Hello everyone, and thanks to Savage Minds for the nice introduction and the chance to blog about my experience reading government documents about interrogation and torture in the Global War on Terrorism. I desperately need the outlet – it’s been a strange and somewhat lonely experience, simply because I don’t know of any other anthropologists who’ve done the same. (If you have, I’d love to hear from you.)
Before I go any further, let me issue the disclaimer: Chris noted that I work at Sandia National Laboratories – I was at Los Alamos National Laboratories for 6 years, too – but absolutely nothing I write on this blog has anything to do with Los Alamos, the Department of Energy, Sandia National Labs, Lockheed Martin, or anyone who signs my paycheck. In my day job, I pursue fairly technical work among computer scientists and mathematicians, but I won’t be writing about that. Instead, I’ll be blogging about my personal obsession with torture and interrogation. I only point this out because I was criticized as something of a shill for national security community(mostly on the basis of my institutional affiliation, I think) when I wrote a short editorial about Patai and torture in Anthropology Today. So I want to make it very clear that no one is paying me to dig through FOIA’d interrogation documents. This is my own thing, and I pursue it purely for my own interest, and on my own time, and with my own resources, because I find it fascinating, and because the more torture documents I read, the more I’ve come to believe that interrogation and torture are ethnographic problems worth our collective attention. I mean, this stuff is really interesting.
So, now that that’s out of the way, you might be wondering why anyone would spend their weekends downloading, reading, and taking notes on PDFs of poorly scanned, redacted, jumbled, jargon-and-acronym filled government documents. It all started in 2006, when I was asked to lead a roundtable discussion on anthropology and ethics at the inaugural Ethics in Intelligence conference in Springfield, VA. I wanted something more recent than the usual Project Camelot-Vietnam-Franz Boas stories, so I chose the Raphael Patai/sexual humiliation/Abu Ghraib story as a case study to illustrate why anthropologists tend to be hostile to military and intelligence activities. I knew I’d probably have some experienced intelligence and military personnel at the table, so I figured it was a good idea to have more material than just Hersh’s article.
And that’s how this all began. In searching for articles that might shed more light on how Patai’s book had been used in Abu Ghraib, I came across plenty of people citing Hersh. However, I couldn’t find any independent accounts that corroborated his allegations about Patai’s book being linked to torture. Since then, I’ve thought long and hard (obsessively) about torture, anthropology, politics, war, interrogation, critique, and culture, and – as I noted above – it’s been a long, strange, often depressing trip. I am working on a couple of articles about these topics, but in the meantime, I’ll be blogging sporadically about some of the more interesting materials I’ve come across. So – more to come.