Human Terrain System


Human Terrain System

This is a space created for analysis and disucussion of the 'Human Terrain System', Human Terrain - the movie, and Anthropologists and their part in facilitating the war machine.

Members: 19
Latest Activity: Sep 11, 2013

Discussion Forum

This group does not have any discussions yet.

Comment Wall


You need to be a member of Human Terrain System to add comments!

Comment by Amy Francis on May 4, 2011 at 5:46am

The U.S. military’s HTS project places anthropologists, as contractors with the U.S. military, in settings of war, for the purpose of collecting cultural and social data for use by the U.S. military. The ethical concerns raised by these activities include the following:

1. As military contractors working in settings of war, HTS anthropologists work in situations where it will not always be possible for them to distinguish themselves from military personnel and identify themselves as anthropologists. This places a significant constraint on their ability to fulfill their ethical responsibility as anthropologists to disclose who they are and what they are doing.

2. HTS anthropologists are charged with responsibility for negotiating relations among a number of groups, including both local populations and the U.S. military units that employ them and in which they are embedded. Consequently, HTS anthropologists may have responsibilities to their U.S. military units in war zones that conflict with their obligations to the persons they study or consult, specifically the obligation, stipulated in the AAA Code of Ethics, to do no harm to those they study (section III, A, 1).

3. HTS anthropologists work in a war zone under conditions that make it difficult for those they communicate with to give “informed consent” without coercion, or for this consent to be taken at face value or freely refused. As a result, “voluntary informed consent” (as stipulated by the AAA Code of Ethics, section III, A, 4) is compromised.

4. As members of HTS teams, anthropologists provide information and counsel to U.S. military field commanders. This poses a risk that information provided by HTS anthropologists could be used to make decisions about identifying and selecting specific populations as targets of U.S. military operations either in the short or long term. Any such use of fieldwork-derived information would violate the stipulations in the AAA Code of Ethics that those studied not be harmed (section III A, 1).


In addition to these four points about the activities of anthropologists working in the HTS project itself, the Executive Board has this additional concern:

5. Because HTS identifies anthropology and anthropologists with U.S. military operations, this identification—given the existing range of globally dispersed understandings of U.S. militarism—may create serious difficulties for, including grave risks to the personal safety of, many non-HTS anthropologists and the people they study.


In light of these points, the Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association concludes (i) that the HTS program creates conditions which are likely to place anthropologists in positions in which their work will be in violation of the AAA Code of Ethics and (ii) that its use of anthropologists poses a danger to both other anthropologists and persons other anthropologists study. Thus the Executive Board expresses its disapproval of the HTS program.

In the context of a war that is widely recognized as a denial of human rights and based on faulty intelligence and undemocratic principles, the Executive Board sees the HTS project as a problematic application of anthropological expertise, most specifically on ethical grounds. We have grave concerns about the involvement of anthropological knowledge and skill in the HTS project. The Executive Board views the HTS project as an unacceptable application of anthropological expertise.

The Executive Board affirms that anthropology can and in fact is obliged to help improve U.S. government policies through the widest possible circulation of anthropological understanding in the public sphere, so as to contribute to a transparent and informed development and implementation of U.S. policy by robustly democratic processes of fact-finding, debate, dialogue, and deliberation. It is in this way, the Executive Board affirms, that anthropology can legitimately and effectively help guide U.S. policy to serve the humane causes of global peace and social justice.

American Anthropological Association’s Executive Board Statement on the Human Terrain System Project

October 31, 2007

Comment by Amy Francis on May 4, 2011 at 5:23am
I am deeply concerned about the installation of Anthropologists in war zones under the Human Terrain System. I am concerned about how ethical this is, the impact on field work in other areas, and how this will impact on Anthropology as an academic discipline.
Comment by Amy Francis on May 4, 2011 at 5:12am
The Human Terrain System uses empirical socio-cultural research and analysis to fill a large operational decision-making support gap. This research provides current, accurate, and reliable data generated by on-the-ground research on the specific social groups in the supported unit’s operating environment. This human terrain knowledge provides a socio-cultural foundation for the staff’s support to the Commander’s Military Decision Making Process (MDMP), both in planning and execution. It also enables a more effective rotation of forces through the creation and maintenance of an enduring, socio-cultural knowledge base.


Mission Statement: Recruit, train, deploy, and support an embedded operationally focused socio-cultural capability; conduct operationally relevant socio-cultural research and analysis; develop and maintain a socio-cultural knowledge base, in order to enable operational decision- making, enhance operational effectiveness, and preserve and share socio-cultural institutional knowledge.

Members (18)



OAC Press



© 2019   Created by Keith Hart.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service