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.

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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