Anthropologists, furious that research may have inspired some Abu Ghraib tactics, vow not to assist in torture

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Professors normally want people to pay attention to their research findings.

But when anthropologists learned that some of their scholarship may have inspired tactics used in the Abu Ghraib prison — and may be increasingly central to the interrogation of prisoners being held by U.S. forces in many locations, sometimes without standard protections — many were taken aback.

As a result, scholars attending the American Anthropological Association’s annual meeting last week voted unanimously to condemn “the use of anthropological knowledge as an element of physical and psychological torture.” The vote took place at the association’s business meeting and the issue was such a draw that the group had a quorum (250 members, in contrast to last year’s 35) for the first time in 30 years.

The measure will now go for approval to the association’s full membership, and marks an attempt by anthropologists to set clear lines that they do not want scholars to cross. “I think this shows how outraged members of the association are,” said Alan H. Goodman, president of the association and a professor of anthropology at Hampshire College. “Anthropological knowledge has been implicated in nefarious forms of torture. It’s vital to show that we are opposed....

A magazine article and a book reflect the growing body of information that has anthropologists concerned. The article, by Seymour M. Hersh in The New Yorker, explored how Abu Ghraib came to be. Hersh discussed how neoconservative thinkers who shaped U.S. strategy in Iraq treated as “the Bible” a book called The Arab Mind, by the late Raphael Patai, a cultural anthropologist. Patai wrote his book long before anyone might have envisioned a U.S. invasion of Iraq. But Hersh noted that the sections about Arabs and sexual taboo emphasize points — such as the humiliation of being naked with others, the humiliation of being sexually degraded by women, etc. — that were in wide circulation among those at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in the military.

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