanis that she's talking with.

Monty: Yes, she does.

Creative Monty.

Author of Times' piece, David Rohde appeared much later in the program. When he did, Page returned to the issue of Tracy and how she presented herself when interviewing the civilian populations.

David Rohde: Um, she was transparent with them. I don't think she gave her full name, I think she does identify herself as an anthropologist. I saw her briefly, but I don't know what she does at all times. She personally, um, actually chose to carry a weapon for security that's not a requirement for members of the team, I've been told. And she wore a military uniform which would make her appear to be a soldier, um, to Afghans that she wasn't actually speaking with.

Susan Page: And so you think Aghans knew that she wasn't a soldier even though she was wearing a military uniform and carrying a weapon? Or do you think that they just assumed that she probably was?

David Rohde: I would think that they assumed that she was.

He doesn't think she gave her full name. She carries a weapon and dresses in a military uniform. Do Afghans, Page wonders, assume "Tracy" is a soldier? Rohde answers, "I would think that they assumed that she was."

Most anthropologists in the field neither wear fatigues nor carry a weapon.

David Price's questions of "meaningful, voluntary, informed consent" only became more pertinent after it was revealed, by Rohde, that Monty didn't know what the hell she was talking about.

Anthropologists (including Price) have set up Concerned Anthropologists in an attempt to address the manipulation of a social science and of a people. What Monty and her crew are doing is disgusting. They know it is and that's why Tracy didn't want her last name used in the article. (What? You think she lives in fear that the Taliban is going to show up stateside and force her into a burqa? As one told George Packer in December 2006, it's a real drag on the US cocktail circuit when people find out you're taking part in that and, golly, you get lectures and stares.) Put yourself in Afghanistan or Iraq. You're in your home. The US military rolls up to your door. A man or a woman, in military uniform and carrying a gun, tells you, "I'm an anthropologist and I need to ask you a few questions." Do you really think you have the power to say "no"? There is no genuine consent to any action that begins with a full show of force and that's exactly Tracy begins her 'missions.'

[Photo public domain courtesty of the US Army.]
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