Iraqi Interpreters Face Life-or-Death Choice

Either stop helping the US military, or stop wearing the face mask that hides your identity so that militias don’t kill you and your family.

US military tells the Iraqi interpreters who have risked their lives for years to help us: “Don’t want to risk your life? Waaah. Who needs you, anyway?” Or as they say in Arabic, الباب يوسع جمل.

But on the bright side, the military will probably revisit the decision if too many terps get killed. It’s anybody’s guess what they’ll consider “too many.”

Here are two really good blog posts about this story:

At Vet Voice, a project of Vote Vets, and LT Nixon Rants.

The original Washington Post article is here.

And the comments are here.

I haven’t read them all yet, but so far nobody thinks the US military’s new policy is a good one.

Read the two blog posts. The second one is even funny.
Update: VetVoice has a new post up, Backlash Builds Over New Iraqi Interpreter/Mask Policy.

Some quotes from this article and some that were included in the article:

Despite the fact that Donald Rumsfeld called service members “fungible” in 2004, they’re not. And while Lt. Col. Stover obviously doesn’t realize it, the same goes for translators. And I’m not the only one who sees it this way. The reaction across print media and in the military blogosphere has been swift and one-sided.

I’m sorry, LTC Stover, but this is stupidity and callousness posing as rectitude. For years, Iraqis working with American units were allowed to hide their faces so that they could keep their heads on their necks. The new order has already led to firings and a significant number of resignations, as well as desperate measures–one interpreter smearing his face with mascara, another hoping that a new beard will keep his identity secret. This is the kind of order that headquarters dreams up and combat troops detest.
Exactly what code of conduct is being maintained here? Iraqis aren’t in the American chain of command. They don’t take an oath; they don’t fall under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. If they did, they would be given regulation uniforms. They wouldn’t be allowed to use aliases. They would be housed on bases rather than obliged to make the dangerous trip home every night. They would receive pensions, health insurance, and death benefits. When one of them gets killed, the military would hold a ceremony. The widow would receive a flag. A grateful nation would remember.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Or. and others, including Oregon’s own Checkpoint One Foundation, a nonprofit, are protesting the Army’s unconscionable new policy. Here’s hoping that the outcry is loud enough to cause somebody with an ounce of compassion to slap his forehead and reverse the ban on letting Iraqis use a few inches of fabric to protect their identities.

In a war that offers few clear choices, this seems like a nonsensical policy that appears to only endanger those Iraqis that have actually chosen to help us. There is no reason to add to the “nearly 300 interpreters” slain since 2003 in Iraq. The truth is that despite the improving security situation the country remains a very violent place to live and work, and it will remain so for years to come even after the current withdrawal deadline of 2011.

I haven’t been there in a long time, but when I was, our interpreters weren’t there to simply translate words from Arabic to English: They were the best intelligence gatherers in the battalion; they were deal makers between us and the local community; they cultivated relationships; and sometimes they even provided input during mission planning. And when you’re in middle of an insurgency, having a local like this on your side can, indeed, make the difference between mission success and mission failure.

I also made this clear: If my Company or BN CO had told me to issue this order to my terps in 2004, I would have come out of it a Private E-Zero. I will not issue any order that puts them in danger, therefore putting my American colleagues in danger. This is the stupidest, dumbest, most idiotic thing I’ve seen in years.


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Filed under arab, arabic, language, translation, War in Iraq

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