The American Historical Association are debating a resolution opposing the Iraq War, on the grounds that it involves practices inimical to the values of the historical profession (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/19930). Specifically they argue:
the American Historical Association adopted a resolution in January 2004 reaffirming the principles of free speech, open debate of foreign policy, and open access to government records in furthering the work of the historical profession;
…the current Administration has violated the above-mentioned standards and principles through the following practices:
* excluding well-recognized foreign scholars;
* condemning as “revisionism” the search for truth about pre-war intelligence;
* reclassifying previously unclassified government documents;
* suspending in certain cases the centuries-old writ of habeas corpus and substituting indefinite administrative detention without specified criminal charges or access to a court of law;
* using interrogation techniques at Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and other locations incompatible with respect for the dignity of all persons required by a civilized society;
…a free society and the unfettered intellectual inquiry essential to the practice of historical research, writing, and teaching are imperilled by the practices described above
My question is, concentrating on the final two issues raised: do the suspension of habeas corpus and torturing people imperil historical research? Theyre certainly bad things to do, and harm society generally. But do they harm historical research and if so, how? You could argue that historians might get imprisoned indefinitely or tortured, but I see no reason to suppose that they are particularly liable to such treatment. And, in fact, lots of historians in classical times and ever since have managed to produce good historical work in countries which allowed torture and arbitrary imprisonment.
The problem for the hundreds of US historians who have signed this statement is that if you take away the final two issues, the three you have left are irritating actions by the US government, but not major threats to the historical profession. There are other democracies also interfering blatantly in historians work: see e.g. this article on the Indian historian Romila Thapar (http://www.himalmag.com/2003/june/analysis_2.htm). If historians want to protest the Iraq war and Bushs policies (as most of the ones I know in Britain do), that is perfectly reasonable. But to claim that such policies are unacceptable to historians as historians seems to me a specious argument.