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Friday, February 13, 2009

God's Speed to Paula Loyd

So says Michael Yon.

I missed this initial report on the attack on Paula Loyd while she was working for an Army Human Terrain Team, in Afghanistan.

I also missed the fact that she passed away at the Brooks Army Hospital Burn Center, in San Antonio, Texas, on 7 January of this year.

Apparently the Taliban claimed credit for the attack, although in a somewhat exaggerated form.

There was a good overall article, IMHO, in The Boston Globe in the Thursday edition.  Written by reporter Farah Stockman, it is titled Anthropologist's war death reverberates.

There is no doubt what happened.   While Ms Loyd (and it is Ms Loyd, as she was being employed by the US Army in a civilian capacity) was interviewing in the village of Chehel Gazi, Afghanistan, she was doused with fuel and set on fire.  She had been talking to Abdul Salam, who was carrying a container of fuel.   After about 15 minutes, as Ms Loyd made to leave, Mr Salam poured the fuel on her and lit it. Her associates threw her into water and she was immediately evacuated to an Army hospital and then on to Germany and then San Antonio, Texas, where the Army has a burn center at Fort Sam Houston.

Her guard, Don M Alaya, stopped Mr Salam as he tried to flee and handcuffed him, kneeling on him to further restrain him.   About ten minutes later, when he learned the extent of Ms Loyd's injuries he shot Mr Salam in the head.

At this point I pause to point out that Mr Alaya's action in shooting Mr Salam was wrong on several levels.

On Tuesday of this week Mr Alaya pleased guilty to manslaughter.   Sentencing is set for 8 May and he could get up to 15 years in prison.

The Globe article is fairly well documented.  Here is the criminal complaint against Mr Alaya. And here is the report of the Army CID agent, who investigated the case.

Another take on the story was from San Antonio, which brings some other particulars to the surface.

Ms Loyd's work in Afghanistan seems fairly straight forward to me, but here is a somewhat contrarian view--the Anthropology Community has been mostly opposed to the idea of anthropologists helping the US Army.  Here is one such view.

The Globe article had this paragraph
In 2007, just months after the Human Terrain program was launched, the American Anthropological Association declared that it violates the group's code of ethics, which stipulates that subjects of study must not feel forced to participate and must never be harmed.  On Feb. 15, the association will vote on a new resolution that would prohibit research that is not made public, a move targeting research for both military and industrial purposes.
I have some sympathy with the American Anthropological Association.  On the other hand, I don't see how an anthropologist can show up without having some impact on the subject population.  There is no neutral observation, only degrees of impact.

That said, at the end of the day we can either continue to engage in the "knock down the door and terrorize the people" as our approach to counter-insurgency or we can learn how to work with the local population.  I favor the second approach.  The American Anthropological Association appears to favor the former.  Or, maybe, they feel that their profession places them above the concerns of mere citizens.

If the professional anthropological association declares that the military is off limits and its members should not support our military in a more enlightened form of counter-insurgency then perhaps it is time to stop using Federal Money to support such anthropological research.   Keep it pure, so to speak.

It is not like the Federal Government doesn't fund anthropological studies.  Here is a list of grants from the National Science Foundation, since 1997.

There is no doubt in my mind that we need to learn more about the nations where we operate. When I was younger the Department of Defense published thick books on the nations where US military people might find themselves.  Called "Area Handbooks," they were useful compendiums of information.  The actual source was the Library of Congress. The Area Handbook for Afghanistan can be found at this site.

While some may view our presence in Afghanistan as an occupation, I do not.  We are trying to help the current Afghani Government bring peace and stability to the nation of Afghanistan.  We are also trying to put a stop to the global insurgency that Osama bin Laden would give us, under his umbrella group, al Qaeda.  That group seems to be protected in the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan and he seems to be protected by the Taliban.

If the academic establishment does not wish to help the US Government battle al Qaeda and help the current Afghani Government, then the US Congress should take action.  My recommendation is that the US Congress fund a Department of Defense Anthropological Research Center, perhaps collocated with the Naval Postgraduate School or the Air Force Institute of Technology or maybe even with the Army War College.  It could be the Paula Loyd Institute for Anthropological Studies.  Along with students from the military (active duty and reserve) and DoD and Service Civilians, it should also enroll civilians interested in anthropology.  Civilian students would provide a more diverse and thus more interesting student body.  I suggest that several of the organizations focused on the military, such as the Association of the US Army, should provide scholarships for such civilian students.  It would be a fitting tribute to Paula Loyd.

Regards  --  Cliff

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