House Panel Raises Questions About Human Terrain System

May 28, 2010

The House Armed Services Committee included language in its version of the military authorization bill that raises questions about the Human Terrain System, a controversial program in which social scientists are embedded with military units -- and suggests that funds could be cut off for the program if the Pentagon doesn't take certain actions. Military leaders have said that program provides the military with valuable expertise, but many social scientists have said that they are being asked to sacrifice disciplinary ethics to take actions that might hurt groups they study.

The report from the committee says: "While the committee remains supportive of the Army’s Human Terrain System (HTS) to leverage social science expertise to support operational commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is increasingly concerned that the Army has not paid sufficient attention to addressing certain concerns. The committee encourages the department to continue to develop a broad range of opportunities that leverage the important contributions that can be offered by social science expertise to support key missions such as irregular warfare, counterinsurgency, and stability and reconstruction operations. The bill limits the obligation of funding for HTS until the Army submits a required assessment of the program, provides revalidation of all existing operations requirements, and certifies Department-level guidelines for the use of social scientists."

Leaders of the American Anthropological Association, which has been outspoken in its criticism of the program, praised the House committee's action. The Senate has yet to take such action.

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