"I am honor-bound to protect you, brother."
March 27, 2014 4:40 PM   Subscribe

The Interpreters We Left Behind. "As our troops pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan, we're abandoning fixers and translators to the dangerous countrymen who view them as traitors. Asylum in the U.S. could be their last hope. If only we'd let them in."
posted by homunculus (26 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

Oh God, I remember thinking, some years ago, that this was going to happen. I think I had just read an article about an Iraqi translator at the time. This is shameful.
posted by thelonius at 5:32 PM on March 27 [6 favorites]

A few months ago I spent some time with an Iraqi who had come to the US 20 years ago, he worked as an engineer for one of the auto companies here in the Detroit area. At the start of the Iraq War he was recruited by the government to go back and work as an interpreter, he quit his job and spent the next 6 years reviewing documents and videos (some of them graphic) captured from the other side. He returned dealing with PTSD and found himself shunned by many in the Iraqi community, viewed as a traitor of sorts.....and, due to his age, unable to find employment,

So, allowing them to come to the US should also include some support to deal with these issues as well... however, given our track record regarding lack of support for returning troops, I'm not hopeful.
posted by HuronBob at 5:34 PM on March 27 [4 favorites]

I wonder if there was similar concern for the Vichy French.

This lesson is not a new one. Imperialists seldom care about the ultimate fate of their collaborators, and when the occupiers go home, you still have to live (or not) with the neighbors who remember whose side you chose during the occupation.

Someone should translate these articles and post them on every street corner of the capital of the next country we invade.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 5:35 PM on March 27 [3 favorites]

Didn't they discharge all of those gay American translators? I don't see them doing much better by the foreign ones.
posted by angerbot at 5:41 PM on March 27

I wonder if there was similar concern for the Vichy French.

Not quite apples and apples. . . .
posted by Danf at 5:43 PM on March 27 [13 favorites]

The Fourth War: My Lunch with a Jihadi - "As a Marine Captain in Iraq, Elliot Ackerman lost men fighting jihadis, but then he found himself breaking bread with a former adversary in a Syrian refugee camp in Turkey."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:00 PM on March 27 [4 favorites]

This reminds me of The Killing Fields, a fantastic film about an American journalist and his translator in Cambodia at the beginning of the Pol Pot regime. Worth a watch.
posted by amaire at 6:02 PM on March 27 [3 favorites]

This reminds me of The Killing Fields, a fantastic film about an American journalist and his translator in Cambodia at the beginning of the Pol Pot regime. Worth a watch.

Two things;I'm pretty sure that Dith Pran will be uncontroversially remembered as being on the right side of history and he was later able to emigrate to the U.S. and became a citizen here.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 6:13 PM on March 27 [3 favorites]

It may be that the wages of collaboration are death, and thus people who worked with the U.S. get what they deserve. Still, promises were made and it is shameful nonetheless.
posted by ob1quixote at 6:29 PM on March 27

I've been hearing about this situation on NPR for quite a while now.

Lawmakers Lobby to Bring Iraqi Translators to U.S. - Nov 27, 2007
Iraqi Interpreters Hope Visas Come Before Militants - Dec 27, 2011
Uncertainty For Iraqi Translator After Withdrawal - Jan 4, 2012
'We Survived Iraq': An Iraqi Makes A New Home In North Carolina - Mar 19, 2013
U.S. Soldier Fights For Afghan Interpreter Who Saved His Life - Sept 25, 2013
With Fearlessness And A 'Code Name,' Iraqi Helped Navy SEALs - Feb 9, 2014

I'm sure these aren't the only articles about this from this single news source. I'm absolutely certain this issue has been covered by many many news sources.

All the information is there, but nobody who has any power over the visa process is actually listening. Or maybe they hear, but they don't give a shit.

Shameful, utterly shameful. We are our own enemy when we act this way. With such a public display of complete lack of honor, those who seek reason to hate us have tinder for their fires.
posted by hippybear at 6:40 PM on March 27 [4 favorites]

Here's how to do it:
posted by HiroProtagonist at 6:58 PM on March 27

This topic was also covered in an hour long episode of This American Life.

The episode is a tragedy of American bureaucracy. For Iraqis who helped the Americans, it basically comes down to how well connected the person who's advocating on your behalf is. In the TAL episode, every time the man who is the focus if the story got an Iraqi's name in the paper, their application for asylum would suddenly move much more quickly. In one instance, someone who's advocating for the Iraqis gets not-so-subtly threatened by some high-ranking dude, and then as the discussion is ending, the same man is quietly asking the advocate to look into the status of a guy he knows who helped him in Iraq.

In other words, there's no coherent plan.
posted by dry white toast at 7:03 PM on March 27 [3 favorites]

I met a lot of people in Afghanistan who were going to be more or less screwed when we bug out.

The police kid we taught how to read? Screwed for sure, if he's still alive by now.

The fixer who ran the video store and everything else on the FOB? He'll probably be okay.

The Army kids? The police lieutenant? The laundry guys? The kitchen workers? The USAID staff? The agricultural experts? The Afghan SF?

There's a village over there, near our FOB, where Americans are safe to walk the streets, even. The whole village, a town, really, has basically signed up with us. What's not immediately obvious is that the villagers practice some kind of offshoot form of Shi'ism, and are extremely suspicious of other Afghans, who have tried to exterminate them from time to time.
posted by atchafalaya at 7:22 PM on March 27 [9 favorites]

Use'em and abuse'em.

I'm ashamed for my country.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:21 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]

Is anyone actually surprised? This is our M.O. since at least my Grandfather's time. And that was WWII in the Philippines.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:22 PM on March 27 [1 favorite]

I feel really sorry for these guys, but this is what usually happens to collaborators. Occupying powers don't care about the locals; win or lose, the collaborator gets screwed. If the USA started treating its local hires as real people it would be an almost unprecedented change of policy.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:10 PM on March 27

Collaborators my ass. Out of basic honor and decency we should e making sure that the people who helped us are safe and secure. Nothing makes me madder than the callousness of people who shrug and say "Oh hey, they helped the Imperialists, so what should collaberators expect? So is there a new episode of Arrow tonight?"
posted by happyroach at 1:05 AM on March 28 [8 favorites]

Disappointed that the US choose to not learn anything from the British failure to protect its Iraqi employees, only changed after massive public pressure.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:25 AM on March 28

Occupying powers don't care about the locals; win or lose, the collaborator gets screwed.

That's generally how it works.

The Vietnamese tribesmen who fought alongside American Special Forces won the Green Berets’ admiration—and lost everything else.

After the US defeat, the Vietnamese communists killed about 200,000 of these Montagnards and levelled 85% of their villages. The United States re-settled a few thousand Montagnards after the Vietnam war - but only those with combat records because of intense pressure from former Green Berets:

"We have been the fiercest allies of the Americans. But not of the Generals or of the Politicians: of the soldiers, of the non-commissioned officers. For us it was people who had come to help us, had come to die of [sic] a country that was not our own."

It would seem unlikely that US civilian contractors, CIA stooges, and the other non-military personnel who worked in Iraq have the same personal commitment to the people they left behind - or the prestige of the Green Berets to force a political decision.
posted by three blind mice at 2:52 AM on March 28 [2 favorites]

> "Because you are my guest here," said Shinwari. "You come so many miles to help my family; I am honor-bound to protect you, brother."

It's very sad.

No one should trust the United States - this is a lesson that foreigners have had drummed into them time and again since the Second World War. But do these translators, men who risked their lives to do what they thought was right for their country, deserve the horrible things that have happened or will happen to them, because they were dumb enough to trust one of the most treacherous countries in the world - because they believed that their honor required it? No, absolutely not.

If the US believed its own rhetoric, it would do something about it. But "honor" is not in the slightest a motivating factor to the powers that run America today.

For shame. For shame!
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:47 AM on March 28 [2 favorites]

I love the smell of nation-building in the's a few mornings later that the smell gets to be a bit off-putting.

Oh, when will they ever learn?
posted by mule98J at 10:32 AM on March 28 [1 favorite]

Add this to the list of why I would not serve in, nor support, these wars. The whole endeavor is flawed from the start.

That's not to say some good thing don't come of it, but overall it is usually a clusterf*ck.

If someone attacks our shores, on the other hand (not a nebulous enemy we've helped create, but a bonafide army), well then hand me a gun, let's go.

I think this is one reason why zombie-themed shows like The Walking Dead are so popular. Though they bring up many clever subplots, at least we know the zombies are the enemy and can dispatch them without mercy.
posted by 4midori at 2:00 PM on March 28

Yeah. I mean, we don't even support our own troops, signage notwithstanding. Walter Reed, hell, the whole VA Department. It's shameful. And these are Americans. Not that I think that Americans are worth more than any other nationality. But. These are OUR people. We don't even give our own people the support we need. Why would we do better to a group of people that most Americans think of as "terrorists".

posted by chainsofreedom at 3:23 PM on March 28 [1 favorite]

Happyroach wrote: Nothing makes me madder than the callousness of people who shrug and say "Oh hey, they helped the Imperialists, so what should collaberators expect?

You're reading some moral intent into a statement of fact. Anyone who is identified with an invading force is at risk once the invaders leave. Surely this is obvious. Save your anger for the people who led the collaborators to believe that the USA was going to be around for the long term, or that it actually had a credible plan to transform Afghanistan into a civil society.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:05 AM on March 29

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