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The Lives of Translators

By Brian Beutler

Spencer Ackerman reports, in a great piece, on the dangers linguists in Iraq might face under the Status of Forces Agreement:

Several weeks ago, Global Linguist Solutions (GLS), the company that holds the contract with the U.S. military to provide translators, entered into negotiations with the Iraqi government about what their new obligations are for withholding employee taxes once the U.S.-Iraqi Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) — which, among other things, gives the Iraqi government increased authority over U.S. contractors — goes into effect. The company said emphatically that it has no intention of turning over identifying information for its roughly 7,000 Iraqi employees. “We’re not providing any personal identification information,” said company spokesman Douglas Ebner. “We have not done so up to now, and we’re not going to change.”

But many of these contractors don’t trust GLS to keep its word. Some are considering fleeing Iraq entirely, raising the prospect of U.S. service members losing their ability to talk and listen to Iraqis. “We either quit,” said Garrison, the pseudonym of an Iraqi interpreter, in an email, “or sign our own death warrants by turning the information [over] to the ministry.”

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This isn’t my issue, but I don’t see an easy answer here that doesn’t involve a swift draw down of U.S. forces from Iraq. As our commitment there decreases, the number of these sorts of entanglements will go with it, and fewer peoples’ lives will be at risk.