I think an interpreter or translator working in a wartime environment, should be considered neutral, and otherwise protected from repercussion related to their job in that particular environment. If there isn’t something written about this in rules developed by the famous Geneva Conventions, there SHOULD be.
Most in Iraq that studied and learned the English language were predisposed to be open to the job of interpreter. These are studious and forward thinking people who repeatedly tell me they wished to be a bridge of communication; to help understanding and also prevent misunderstanding, between the Arabic speaking natives and the English speaking soldiers. Even if they did not always agree with everything done, they had the satisfaction of knowing their work helped prevent many deaths, Iraqi and American both.
When I first began to talk to people whom I wished to enlist support from, I was sometimes shocked that even some Americans view the interpreters as traitors to their own people; especially shocked when this thought came from a “liberal”. It was very disappointing to me when a person would make a blanket statement like, “I cannot support anyone that was involved with military and war”, but it’s also surprising to hear an American say, “They are traitors to their own people”. This seemed particularly strange coming from someone taking advantage of freedom of speech and objecting to the war that employed the interpreters.
When America first toppled Saddam Hussein and the cameras were brought in, there were many Iraqi people that sounded and waved support for the U.S. But these same people’s mouths are now shut tight. After the settling of the dust stirred by leaving US military troops, extremists stepped forward to swear retribution against all people who aided the U.S. I saw this as completely predictable. How could my government NOT? I am still trying to figure out why America left these allies behind. But this post is about being labeled a traitor. People within communities where the interpreters live are sometimes acting as vigilante groups while persecuting these they call “traitors”. The homes of interpreters are marked with graffiti saying “traitor”. Even interpreters whose family members have been kidnapped get phone calls tauntingly calling them “traitors”.
Another group that calls the interpreters traitors are conservatives from neighboring Arab countries. As the interpreters are attacked with guns, bombs, and who knows what all else, there are those in other countries that say, “Those traitors deserve what they are getting”.
So the branding name of traitor, with it’s sinister connotation is set upon the interpreter like a scarlet letter, and there is nowhere they can go within Iraq where they will not be eventually recognized and killed. So they must leave or die.
And yet some are being rejected from being relocated to safety; after years of service to the US military. Much of this is because visas were given to (at least) two Iraqi immigrants who were KNOWN to have ties with extremists, and two were arrested last spring in Kentucky for shipping guns and money to extremists back in Iraq. So now even the interpreters (who it should be said have already proved themselves) must stand in a long and very slow line and be scrutinized to such an excess that some are determined to be untrustworthy and therefore unworthy of the protection of their lives. This rejection is a death warrant as much as the label “traitor”.