Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A new site examining Torture

We have recently added a link to "The Interrogation Diaries" from this site. The author is addressing a significant and worrisome issue in our country, the apparent practice of torture of our prisoners. She asks how much the academy has been involved in this practice and so far, thankfully, has not found much evidence that anthropologists have been involved.

Anthropologists however have been involved in some heinous practices, notably in Nazi Germany. Gretchen Schafft [Anthropology Newsletter Jan, 1999, and elsewhere] has written about what anthropologist were doing under the Third Reich. They developed a "racial science" on the basis of which they were sorting individuals into types: "racially pure", "racially acceptable," "racially unacceptable," and "life unworthy of life." On the basis of these categories the government determined the lives and destinies of individuals.

The original context of this tradition was the eugenics movement, which supposed that racial stock was the basis of social progress. In fact, the Rockefeller Foundation had been funding the study of "German race" in the 1930s. In 1934 the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, with Rockefeller money, was giving a year long course to SS doctors on "racial biology".

The author of "The Interrogation Diaries" supposes that anthropologists can say something to the practice of torture in our time. I would hope so. But whatever the discipline has to say, I think we as individuals, as human beings, need to be ready to renounce the pretentious of scholars who claim to have reasonable grounds for torture. Torture is a moral issue, and without regard to the pretentions of science, it should be renounced and condemned.

It is a shame and embarrassment that an administration that claims to have a commitment to religious ideals would ever hold an ambiguous position on torture.

No comments: