The progressive translator

The purpose of this blog is to provide a forum, a clearinghouse, where progressive translators and other interested persons may discuss issues of concern, including, but not limited to, political aspects of translation, translation theory, the policies and structure of the ATA, and activism at the local group level.


Ken Kronenberg is a German translator specializing in medicine, patents, and 19th- and 20th-century diaries and letters. The views and positions taken by guest bloggers are not necessarily those of Ken Kronenberg or the Progressive Translator.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The American Translators Association and the“Quality Crusade”

By guest blogger
Bernie Bierman

Last November, Marian Greenfield, the current president of the American Translators Association, announced that the Association would embark on a “Quality Crusade.”

I was somewhat jarred by that slogan, given the fact that the word “crusade” has taken on – rightly or wrongly – a most negative connotation in the past decade or so, not just in the Islamic world, but also in the non-Islamic world. Indeed, I wrote to several colleagues acerbically asking why the ATA didn’t select a slogan like “A pogrom to achieve quality in translation” or “The final solution to quality in translation” or “An inquisition to attain quality” or “Achieving quality through cleansing.”

Seeking to give them the benefit of the doubt (and driven by my general lack of interest in ATA doings), I attributed the ATA’s and/or Ms. Greenfield’s choice of wording to naiveté and/or to 100% immersion in matters translational, so much so that they both were unaware of the furor caused when President George W. Bush used the term “crusade” at the outset of the Iraq war (Mr. Bush has not used it since, at least not publicly) and the general disfavor that the term has fallen into.

Obviously, I was mistaken in my attribution of naiveté as the reason for the use of the word “crusade,” for in the February 2007 issue of The ATA Chronicle, Ms. Greenfield once again announced “ATA’s Quality Crusade”: “Much is planned for 2007 to continue ATA’s ‘quality crusade’ and I hope that you will not only find it exciting, but that you will also contribute.”

It certainly appears that with this latest reiteration of “Quality Crusade,” Ms. Greenfield and/or her colleagues in official ATA circles deliberately selected a word around which swirls all sorts and manner of controversy, say nothing of its extreme offensiveness to hundreds of millions of people, particularly to those who practice Islam.

I cannot help but ask, why would a president of an international organization like the American Translators Association, which is home to hundreds of Middle Eastern-language translators and interpreters (some of whom may be practicing Muslims and others secular Muslims), select a word that has become so offensive and so riddled with negative connotations? Clearly, our very rich English language provides a veritable trove of words that would convey the same idea, e.g., “Quest for Quality.”

The more I look at the unfortunate use of the word “crusade” and the more I review the events in the ATA of the past 5 or so years with particular respect to the involvement of translators and interpreters in the so-called “War on Terror,” the more I see signs that the slogan “Quality Crusade” as used by Ms. Greenfield in November of 2006 and February of 2007 was not a mere manifestation of naiveté. There is more than sufficient evidence to indicate that it was deliberate and planned, If the two-time use of the word “crusade” is a manifestation of anything, it is a manifestation of the Association’s political sympathies, notwithstanding its protestations that it is a non-political organization and that its members in the exercise of their professional duties must always demonstrate neutral objectivity. And that manifestation of political sympathies is evidenced by the following events:

1. The ATA’s closing the door (in 2004 and subsequent years) on an open discussion of the Mohammed Yousry case. While the ATA made and disseminated several statements after 2004 condemning the actions of Mr. Yousry (an Arabic-English interpreter for Lynne Stewart, defense counsel for persons involved in political terrorism acts), it steadfastly refused to allow publication of views defending Mr. Yousry actions and conduct as an interpreter.[1]

2. The ATA’s immediate condemnation of the so-called “Anti-torture resolution” offered in October 2006 by Aaron Ruby, an ATA-member-translator from Texas. Indeed, when forced by legal statute to accept Mr. Ruby’s resolution for a vote by the membership, the ATA reacted under the leadership of Ms. Greenfield by telling the membership that it should vote against Mr. Ruby’s anti-torture resolution. It was only at the eleventh hour under pressure from less dogmatic and doctrinaire heads that the ATA relented and offered its own watered-down anti-torture resolution, notwithstanding the fact that this counter-resolution smacked of all sorts of illegalities in terms of procedure.[2]

3. The ATA’s cold refusal to come to the assistance of its chapter, the New York Circle of Translators, when the Circle received an implied threat of legal action from the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters & Translators (NAJIT) over the Circle’s publication of an article by Mr. Ruby describing the resistance he received within NAJIT over his efforts to enact an anti-torture resolution in that organization. It remains noteworthy that both the ATA and NAJIT were strongly allied in their condemnation of Mohammed Yousry’s work as an interpreter in the Lynne Stewart case. Although the New York Circle of Translators is an official ATA chapter and therefore an integral member of the ATA family, ATA officials were more than willing to allow the Circle “to twist in the legal wind”; evidently, the “mother” did not particular care for the views of its “rebellious child,” and appeared more than willing to have its “child” duly spanked by an outsider.

No, “crusade” as in “quality crusade” wasn’t a slip of the tongue or a manifestation of political naiveté on the part of Ms. Greenfield and her ATA colleague-officers. This was a word deliberately chosen to reinforce previous messages (see above) about where the organization and its leaders stand politically.

[1] The first and also last article published in the ATA Chronicle offering an explanation of Mr. Yousry’s problems was a piece by Maya Hess written in September 2003, to which the ATA added a disclaimer. Two subsequent articles by Marguerite Shore and Alison Dundy, respectively, defending Mr. Yousry’s conduct as an interpreter were not picked up for publication in the ATA Chronicle, but were published in “The Gotham Translator”, the newsletter of the New York Circle of Translators, which also published the official views of the ATA about Mr. Yousry’s work as an interpreter.

[2] No official notification, i.e., by United States mail, was given by the Association to its voting members, as clearly prescribed by the New York Not-for-Profit Corporation Law, the law which governs organizations like the ATA. But even if the ATA had followed proper procedure as called for by law, and not merely inform members in a random manner by e-mail that a counter-resolution could be viewed on the Association’s website, it had clearly missed the prescribed deadline for submitting its counter-resolution. The vote at the November 2006 annual conference should have been either in favor of the Ruby resolution or against it. Instead, the Association had its illegal counter-resolution on the ballot, and that illegal counter-resolution won by a few votes over the legal Ruby resolution.

About the author: Bernie Bierman has been a member of the American Translators Association since 1961 and served it in various capacities between 1961 and 1995. He was managing editor of “Translation News” (1989-1995). a privately-published newsletter. He is also the author of the only published book about the early history of the ATA, entitled “A Translator-Warrior Speaks: A Personal History of the American Translators Association, 1959-1970.”

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

New England Translators Association Adopts Anti-Torture Resolution

On February 1, 2007, The New England Translators Association (NETA) adopted a strongly worded resolution condemning the use of torture, and the participation of interpreters and translators in such activities.

Calling such participation "unethical behavior," the resolution adopted by the 250-member association of professional translators and interpreters makes NETA a leading voice in the community of language professionals.

The resolution was prompted by the many reports of torture and prisoner abuse at US military facilities in Guantánamo Bay, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Because of the language issues involved in prisoner interrogation, interpreters have played an integral role in these practices, and recent media accounts have detailed specific instances where interpreters have facilitated or even participated in torture. The following incident is representative (emphasis added):

Mr Abd said he recalled having his hood removed and being told by the soldiers' Arabic translator to masturbate as he looked at Ms England. "She was laughing and she put her hands on her breasts," he told the newspaper. "Of course I couldn't do it, so they beat me in the stomach and I fell to the ground. The translator said, 'Do it, do it. It's better than being beaten.' I said 'How can I do it?' So I put my hand on my penis, just pretending." [1]

The resolution adopted by NETA is based on US Army regulations, the War Crimes Act of 1996, and the Geneva Conventions. It condemns "any knowing participation in, cooperation with, or failure to report, the mental or physical abuse, sexual degradation, cruel treatment, or torture of prisoners or detainees."

The idea of an anti-torture resolution first arose when Aaron Ruby, a technical and legal translator based in California, unsuccessfully proposed a draft resolution for adoption by the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT) and the American Translators Association (ATA). NETA subsequently adopted Ruby's resolution as the basis for its own.

In an online vote, NETA members voiced overwhelming support for such a resolution, and the organization hopes that other national and regional translation organizations will now follow suit. According to NETA president Rudy Heller, "We're telling all our colleagues that our professional standards should require this stance." NETA vice-president Aaron Kromash underscored the point: "We're saying, 'We will not be instruments of torture. We must not cooperate.'"

[1] Andrew Buncombe and Justin Huggler. “The Torture Victim. Iraqi Tells How He Was Stripped, Beaten and Sexually Abused by US Military.” May 6, 2004, The Independent.

Draft Resolution Adopted by the New England Translators Association (NETA) Condemning the Cooperation of Interpreters and Translators in Physical and Mental Abuse and Torture of Military Prisoners and Detainees, and in Interrogations of Prisoners

it is the privilege of Interpreters and Translators to facilitate communication across linguistic barriers in the service of humanity, to enable a greater understanding and respect between language groups, and to remove the language barrier to the extent possible so that no one suffer discrimination or denial of rights due to a language barrier.

the utmost respect for human life and dignity is to be maintained even under threat, and no use made of any linguistic knowledge contrary to human, civil or democratic rights; and,

Translators and Interpreters serving in non-combat roles and for the military are bound by respect for humanity and international law to respect wounded combatants, injured civilians, and enemy prisoners and to report any evidence of abuse of detainees; and,

the Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, U.S. Army regulations, and the War Crimes Act require all military personnel not to engage in and to report acts of abuse or torture; and,

professional associations including the World Medical Association, American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association, American College of Preventive Medicine, American Public Health Association have adopted resolutions stating that professionals in their respective fields may not participate in or facilitate torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading procedures of prisoners or detainees in any situations; and,

it has been reported that civilian and military Interpreters and Translators engaged with the U.S. military in Guantánamo Bay, Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere may have failed to protect detainees' rights, failed to promptly report injuries or deaths caused by beatings, failed to report acts of psychological and sexual degradation, and sometimes collaborated with abusive interrogators and guards; and

it has been reported that prisoners are being secretly held in a state of exception, referred to as "extraordinary rendition" for purposes of secret interrogation, commonly considered to be torture, and such interrogations use Interpreters and Translators, and such treatment constitutes a violation of the United States Constitution, and specifically Article 3 of the UN Convention against Torture (UNCAT), which states:
"No State Party shall expel, return ("refouler") or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture;"

That the NETA condemns as unethical behavior any knowing participation in, cooperation with, or failure to report, the mental or physical abuse, sexual degradation, cruel treatment, or torture of prisoners or detainees; and be it further

That the NETA supports the rights of Interpreters and Translators to be protected from retribution for refusing to participate or cooperate in abuse or torture, or deprivation of rights in military or other settings; and be it further

That the work and participation of Interpreters and Translators at all times must be limited to a lawful setting governed by a system of rights and due process, which must be afforded all prisoners without exception in accordance with International Law and the U.S. Constitution, and absent these fundamental elements of justice, Interpreters and Translators must refrain from participation in or facilitation of such processes; and be it further

That the NETA urges schools and programs responsible for the education and training of Interpreters and Translators to include training in ethical behavior and internationally recognized codes of professional conduct, and urges that the fundamental conclusions of this resolution be incorporated into Interpreter and Translator codes of ethics.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The "Translator Surge"

In his article titled "DynCorp Wins Army Pact to Supply Translators in Iraq." in the December 18, 2006 edition of, Will Swarts references Progressive Era journalist Randolph Bourne and his 1917 essay "War is the Health of the State." "Nearly a century later," as Swarts notes, "it's much healthier for the private sector."

Case in point: In mid-December 2006, DynCorp International and McNeil Technologies were awarded a "$4.6 billion, five-year contract from the Department of Defense to provide language services to the U.S. Army and other U.S. government agencies fighting in Iraq." Swish that around in your mouth a bit: four point six billion dollars! The "translation agency" that they set up is called Global Linguistic Solutions LLC. And, the "contract calls for 6,000 local Arabic translators and up to 1,000 U.S. staff who are trained in the regional languages."

And what happened to the previous holder of the contract? Remember Titan Corp., the company that was featured in Robert Greenwald's documentary "Iraq for Sale," and whose translators were implicated in the prisoner abuse scandals at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo? Titan was acquired in 2005 by L-3 Communications for a whopping $2+ billion. It was a great deal at the time since Titan was the government's leading supplier of linguists, according to Defense Industry Daily. But for some reason, L-3/Titan lost the contract to DynCorp, even though DynCorp "previously had no experience in overseeing linguistics services"!

According to Erik Olbeter, an analyst at Stanford Financial Group:

"We have gotten no disclosure on exactly why the military decided to change. Clearly they're going to be employing the same people — it could have been the price, it could have been something interesting in the DynCorp proposal. We just don't have any information."

Perhaps the winning bid had something to do with the fact that the VP in charge of the new venture is a former commandant of the Defense Language Institute, Michael Simone. -- Or could it be that Titan was too tainted by the disclosures of abuse?

In any case, as Olbeter noted, "Clearly they're going to be employing the same people." And who are these people?

Apparently, the linguist contract is referred to on Wall Street as the "taxicab contract" because so many bilingual cab drivers went to work for Titan. And why shouldn't they have? As a former cabbie myself I have a hard time second-guessing anyone wanting to trade grueling 12- to 18-hour days with the potential to earn, say $150-$200 per day, for an exciting gig with a guaranteed income of at least $150,000 per year. At the old Boston Cab garage, Arabs and others from the Mideast were routinely ridiculed as "camel jockeys" and "ragheads." Now they will have a seemingly important role to play. Who wouldn't grab the ring?

The problems, however, are several. For one thing, with very few exceptions these recruits are not trained linguists, and we know from experience that, at least under Titan, they received virtually no training in interpreting or translation. Will it be different now? Then there is the problem that translators and interpreters are right up there when it comes to being targets for insurgents. And how many of these newly minted linguists will come to identify with the aggressor, and act accordingly? The articles referenced in DynCorp's Wikipedia listing indicate that it's ethical track record leaves a little more than something to be desired.

But the issue runs deeper: The Iraq War is lost. It was ill-conceived at the outset and mismanaged throughout. The escalation being announced by the Bush administration -- euphemistically called a "surge" -- is either cynical or delusional. The war is being dragged out because those who started it cannot now admit that they were simply wrong -- or they want the next administration to be saddled with the "loss." Having squandered the lives of at least 3000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, the administration promising to sacrifice even more lives.

Given the swamp of moral and ethical corruption and greed that gave birth to and maintains this war , it should come as no surprise that some of the forces on the ground -- including translators -- should behave corruptly.

And the corporations like DynCorp, Titan, and L-3 (not to mention Halliburton) that have become addicted to lucrative military contracts are more than happy to play along -- regardless of the cost in lives and treasury.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Traduttore, Tradittore?

A colleague, a court interpreter, recently sent the following e-mail to one of the lists I subscribe to:
I was in court yesterday. As the judge swore me in, I was admiring the new formula he was using. It pretty much covers the bases and does so quite well. This honing no doubt comes as a result of the Administration of the Court's recent reflection on court interpretation, prompted in good part by NHITO, the N.H. Interpreters and Translators Organization. In the past the format was pretty much left to each district or superior court. I have found myself having to say yes to the question: "Will you translate (sic) word for word, etc." Disgusting.

Well, back to yesterday. So the formula was fine. Then the judge decided to ad lib his own explanation of what had been said, adding, "That means you are to be a machine (sic), saying what I say in French, etc."

I wanted to respond, Then get yourself a machine. But, of course, one never argues with a judge.
This is a fascinating little vignette. The judge's ad lib may certainly have reflected a lack of respect or a lack of understanding of what translation is. But it may conceivably have reflected an underlying sense of unease with or distrust of interpreters and the privileged information and method that they almost always possess. After all, interpreters know something that their employers do not, so that they can never be completely certain of the interpreter's loyalties, even in situations in which "professionalism" would seem to dictate where that loyalty properly lies.

There is nothing new in this. Ottoman dragomans and other interpreters and translators were not infrequently suspected of doubledealing -- in some cases with reason -- and more than a few were executed on orders of the Sultan. Several more recent instances underscore the ambiguous nature of translation/interpreting:

1. On November 20, 2006, the New York Times ran an op-ed titled "Lost after Translation," by Basim Mardan, who served as an interpreter with the Marines in Iraq. It is a touching, even heartbreaking story.

In the op-ed piece he wrote:
In the second year, when we were processing the release of prisoners from Abu Ghraib, I read out a list of names of prisoners who needed to collect their documents. One of them said to me, "You are all going to be killed." I thought he was referring to the Americans, until he said, "No, I mean you." I didn't translate this for the soldiers who were with me. I was thinking, This person just got out of prison, and I don't want to be the reason that he goes back to prison.
About a month later, a message was fixed to my door, full of verses from the Koran and threats and curses. They gave me about one week to quit what I was doing.
A week later, a CD was fixed on my door, picturing one of my best friends, Nabi Abul-Ahad. It was a video of them beheading him, with the message that I would be next.
Now it is certainly clear why the insurgents would want to target Mardan and other interpreters: they are able to make clear information that they would rather remain opaque to the Americans. But, there is ample reason for the Americans not to trust him either: "I didn't translate this for the soldiers who were with me..."

2. A large part of the Sibel Edmonds controversy in 2002-2003 revolved around the purported purposeful mistranslation of documents by translators employed in sensitive positions and given top-secret security clearance by the FBI.

3. Over Thanksgiving, I had a lengthy conversation with a friend who is frequently called upon to give expert testimony in patent litigation cases involving computer technology. In one recent case, the attorney for the plaintiff's attorney produced in court a translation (paid for by the plaintiff) of a Japanese patent which, it was purported, demonstrated that the defendant's patent was invalid. As it happened, the jury found for the defendant because of the preponderance of evidence. His curiosity aroused, my friend showed the patent to a Japanese translator after the trial. In fact, the patent demonstrated none of the things that the plaintiff's attorney had claimed. In other words, given the weakness of the plaintiff's case the attorney may have purposely tried to mislead the court, using a bad translation. As my friend summarized, "This sort of thing happens much more frequently than you would think."

Although the third instance may say more about the ethics of lawyer, the point is that, unless the defendant commissioned his own translation, there would be no way for the court to achieve clarity about the plaintiff's translation. And the translator presumably allowed himself/herself to be used in this manner.

All of these instances go to the trustworthiness of interpreting and translation in critical (and noncritical?) situations -- and to the fundamental ambiguousness of the role.

Judges interested in replacing interpreters with machines should be referred to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) web site:
The goal of the Compact Aids for Speech Translation program is to develop rapid, two-way, natural language speech translation interfaces and platforms for the warfighter for use in field environments for force protection, refugee processing, and medical triage. Compact Aids for Speech Translation will focus on overcoming the many technical and engineering challenges limiting current multilingual translation technology to enable future full-domain, unconstrained dialog translation in multiple environments.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Analysis of the ATA antitorture resolution

In response to the strongly-worded antitorture resolution that Aaron Ruby brought before the voting membership, the American Translators Association (ATA) recommended passage of an alternative resolution at the recent conference in New Orleans (November 1-4, 2006). The ATA's resolution is extraordinarily weak; it seems mainly to serve the purpose of warding off accusations that the ATA is doing nothing. Yet as we know, nothing is precisely what it at first intended to do when it advised the membership to defeat the Ruby resolution. Let's take a look at what was actually passed:

From the Preamble:

the infliction of torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment is abhorrent to all civilized societies and has been condemned by national governments and international organizations, including the United Nations in its Declaration and Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment ;

interpreters and translators strive to facilitate communication in the service of humanity, to create understanding and respect between speakers of different languages, and to break down linguistic and cultural barriers in order to ensure equal rights to all regardless of language; and

members of the American Translators Association, in accordance with the Association's Code of Professional Conduct and Business Practices, commit themselves to the highest standards of performance and ethical behavior,

The first clause is fine as far as it goes.

However, the second clause refers to a principle so general that it might itself be used to justify torture. Practitioners of torture frequently claim in effect that they do what they do "in the service of humanity." The current US administration asserts that it is attempting to bring democracy to Iraq, and as such it may be seen as trying "to break down linguistic and cultural barriers in order to ensure equal rights." There is nothing in the ATA's statement of principles that contradicts, for example, the use of torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay.

The third clause refers us to the ATA's Code of Professional Conduct. Yet there is nothing in this code that precludes participation in torture. After all, the current US administration claims that information gained by torture serves the common good. Does that mean that torture competently executed meets the “highest standards of performance and ethical behavior"?

In other words, having started out reasonably well, it goes on to gut its own stated intent!

What about the substantial or operative provisions?

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THE AMERICAN TRANSLATORS ASSOCIATION condemns and deplores torture in any form, anywhere;

explicitly defines knowing participation in, facilitation or countenancing of, cooperation with, or failure to report torture or other mental or physical abuse or degradation of any human being as unethical behavior that violates ATA's Code of Professional Conduct and Business Practices;

requires that its members who become aware that torture has occurred, is occurring, or is intended, promptly report those facts to a person or persons capable of taking preventive or corrective action;

expects governments and other national and international entities to refrain from retribution or other punitive action against interpreters and translators when they refuse to participate in or cooperate with the torture, abuse, or degradation of any human being; and

urges schools and programs responsible for the education and training of interpreters and translators to include in their curricula training in ethical behavior and in internationally recognized codes of professional conduct.

Again, there is nothing wrong with point 1 as far as it goes.

However, point 2 refers us once again to the ATA code of professional conduct. Because there is nothing in the ATA code that condemns torture outright, it cannot be used for this purpose. On the contrary, as we have seen, the ATA code as it stands can even be used to justify torture.

The third point goes to the heart of what is wrong with the ATA resolution. Rather than condemning outright any participation in torture, in keeping with the promise of the first paragraphs of the preamble and operative provision, the ATA rejects an organizational stance in favor of a vague retreat into "personal responsibility." This is a pure copout. Having purged its resolution of any mention of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay, and having declined to condemn the use of torture by the powerful governmental forces behind those atrocities, the ATA merely says that its members must report incidents of torture to "a person or persons capable of taking preventive or corrective action." Who might such persons be, when the US government itself sends its highest-ranking military personnel to establish its torture facilities? That is what this administration did when it sent General Geoffrey Miller, the architect of the abuses at Guantánamo Bay, to Iraq to "Gitmoize" Abu Ghraib and the other facilities, some of which continue to be secret? Nor does the ATA resolution hold responsible and condemn those who profiteer from torture, such as the civilian CACI and the Titan Corporation, which have contracts with the military in the hundreds of millions of dollars to supply linguist services. Instead of an outright condemnation, what we get is pap about personal responsibility, and reports to those responsible. What sort of resolution is that?

Instead of establishing solidarity with its members in rejecting torture, or offering them aid and solace in resistance, in point 4 the ATA begs unspecified "governments and other national and international entities" not to punish interpreters and translators who refuse to participate. This is an antitorture resolution in name only, a fig leaf. Any impulse to grapple with the issue head on is immediately turned into empty words.

There is a great concept in German: etwas totschweigen; literally, to "death-silence" something. It is a transitive verb much like "to disappear" someone, and it implies a deliberate act. This weak ATA resolution will do little more than "death-silence" the issue of torture and encourage its disappearance down the memory hole.

Let's hope that doesn't happen.

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Friday, November 03, 2006

U.S. Soldier Killed Herself After Objecting to Interrogation Techniques

I heard the awful news on NPR's Morning Edition about a U.S. soldier who killed herself after refusing to take part in torture of Iraqi prisoners, back in Sept of 2003. Army specialist Alyssa Peterson, was an Arabic speaking interrogator who was assigned to a prison at the Tal Afar air base in Iraq. She had earned her psychology degree on a military scholarship and was a gifted linguist.

The incident, which happened three years ago, would have not been public knowledge if it had not been for the tireless efforts of KNAU reporter Kevin Elston, who wasn't satisfied with the official account. He requested a transcript of the official investigation of her death under the Freedom of Information Act. The news was originally broadcast on Arizona Public Radio on Oct 31st, 2006. That story was removed from the KNAU website a day later, apparently due to objections from the military. See correction to Alyssa Peterson story.

The following are excerpts are from the Editor & Publisher article dated Nov 1, 2006:
Alyssa Peterson objected to the interrogation techniques used on prisoners. She refused to participate after only two nights working in the unit known as the cage. Army spokespersons for her unit have refused to describe the interrogation techniques Alyssa objected to. They say all records of those techniques have now been destroyed. ....

Peterson became fluent in Dutch even before she went on an 18-month Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints mission to the Netherlands in the late 1990s. Then, she cruised through her Arabic courses at the military's Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., shortly after enlisting in July 2001. With that under her belt, she was off to Iraq to conduct interrogations and translate enemy documents. God only knows how many more translators and interpreters have found themselves in similar situations, with nowhere to go and no one to turn to?


Tal-afar airbase translator committed suicide in 2003

The following item was published on the KNAU (Arizona Public Radio) website on October 31.

Alyssa Peterson Suicide
Kevin Elston

10/31/06 (2006-10-31) Army specialist Alyssa Peterson was an Arabic speaking interrogator assigned to the prison at the Tal-afar airbase in far northwestern Iraq near the Syrian border. According to the Army's investigation into her death, obtained by a KNAU reporter through the Freedom of Information Act, Peterson objected to the interrogation techniques used on prisoners. She refused to participate after only two nights working in the unit known as the cage. Army spokespersons for her unit have refused to describe the interrogation techniques Alyssa objected to. They say all records of those techniques have now been destroyed.

Instead she was assigned to the base gate, where she monitored Iraqi guards. She was sent to suicide prevention training. But on the night of September 15th, 2003, Army investigators concluded she shot and killed herself with her service rifle.

Alyssa Peterson graduated from Flagstaff High School and earned a psychology degree from Northern Arizona University on a military scholarship. She was trained in interrogation techniques at Fort Huachuca in southern Arizona, before being deployed to the Middle East in 2003.
The link now points to a "correction" and the initial story can no longer be accessed.

The story certainly touched a raw nerve. The army, of course, denies any connection between the interrogations and her suicide. It sounds bad when stories like this leak out. Interesting that "all records of those techniques have now been destroyed."

Although we may never know with certainty whether Alyssa Peterson killed herself rather than carry out interrogations she objected to, what appears clear is that she got herself into a situation from which she could not extricate herself.

There does appear to be a suicide note. What do you suppose the chances are that Kevin Elston's filing under the Freedom of Information Act to view that suicide note will be successful?

Read more at:

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The German government 'knew about CIA torture cells' -- shortly after 9/11

A short item in the British newspaper The Independent, on October 26 that was reprinted in the New Zealand Herald, reports that the German magazine Stern quoted a leaked German intelligence report showing that two of its agents and a translator had visited the US Eagle Base in Tuzla, Bosnia -- shortly after 9/11. The Germans had been asked to assist. While there they saw a torture victim, a 70-year-old terrorist suspect whose "injuries meant that he had to be given 20 stitches to the head wounds he sustained." According to the report, the American interrogator "appeared to be proud" of his actions.

Stern said the German agents had also been given access to documents confiscated by the Americans which were "smeared with blood". One agent was said to have compared the actions of the US interrogators to Serbian war criminals during the break up of Yugoslavia. "The Serbs ended up before the international court in the Hague for this kind of thing."

The two German agents and their translator had been asked to appear at the base to assist the Americans in interrogating suspects and to help evaluate confiscated material. However, according to the leaked report, they informed Germany's Federal Prosecutor of what they had witnessed and left the base shortly afterwards.

Eagle Base was set up in 1995 as part of the Dayton Peace Accords, in part because Bosnia had become a haven for Afghani mujahedin involved in plotting terror attacks.

Everyone can agree on the need to bring those responsible for the 9/11 atrocity to justice; however, it is clear that torture was being used immediately after -- and that translators were needed to do the job effectively.