On Tuesday, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) will be hosting an informational session on campus about internships and careers at the CIA. We, the Ethical Area Studies Coalition (EASC), will rally outside their event at Ida Noyes Hall in order to draw attention to the agency’s abysmal human rights record. As students with conscience who study regions of the world that have suffered at the hands of U.S. imperialism, we stand against the weaponization of area studies (fields of scholarship focused on geographical or cultural regions) knowledge by the U.S. government. We call upon our fellow students to pledge not to cooperate with U.S. government agencies and departments implicated in gross human rights violations—in particular, the CIA, Department of Homeland Security, as well as the Department of Defense (DOD) and U.S. Armed Forces.
Universities have played an instrumental role in the consolidation and expansion of the U.S. military-industrial complex in the post–World War II era. Since the promulgation of the National Defense Education Act in 1958, the U.S. government has actively funded area studies centers around the country as “national resources for teaching any modern foreign language,” with a specific focus on “critical languages” seen as vital to U.S. foreign policy interests. This benign facade conceals the position of U.S. academia as recruiting grounds for the repressive programs of the U.S. government and foreign governments. Harvard, the staging-ground for this paradigm, has furnished war-planning luminaries such as Henry Kissinger and Samuel Huntington to serve the ends of American Cold War foreign policy. More recently, Bernard Lewis, a renowned scholar of Islamic history, served as an adviser to the George W. Bush administration on the Iraq War. Here at the University of Chicago, professor Milton Friedman helped craft the neoliberal economic policy of Chilean General Augusto Pinochet’s authoritarian regime, which generated widespread poverty and crippling debt.
The CIA boasts a long track record of human rights abuses around the world. Throughout its history, the CIA has orchestrated a litany of coups and assassinations that have crushed democratic movements across the Global South, making self-determination near impossible for millions of people. In 1953, the agency organized a coup that toppled Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran, returning the country to authoritarian rule for the sake of British and American oil interests. It even plotted the assassination of President Patrice Lumumba in the Congo. Throughout the 1980s, the agency trained right-wing death squads and counterrevolutionaries in Nicaragua. Moreover, in the 21st century, the CIA has run black sites around the world where it has illegally detained and tortured people. In fact, a former administrator of one of these black sites, Gina Haspel, currently heads the agency.
Similarly, students ought to be wary of DOD and the U.S. Armed Forces. Since the end of World War II, the U.S. military has distinguished itself as the single greatest threat to international peace and security. During the U.S. invasion and occupation of Vietnam, the U.S. military murdered hundreds of thousands of civilians, poisoning millions more via its extensive use of agent orange and other toxic defoliants. More recently, U.S. Special Operations forces have often disregarded international law in their engagements abroad. The wars in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan indicate that, for the American war machine in the new millennium, “business as usual” prevails. Last week Amnesty International released a report detailing the indiscriminate U.S.–led assault on the Syrian city of Raqqa, which saw entire families wiped out.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should be readily identifiable to the student body as a U.S. department non grata. DHS has administered the American “War on Terror” by profiling and entrapping Muslims through leveraging the legal cover of the Patriot Act. DHS today manages a string of migrant internment camps along the U.S.–Mexico border in coordination with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Health and Human Services. Judging from the pronouncements of the president and his officials, the intention behind this physical and emotional violence on migrants was to deter other refugees and asylum seekers from coming to the United States. Assuming the definition of terrorism is violence inflicted upon a civilian population for a political purpose, especially for the sake of intimidating or terrorizing a specific group of onlookers, then the DHS policy of child separation definitely constitutes terrorism.
The EASC opposes the perversion of area studies knowledge and language proficiency to serve the CIA, DOD, and DHS’s chauvinistic foreign and domestic agendas. Instead, we pledge to commit our time and resources to the promotion of human rights in our regions of study via community engagement, consciousness-raising, and solidarity with those who are demanding and defending their freedom and dignity. EASC draws together individuals and organizations across campus, united in a vision for peace and justice for all.
This Tuesday, April 30, at 1:30 pm, we will rally in front of Ida Noyes Hall to protest the CIA Information Session. We ask that you sign the pledge and join us in standing against the weaponization of knowledge and for the responsible use of academic expertise.