Are we failing the Iraqi interpreters?

NPR’s News Hour aired a segment on Tuesday about National Guard Captain Jason Faler, who is trying to get Iraqi interpreters admitted to the U.S.

LEE HOCHBERG [NPR reporter]: As many as 9,000 Iraqi civilians signed up as interpreters to help the U.S. military; 323 of them have been killed, many by insurgents punishing them for working with the U.S.

Since the war began, few interpreters have been allowed to take refuge in this country: 50 a year through 2006; 500 last year.

CAPT. JASON FALER: We’re blind as it is and, without them, would be an absolute bumbling nightmare. We owe them. We owe a debt to them. Have we no honor?

It’s hard to lay your head down on your pillow at night and know that, on the other side of the globe, there are people who served you well, protected you.

Faler started a foundation called Checkpoint One to help interpreters get into the U.S.  The reporter talked to a few interpreters, one who has been admitted and lives in Portland, Oregon, and a couple in Jordan trying to get here.

MICHAEL KOCHER, International Rescue Committee: This is one of the saddest, worst situations I’ve seen and one of the most underreported and least acknowledged situations I’ve seen.

They’re living in cramped, dank apartments, often six to eight people in an apartment, and they’re in hiding, and they’re afraid to go out. They feel utterly hopeless.

They have been traumatized. They feel as if they absolutely cannot go home and they have nowhere to turn. It hits you right in the gut. And it is outrageous that so little is being done about it internationally.

Then follows the standard complaint that we have not admitted many Iraqi refugees, the process is complicated, one town in Sweden has admitted more than the entire United States. (We’ve reported on that town and its problems. Or search “Sweden.”)

I’ve always agreed that we have a special responsibility to help the interpreters and other Iraqis who helped us. One reason the process takes so long is that not every interpreter was on our side. Some have turned out to be spies, as we reported in January, so it is important to vet them thoroughly.

While they are waiting for approval, we could help them with better living conditions. Or — here’s a better idea — their fellow Arabs in oil-rich countries could help support them. Does Saudi Arabia give a dime to these people, who have helped to fight an enemy which also threatens the Saudi rulers?

Here’s another idea. We’ve pointed out repeatedly that the interpreters are the kind of people Iraq needs to rebuild and become a viable country. Can’t we resettle them in a safe location back in Iraq and protect them as long as they need protection? They are obviously educated, or they wouldn’t be interpreters. They would be better off themselves using their skills in Iraq rather than doing the menial jobs most of them will end up with in this country. (Broken record alert — will somebody in the government pay attention?)