Interpreters for Australia in Iraq

[edit] There is an article and presentation (warning, video starts without asking) in The Age newspaper about the role of Interpreters have with the Australian Defense Force in Iraq, and how they are being repatriated to Australia.

The below is my original entry, which ended up being a rant about the appalling use of language and abuse of the internet that has been perpetrated by the once great newspaper.  Vale. Anyway, you can probably stop reading here if you’d like.

Original piece:

While not really news for those in the industry, it remains novel for the broader populace that jobs as innocuous as interpreting can be dangerous. To this citizen, it remains surprising that the Government that represents me was actually cool enough to follow through with a humanitarian response. The unfortunate stories of an interpreter for the US Army, Sarah (This American Life, Act 2, The Los Angeles Times) and the British response in 2007 to their interpreter’s fears, had lowered expectations considerably.

My daily broadsheet, The Age, has a multimedia special titled Patriots and Traitors:

Australia’s interpreters in Iraq. Silenced first by a brutal campaign at home, then by the secrecy of the mission that helped them disappear. Now they’re talking.

The incredulous tone taken by the subheadings are off putting in a presentation that appears less interested in the story, and more focused on showing off the new iPad app associated with the dying hardcopy of the paper. The associated article from the paper doesn’t let up either:

INTERPRETERS employed by Australian forces in Iraq say they were placed on a death list by local militias, marking them for murder, before they fled their country in a covert RAAF evacuation.

The evocative and over the top language is ridiculous, the lack of thought people have exercised in regard to sending troops to a foreign land is astounding. There’s plenty of the shallow thinking around “our boys and girls are great/beyond reproach/doing their duty/to be RESPECTED”, yet a lack of consideration for interpreters and translators, local doctors, nurses and taxi drivers, the rivers of money spent on ex-military mercenaries and warlord bribes, the dead civilians, the strategic global importance of imperial, colonial control of other people’s property to the capitalist infrastructure.

There is, surprisingly, an excellent attempt to supply reference materials, taking this presentation, albiet marginally, beyond merely gushing language – as well as the video there are images from the Australian Defence Force of the evacuation of the interpreters, unfortunately let down with appalling layout – the javascript Lightview pop ups are ridiculous for this type of presentation – they should have taken the lead from the Boston Globe‘s The Big Picture, undoubtedly the benchmark in photo journalism and presentation. The navigation within the pop up is barely existant – forward and back buttons is all we get for 150 photos, making me think it was designed by someone that grew up in a pre-Internet world. Little or no editorial oversight seems to have been exercised – when there are that many photos, and I only got about 18 in before I was yawning and stopped, images like #10 could be left out completely for all the information they convey in the context.

There are interviews – one with the sister of a slain interpreter, with some talking head from the Defense department, and with an expatriated Iraqi interpreter now in Australia. I didn’t bother watching – partly because I’m lazy, partly because I was a little bit embarrassed for The Age’s slow website and partly because I don’t go the The Age for video content.

I should have stopped there. The next page of Documents is interesting as journalistic backgrounder material, but the related material link is the final, depressing reality that my favourite, if flawed, news outlet on paper is coming to its end days. Having previously read in the hardcopy article about the “Death List” of collaborationist interpreters written up by the “Death Squads” (disingenuously titled, IMHO, like somehow we live in a romanticised time of old, before the Vietnam War taught us about guerilla tactics. I can hear the British Major now: “It’s one thing to wage war, sonny, it’s another completely to kill people”), I was interested to see it. So I foolishly clicked the link listed “Death List” expecting to see some evidence, expecting more background information. Instead, I get another straight-to-iPad lightbox of the actual article I’d already read. The killer? They haven’t even stripped out the ads, crap or clutter – it’s a facsimile of the website. This was so incredibly, deeply disappointing it makes me wonder if anyone involved in this prouction has ever used the internet. The only saving grace on this page is the fact that there are a shortlist of 11 photos to view, although they are again wrapped up in all the cruft of the regular site.

And the final humiliation for the grand institution that was The Age, is the final credit page – a repeat of information that was already littering the footer of each page before it.

The self importance of the paper is arrogant nonsense – giving the impression that they are breaking new ground, new news. They aren’t – here’s an article from the NYT in 2005 about Interpreters in Iraq, the somewhat terrifying, lonely, bare and sad blog of an Iraqi interpretor who squarely puts the blame on the commander of the Multi National Force – Iraq for the Interpreters assassination in 2008, and CNN in 2007 to name but a few.

Having had that little rant, it’s good to see that these issues are getting a hearing – there are two more videos planned, one for tomorrow, one Monday. I won’t be coming back.