O'Donnell, Anne
December 2003
New Republic;12/22/2003, Vol. 229 Issue 25, p14
The article focuses on the lack of Arabic-proficient Americans to work as translators for the U.S. government. In July and September, when two American interpreters were separately detained on suspicion of espionage at Camp Delta, the U.S. facility in Guantanamo Bay where suspected Islamic militants are held, many observers expressed surprise that spies might have infiltrated the highly secure facility. After all, the personal histories of both interpreters, Ahmed F. Mehalba and Ahmad I. Al Halabi, contained red flags that should have prevented them from obtaining the required security clearance: Mehalba filed for bankruptcy in 1997, and Al Halabi was under investigation for making anti-American comments. But the lapse isn't really that surprising. The simple fact is that the U.S. Army--like the CIA, the FBI, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and other government agencies--is desperate for speakers of Arabic, Farsi, Pashto, and other languages to assist in the war on terrorism. But qualified translators have been hard to come by--even as the need for them continues to grow. Part of the problem is a lack of Arabic-proficient Americans: U.S. universities have traditionally given Arabic language studies low priority. But responsibility also rests with government agencies that seem unwilling, or unable, to change their practices for hiring translators.


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