Friday, June 8, 2007

Lost in Translation

You would think that we would use any Arabic translators that we can get. Wrong. Gays need not apply.
From Stephen Benjamin's op ed in today's NYT:
The lack of qualified translators has been a pressing issue for some time — the Army had filled only half its authorized positions for Arabic translators in 2001. Cables went untranslated on Sept. 10 that might have prevented the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. Today, the American Embassy in Baghdad has nearly 1,000 personnel, but only a handful of fluent Arabic speakers.

I was an Arabic translator. After joining the Navy in 2003, I attended the Defense Language Institute, graduated in the top 10 percent of my class and then spent two years giving our troops the critical translation services they desperately needed. I was ready to serve in Iraq.

But I never got to. In March, I was ousted from the Navy under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which mandates dismissal if a service member is found to be gay....

Consider: more than 58 Arabic linguists have been kicked out since “don’t ask, don’t tell” was instituted. How much valuable intelligence could those men and women be providing today to troops in harm’s way?

I'll add a personal note. I tried to get a translator job with the State Department in 2002, but because I have a (minor) criminal record I couldn't. While I'm not fluent in Arabic, I read and speak it well enough to be useful. But we must follow those conservative values first.

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