Friday, December 04, 2009

Counter-insurgency, executions in Iraq and more

As counterterrorism and counterinsurgency have emerged as a significant part of modern warfare, the report says, the U.S. military has expressed growing interest in using social scientific methods -- such as semi-structured and open-ended interviews, polling and surveys, text analysis, and participant-observation -- to develop a better understanding of the cultural landscapes in parts of the world where it is trying to get strategic footholds.
But the authors cringed at the notion of field researchers conducting "anthropology" for a program with such an ill-defined ethical framework. "When ethnographic investigation is determined by military missions, not subject to external review, where data collection occurs in the context of war, integrated into the goals of counterinsurgency, and in a potentially coercive environment -- all characteristic factors of the [Human Terrain System] concept and its application -- it can no longer be considered a legitimate professional exercise of anthropology," the association wrote in its report.
It was
not the first time the controversial program has come up at the association's annual meeting. The association has spoken out against the Human Terrain System before, and its some of its members have cited it as an example of how military ties can corrupt scholarship.

The above is from Steve Kolowich's "Anthropology and the Military" (Inside HigherEd) about the release of the American Anthropological Association's [PDF format] "Final Report on The Army's Human Terrain System Proof of Concept Program" yesterday. It will be interesting to see who covers it and one thing on that, a friend at the New York Times notes that I "never shut up" about the fact that the paper no longer covers academic or intellectual or scientific conferences or the release of papers at them. But, online, the Times did cover the paper. The PDF link goes to the Times post of the paper and in yesterday's snapshot we included:

As Patricia Cohen (New York Times) explains, "The panel concluded that the Pentagon program, called the Human Terrain System, has two conflicting goals: counterinsurgency and research. Collecting data in the context of war, where coercion and offensive tactics are always potentially present, 'can no longer be considered a legitimate professional exercise of anthropology' the report says."

But, yes, I will state here that the New York Times did cover the release of an important paper. Once upon a time, you could count on the paper to cover those things and much more. So congratulations to them for covering it and I mean that seriously. It is a public service and it is informative and what the press should be doing.

Amnesty International (UK) issued the following earlier this morning:

17 women among those set to die with fears government is 'playing politics'

Iraq is preparing to execute hundreds of prisoners, including 17 women, warned Amnesty International today, as it issued an 'urgent action' appeal to try to prevent the deaths.

The 900-plus prisoners have exhausted all their appeals and their death sentences are said to have been ratified by the Presidential Council, meaning that they could be executed at any time. Amnesty supporters are contacting Iraqi embassies around the world, including that in London, in a bid to stop the executions.

The condemned prisoners have been convicted of offences such as murder and kidnapping, but many are likely to have been sentenced after unfair trials. The 17 women are thought to include a group known to have been held on death row at the 5th section (al-Shu'ba al-Khamissa) of Baghdad's al-Kadhimiya Prison.

Amnesty International UK Campaigns Director Tim Hancock said:

'This is a staggering number of people facing execution and the fact that the government may be playing politics over these cases is truly frightening.

'Wholesale use of the death penalty was one of the worst aspects of Saddam Hussein's regime and the present government should stop aping his behaviour.

'Instead of sending nearly a thousand people to a grisly death by hanging, the Iraqi authorities should halt all executions and impose an immediate death penalty moratorium.'

Iraqi media reports suggest that the Iraqi government is currently trying to present itself as 'tough' on crime ahead of national elections scheduled for January. Iraqi opposition politicians have expressed concern that executions may be carried out to give the ruling party a political advantage ahead of the elections, and there have been calls for the government to temporarily suspend all executions.

Amnesty is warning that Iraq's use of capital punishment is already spiralling. At least 120 people are known to have been executed in Iraq this year, greatly up on the 34 executions recorded during 2008.

Iraq is now one of the world's heaviest users of the death penalty. After the US-controlled Coalition Provisional Authority suspended the death penalty following the toppling of Saddam Hussein's government in 2003, Iraq's subsequent reintroduction of capital punishment led to a rapid acceleration in death sentences and executions. Despite this, and contrary to some claims made by the Iraqi authorities, use of the death penalty has not seen a drop in crime levels in the country, with rises and falls in insurgency violence having no discernible relation to execution rates.

In England, the Iraq Inquiry continues hearing public testimony today. The Telegraph of London's "Iraq inquiry: Britain committed large land force 'to buy influence with US'" reports:

Lt Gen Sir Anthony Pigott, who was deputy chief of the defence staff (commitments), said that by taking on a ''meaty'' role and putting people "in danger" the UK was able to show the Americans that it was a ''serious player''.
Following Tony Blair's meeting with George Bush at the president's Texas ranch in April 2002, Gen Pigott said he set up a small team to look at the options for military action against Iraq.

You can file the above remarks by Pigott with yesterday's catty remarks made during the hearing. They are related.

Turning to TV, NOW on PBS debuts its latest episode tonight on most PBS stations and this one examines:

As Congress hammers out legislation that will determine the future of health care in this country, NOW travels to the nation's heartland to see what reform could mean for the middle class. On Friday, December 4 at 8:30 pm (check local listings), NOW Senior Correspondent Maria Hinojosa meets two tight-knit Oklahoma families whose problems with private health insurance left them unable to get proper medical care -- and on the brink of financial ruin. One of those families - the O'Reillys -- grapples with the issue of how to cover needed respiratory therapy treatment for their eight-year-old daughter, Sophie, who was denied coverage for what the insurance company labeled a "pre-existing condition.""People pretty frequently say, 'Oh, you know, my plan works great for me'," says Sophie's mother Natalie O'Reilly." And my answer to that is -- insurance works really well until you need it. Until you really, truly need it."

Washington Week also begins airing on many PBS stations tonight (and throughout the weekend, check local listings) and joining Gwen around the roundtable are Michael Duffy (Time), James Kitfield (National Journal) and Martha Raddatz (ABC News). Meanwhile Bonnie Erbe will sit down with Irene Natividad, Tara Setmayer and Wendy Wright to discuss the week's events on PBS' To The Contrary. Check local listings, on many stations, it begins airing tonight. And turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers:

The Zone Geoffrey Canada's remarkable experiment in inner-city education, the Harlem Children's Zone, has helped put historically low-achieving students in New York City on academic par with their grammar-school peers. CNN's Anderson Cooper reports. Watch Video [here]
Personal Foul Disgraced ex-NBA referee Tim Donaghy speaks for the first time about betting on pro basketball games, his Mafia involvement and subsequent prison term. Bob Simon reports. (This is a double-length segment.) Watch Video
60 Minutes, Sunday, Dec. 6, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

Above "[here]" should be the video link. Their link's not working currently. (Which is why the copy and past didn't result in "Watch Video" being a link on the first story.)
Radio notes, today on NPR's The Diane Rehm Show (begins airing on most NPR stations live at 10:00 am EST and begins streaming online at the same time). The first hour, domestic issues, the panelists are Matthew Continetti (Weekly Standard), David Corn the Corn Princess (Mother Jones) and Melinda Henneberger (Polititcs Daily). That hour's already on (I'm dragging this morning -- and humming Barbra Streisand's "Coming In And Out Of Your Life"). The second hour, international, the panelists are Abderrahim Foukara (Al Jazeera), James Kitfield (National Journal) and Barbara Slavin (Washington Times).

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