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Endangered Wartime Interpreters: The U.S. Should Protect Those Who Protect Us

February 25, 2013 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

War is hell, said Union Gen. William Sherman. The most obvious casualties are the formal combatants, those seeking to kill each other on the battlefield. But others also are at risk, especially in today’s unconventional wars.

In Iraq and Afghanistan the U.S. relied heavily on interpreters, most recruited from the local population. In Iraq a disproportionate number were Christians, semi-outcasts in the Islamic society. Those aiding American forces share combat dangers but also are targeted off of the battlefield for their work. By one estimate roughly 1000 interpreters so far have been killed in Iraq. Some 80 interpreters have died in battle in Afghanistan since 2007. To return home would be a death sentence for others.

Yet the U.S. government has refused to welcome those who have done so much to help America. For years the Bush administration refused to admit many Iraqis, including those who had worked for U.S. forces, apparently because doing so would demonstrate that the war had been less than a glorious success.

The Obama administration appears to be taking a similar approach to Afghanistan. Of 58,000 political refugees admitted in 2011, 9,388 were Iraqi. Just 428 were Afghan. Complained Zaid Hydari of the Istanbul-based Refugee Advocacy and Support Program: “Is there anything more than the apparent brutal truth: among the already unwanted, you are the least favored.”

The U.S. government has refused to welcome those who have done so much to help America.”

The problem is not new. In Southeast Asia the U.S. spent roughly a decade at war, allied with the Cambodian and South Vietnamese governments. After Washington left the regimes in Phnom Penh and Saigon collapsed. Unfortunately, those who worked for America were targeted for revenge. The U.S. government brought out those thought to be most vulnerable, and later accepted thousands of Vietnamese who fled as “boat people.” But many friends of America were left behind.

In Iraq, at least, Washington’s withdrawal did not lead to a state collapse. Nevertheless, those who worked for the U.S. remain at risk.

America only slowly opened the door. Starting in 2007 5000 visas were made available annually for Iraqi interpreters. However, the State Department approved few applications until after U.S. forces pulled out at the end of 2011. Becca Heller of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project criticized Washington’s handling of asylum claims, but cited the recent improvement: “the U.S. government has really gotten its act together on Iraq.”

Not on Afghanistan, …read more
Source: OP-EDS

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