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Racist Article in Spy Journal Calls for Killing 100,000 Muslim “Zealots”

This story reports on an extraordinary 2004 article by a Harvard lecturer and former Chief of Neuropsychiatry at Guantanamo Bay, which made the shocking claim that "hard-core zealots" had "brains that are structurally and functionally different from us." Furthermore, the article stated, 100,000 "zealots" within the Muslim body politic would have to be eliminated, the way "malignant [cancer] cells" are removed from a healthy body.

The author of the article, "Terrorism – The Underlying Causes," in the Winter/Spring 2004 issue of the Intelligencer, Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (PDF), house organ for the American Federation of Intelligence Officers (AFIO), was William Henry Anderson, M.D. Anderson’s piece received a stinging protest letter to the editor from psychologist and military ethics expert, Jean Maria Arrigo, but I’m not aware of any other complaint regarding this racist, fascistic article in the pages of a major intelligence services journal.

In fact, when, during her stint on the 2005 Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS) task force of the American Psychological Association (APA), Dr. Arrigo tried to get the TF membership, stacked with military psychologists from Special Forces, SERE, and the CIA, to discuss the significance of the Anderson article, she was met with indifference and assurances that the matter was of no consequence, since Anderson had by then retired. The record of this can be seen by perusing the PENS listserv, posted by ProPublica a few months back.

The text of Anderson’s article is not online, as Intelligencer does not post its articles on the Internet. However, I have obtained a copy, and can report what I read.

The article starts out as a bloviating howler. Anderson quotes Sun Tzu, recapitulates the Aristotlean causal categories, and fulminates about "credulous enablers" and "useful idiots" that sabotage U.S. efforts to mount an effective defense against its enemies. Anderson regrets that the enablers and idiots will be with us for a long time, as they represent unfortunate but necessary aspects of human nature.

It is only when we get to the "zealots" that we, supposedly, enter new territory. The zealots are "a pathological departure" from "human nature" (emphasis added to quote below).

No, the zealots are another kind of person. They may be thought of as cells of a social body that have undergone malignant change.

Let us consider terrorism with an analogy from medicine — that of terrorism as a cancer. There are about 1.4 billion Muslims in the world. Embedded withing this healthy body are, perhaps, 100,000 people who are eager and active in pursuit of the goal of killing us. Just as successful treatment of cancer requires killing of the malignant cells, we will need to kill this small minority, since we have no evidence that they can be induced to change their minds.

Dr. Anderson is not content with making proclamations. He has an entire section of his article devoted to pseudo-scientific justifications for his claim that the "zealots" minds cannot be literally changed.

My hypothesis is that they, or some of them, at least have brains that are structurally and functionally different than ours. Their single-minded purpose is made possible by an underlying dysregulation of the brain.

Only fair use limitations prevent me from fully deconstructing Anderson’s strange neuroscience, where "overvalued ideas" arise from damage to the brain’s amygdala and frontal cortex. The damage is ostensibly due to hereditary factors (made worse by all those Muslim "consanguineous marriages," don’t you know), poor nutrition and environmental toxins found in Muslim countries, and possible birth injuries.

Anderson’s scientific racism calls to mind the similarly medicalized racism of the Nazis, as psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton described it over 20 years ago. In his book, The Nazi Doctors, Lifton quoted Nazi doctor Fritz Klein, in words not too different from Harvard lecturer and Massachusetts General Hospital Senior Psychiatrist Anderson:

Of course I am a doctor and I want to preserve life. And out of respect for human life, I would remove a gangrenous appendix from a diseased body. The Jew is the gangrenous appendix in the body of mankind.

Dr. Arrigo caught this whiff of racist ideology in a letter to the Intelligencer published in Winter/Spring 2005. Note: the text at the link is not perfect. I have taken my quote from the original publication, which is not online.

William Henry Anderson’s essay… appears to me invalid and unsuitable for publication in this journal. I write to you as an AFIO member and a social psychologist who studies ethics of intelligence….

… in proposing direct extermination of Middle East terrorist zealots, Anderson adopts the infamous racist metaphor used by the Nazis — "tumors as Jews, Jews as tumors" in the body politic…. Anderson’s argument may be valuable historically as a sample of the thinking of the military authorities at Guantanamo Bay, but publication without editorial reservations appears to make The Intelligencer complicit with Anderson’s unsupported racism.

Dr. Anderson had a rejoinder to Arrigo’s criticism. He unrepentantly claimed "a robust scientific literature" that supposedly supports him, and dismissed Arrigo’s criticisms as "gratuitous name-calling," which failed to understand "the necessity, without delay, to focus on the danger at hand: to eliminate the cancer of terrorism."

Even more incredible was an accompanying editorial note from the Intelligencer editor, who reminded the AFIO audience that the journal is a forum for discussion, "as well as projections of future possibilities and theories." The editor assured the reader the journal will "remain open to a wide range of views," including "provocative views," and then adds:

What sounds politically incorrect today, might be the very thing that ensures our survival, tomorrow.

What is frightening about the Anderson article is that it so clearly represents a respected point of view within the intelligence services. It may not be the majority view, but it clearly has influence. Anderson himself was a featured commentator in the Joint Military Intelligence College 2005 publication, The Sources of Islamic Revolutionary Conduct. The JMIC is part of the Center for Strategic Intelligence Research, itself a component of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

As politicians and the punditry argue over whether or not there will be any accountability for torture or other war crimes committed by the Bush administration, the rot has spread much deeper, as evidenced by the AFIO article and its response. It will take a committed and determined cleansing of the Defense Department and the intelligence agencies to root out the evil that has insinuated itself there. It seems unlikely the current administration and political configuration is up to that immense task. But wishful thinking will not make racist ideologues like Anderson go away.

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Jeff Kaye

Jeff Kaye

Jeffrey Kaye is a psychologist in private practice in San Francisco, where he works with adults and couples in psychotherapy. He worked over 10 years professionally with torture victims and asylum applicants. Active in the anti-torture movement since 2006, he has his own blog, Invictus. He has published previously at Truthout, Alternet, and The Public Record.