Iraqi interpreters betrayed again

Last week, The Washington Post reported on the Pentagon’s decision to prohibit Iraqi interpreters from wearing masks. Many wear masks to hide their identities from those who wish to kill them. George Packer-- whose stunning article on Iraqi interpreters for The New Yorker became the play Betrayed (which is excerpted in our latest issue)-- borrows a famous Daily News headline to title his response: “Military to Interpreters: Drop Dead.”
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.
Fortunately, “thirteen members of Congress and an association of interpreters” are urging the Pentagon to rescind the ban. But 13 out of 435 is not a very good percentage. You can write to your congressional representative here, and you can find additional resources here.

You can also read the first-hand account of an Iraqi interpreter, Ahmed Ali, in our latest issue and online. Ali worked with news organizations, not the military, but the resulting danger was similar:

In the summer of 2006 I was in the Green Zone covering Saddam’s trial when I got a phone call saying my brother-in-law had disappeared. He went to his job, and left his two kids in the house, and he didn’t come back. I tried to call him on his cell phone, but it was switched off. Later, in the offices of The Telegraph, his captors called me using his cell phone. They had abducted my brother-in-law after stopping him at a checkpoint.

I tried to introduce myself. “We know,” they said. “You are Ahmed Ali.”

I asked if they wanted money. “No.”

I asked if I could see my brother-in-law. “Don’t worry,” they said. “You will see him at the morgue.” But we never found the body.

Read the rest.

(In the photo above, by James Nachtwey, an Iraqi interpreter wears a mask to conceal his identity while helping a soldier deliver an invitation to an Imam for a meeting with an American colonel.)

1 comment:

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