Saturday, June 09, 2007

Homophobes vs. our Troops

Don’t Ask, Don’t Translate, by Stephan Benjamin

IMAGINE for a moment an American soldier deep in the Iraqi desert. His unit is about to head out when he receives a cable detailing an insurgent ambush right in his convoy’s path. With this information, he and his soldiers are now prepared for the danger that lies ahead.

Reports like these are regularly sent from military translators’ desks, providing critical, often life-saving intelligence to troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the military has a desperate shortage of linguists trained to translate such invaluable information and convey it to the war zone.

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.

What the hell is wrong with this country?


beepbeepitsme said...

I always thought that a fair % of the navy was gay anyway, so I am surprised that he was ousted.

Sings - "In the navy, you can sail the seven seas..."

yinyang said...

"What the hell is wrong with this country?"

Most things, I think. The worst offense seems to be that we can't do much about it. In this particular instance, stupidity doesn't kill people right off; but maybe it should...

Ezzie said...

Cables went untranslated on Sept. 10 that might have prevented the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11.

I don't know enough about the other side of the rest, but that statement is pretty ridiculous.

intheworldagain said...

In the US today many people/groups think that their own views are "right" and everyone else is "wrong." Instead of seeing people as individuals, we see people as labels - religious/not religious, gay/straight, rich/poor, Christian/Jew/Muslim/etc. We let labels prevent us from seeing who people really are and what they can contribute to society - they become "issues" and ideologies instead. It is insane to reject a member of the Navy who is fluent in Arabic because of his sexual orientation. What does one have to do with the other? It would be like preferring to let people bleed to death because the only medical professional available is gay. The US needs more citizens who can communicate with Arab-speaking nations. How can we ever learn to live on this planet together if we can't communicate with each other?

Jewish Atheist said...


It probably wouldn't have helped, but you can't just dismiss it as "ridiculous."

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Bill. We learned the exact phrases used in two conversations intercepted by U.S. intelligence the day before the attacks, September 11, words warning that something major was planned.

In one of the intercepted communications September 10, intercepted by the U.S. National Security Agency, congressional and other sources told CNN a person presumed to be from al Qaeda said -- quote -- "The match begins tomorrow." In another intercept that day, a different person said -- quote -- "Tomorrow is zero hour."

Now, these intercepts were not translated until September 12, the day after the attacks. And General Michael Hayden, head of the NSA, which is the U.S. government's massive eavesdropping agency, was questioned at length back on Tuesday about the intercepts, according to congressional sources, who were present at the hearings, which are being held behind closed doors this week and to missed clues prior to 9/11.

General Hayden told the legislators, sources say, that the volume of intercepted communications each day is so huge that despite the size and high-tech resources of the NSA, there was and still is no way all of the potentially relevant material can be translated on the same day. Intelligence officials say even if they had had those intercepts translated that day, there were no specifics upon which to act, nothing on when, where, how or who.

Still, the words "tomorrow is the zero hour" and "the match begins tomorrow" heard from al Qaeda on September 10 indicate, according to some in Congress, that changes may be needed, at least in the speed and quantity of U.S. intelligence analysis -- Bill.

Ezzie said...

I've read that before. But it sounds like this wasn't translated faster not because they didn't have translators, but because of other volume and delay reasons. Moreover, as noted, there are no specifics there to do anything about. Again, I'd say that the claim that had he kept his job may have stopped the attacks is ridiculous.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

When I was in the Navy, back in the 80s, we had at least one sailor on the ship that was as queer as a three dollar bill. Everyone knew. And no body cared. He couldn't SAY he was gay of course. But we all knew, and it wasn't an issue because we knew. Ironically it's the guy's that are gay that you don't know about that are the problem.

I think the reasoning for not permitting gay sailors would be that being gay, like other behavior prohibited by the military such as cheating on your spouse, having an affair with a married woman, illegal gambling and the like is that these are things that we sometimes prefer to keep secret. And people with secrets can be blackmailed.

The problem with this theory in regards to being gay is that if you're "out", then you have no secret. And forcing people to hide creates more opportunities for blackmail. Stupid policy.

The effect on "morale" excuse often used is phony to me. No one seemed to care on our ship, and if they did they had the good manners to keep it to themselves.