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| Ander Nieuws week 46 / nieuwe oorlog 2009 |
 
 
 
Botched Afghan translation allegations being probed

 
The Canadian Press
November 3, 2009
 
Defence Minister Peter MacKay has ordered officials to look into allegations that innocent Afghans may have been sent to jail because of botched translations by Canadian military interpreters.
 
MacKay's statement in the House of Commons on Monday came as a counter-insurgency expert said U.S. forces have been plagued with the same concerns.
 
A former language and cultural adviser to the Canadian Forces said he witnessed at least two instances where innocent people were wrongly labelled as Taliban supporters because Afghan-Canadian interpreters did not understand what had been said.
 
NDP Leader Jack Layton said it's a troubling development and demanded to know what the Conservative government was going to do.
 
Thomas Hammes, a retired U.S. Marine colonel with combat experience in Iraq, said U.S. forces are facing the same problems and concerns in Afghanistan.
 
"We're willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to make sure ice cream and steak is there," Hammes said in an interview from Washington. "And I would trade all of that for my entire tour if I could have one decent translator.
 
"Many times I'd trade body armour for a translator."
 
There have been a steady stream of complaints from U.S. army and marine units about the quality of their interpreters and concerns about what impression they're leaving with local Afghans.
 
Soldiers are often at the mercy of their translators in dealing with Afghans. The Defence Department recognized in 2005 that it had a problem and hired a private company to recruit among the Pashto and Dari-speaking Afghan-Canadian community.
 
Interpreters' credibility key to mission
 
Hammes said the credibility of the interpreters is paramount to the success of the mission. If they're making mistakes it reflects badly in the community you're trying to influence.
 
"The real information war is the communication to the Afghan people and for that you need a native Dari or Pashtu speaker, who understands your side but the most important thing is he understands the community he's dealing with," said Hammes.
 
Officials in Ottawa say they've had no cause to question the accuracy of the work of Canadian linguists, but provincial council members in Kandahar say there have been ongoing problems.
 
"The translators who came with Canadians and Americans, they don't know much about our culture and they have been in America and Canada for so many years," said Haji Ahsan. "They (have) forgotten their culture."
 
Hammes said Canadian defence officials can't assume that everything is being done correctly and the work of interpreters needs to be continual monitored.
 
"We very often don't know what our translators are saying I never knew what the hell was going on in Iraq, but at least I was aware I didn't know," he said.
 
The Canadian defence department said that all the cultural advisers it hires can speak Pashto, the predominant language in southern Afghanistan.
 
It has previously refused to release that information because of operational security concerns.
 
A spokeswoman defended the selection process.
 
"Their oral abilities in both English and Pashtu are assessed based on standards established by an independent professional translation association," said Jesse Chauhan. "Candidates must achieve the minimum level in both English and Pashtu to qualify as a Language and Cultural Adviser."
 
However, Chauhan couldn't say how fluent the candidates might be.
 
The Canadian Press, 2009
 
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| Ander Nieuws week 46 / nieuwe oorlog 2009 |