Why a Defense Contractor's Seemingly Mundane Decision Has Iraqi Interpreters Fearing for Their Lives
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Local interpreters at U.S. bases throughout Iraq are threatening to resign if their American contractor, Global Linguistic Solutions insists on turning over their personal information to Iraqi authorities.
On Dec. 23, GLS informed local interpreters that the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), due to go into effect on Jan. 1, required them to withhold 20 percent of the pay of local interpreters for taxes and social security. They also insisted that the interpreters provide detailed personal information on themselves and their family members that would be turned over to the Ministry of Finance.
What may sound sensible on the face of it -- an emerging nation seeking to institute an income-tax system -- is not so simple. The Ministry of Finance is currently headed by Bayan Jabr, the former Minister of the Interior, whom many allege sanctioned the death squads that targeted Sunnis.
In 2005, American Gen. Karl Horst discovered a hidden bunker with 160 prisoners, most of them Sunni, who had been tortured and held captive by Jabr's forces. Most interpreters working for U.S. forces are Sunni and are understandably reluctant to turn over personal information to a man they believe seeks their elimination.
Amelia Templeton of Human Rights First takes the interpreters' fears of retaliation seriously. Speaking of links between politicians and militia groups, she says, "One of the most troubling things about Iraq is the degree of impunity it has granted for crimes committed between 2005 and early 2007. Justice and accountability have fallen by the wayside."
Interpreters' Stories*: Ahmed
Ahmed, an interpreter for the past four years, grew up in Iraq speaking Arabic and English. He had several American friends and was studying computer science at university when American forces invaded Iraq. In 2004, he left school and signed on to work as an interpreter for the U.S. Army.
In late 2005, death squads patrolled the streets of Baghdad, rounding up Sunni men for torture and execution. Jabr, then the Minister of the Interior, who presided over the Iraqi police and was alleged to have close ties to the notorious Badr Brigade, did nothing to prevent this carnage.
In those days of extreme sectarian violence in Baghdad, a friend of Ahmed's, someone who worked for the Ministry of the Interior, tipped him off that he was on a list of suspected Sunni collaborators who were targeted for execution. Heeding his friend's warning to get out of the country, Ahmed went to Jordan with his family for four months. When they received word that security in Baghdad had improved, his family returned home, and Ahmed resumed his work for the Army.
"I love the Army; they treated me like a brother," he says. Ahmed served a number of units, including Army Special Forces, saw his share of the horrors of war, and credits the U.S. Army with helping him grow from a boy into a man.
In November 2006, six government vehicles pulled up in front of Ahmed's home, handcuffed him and forced him into the trunk of one of their cars and sped away. Fortunately, Ahmed had stashed his interpreter's ID before they took him. It is one thing to sell items to the coalition forces; it is quite another to serve as their translator. Many translators believe there are bounties on their heads and that current members of the Iraqi government are complicit.
Ahmed's kidnapping did not result in his death; his kidnappers extracted a hefty sum for his release from his wealthy family. Every monthly check of $1,200 he receives goes to paying back that debt.