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Linguists Barrier to Communications in Iraq
Poorly-Trained Translators Hinder Effectiveness of Operations
03/13/2007 11:33 AM ET
Reports of how few Arabic translators were available to the US military in Iraq have given some indication of the communication difficulties the occupying force has had with the local population. But a new interview with a former linguist shows that even some of those hired as translators by Western contractors may have served little purpose beyond filling a slot in a contract.

Dustin Langan worked in Iraq during 2003-4 as a translator for MZM Incorporated, the company headed by now-disgraced Mitchell Wade, jailed for bribing Duke Cunningham to secure no-bid contracts fom the Pentagon.

Langan worked as an interpreter for U.S. and coalition officials in Iraq at mass gravesites, and in interview rooms of the doomed "de-Baathification" process. The account he gives of his experience working as a translator would be hilarious, if the broader results of such incompetence on a larger scale have not wreaked such havoc over the past few years in Iraq.

And MZM hired you without an interview?

Zero. Basically MZM had 22 slots to fill for the contract with the Department of Defense. Each linguist filled a slot, and those slots had to be useful in advancing the military's goals.

So no one seemed concerned about the lack of screening?

I never met her, but Barbara Bodine , she was there , and my understanding is she was outraged when she heard that we had not been screened. But she was fired and sent home almost immediately.

So what was your assessment of your fellow translators?

Two of the 22 were Farsi speakers.

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