Some of our military contractors are faced with that very question. Specifically, I am talking about local nationals who help the United States or its allies in the war on terror.
One of the most important jobs in the military involves translation and interpretation, a job that often requires the use of private contractors. Some interpreters are embedded with military units, going outside-the-wire with their team for extended periods of time. Others work from a forward operating base, translating intercepted broadcasts from insurgents. To be sure, there are translators and linguists from the United States that work in Afghanistan and Iraq. But local nationals are also hired to fill these roles.
The Most Dangerous Job for Local National Contractors?
It is hard to determine which job is the most dangerous for contractors. Is it close protection security? Truck driving? Translator?
Close protection work has its obvious dangers. Even a cursory internet search for newspaper articles produces a trove of posts dedicated to injured security guards. For instance, one Scot (who received the Defense of Freedom Medal) described how the blast of an improvised explosive device in Iraq felt “like being punched by Mike Tyson.”
Truck driving has often been recognized as one of the most dangerous jobs in the war zone. The perils faced by truck drivers has been noted since the beginning of the war in Iraq. For instance, National Public Radio published a 2006 piece called The Trucker’s War: On the Road in Iraq. NPR said that war zone civilian truck drivers worked in one of the “most vulnerable” professions in the war. And no one can–or should–forget the six KBR truck drivers who died in a 2004 ambush.
Translators, especially translators imbedded with outside-the-wire teams, face many of the same dangers that their soldier counterparts face. To see how dangerous translation work can be for private military contractors, watch National Geographic’s Inside the Green Berets. National Geographic cameramen videoed the IED detonation that ultimately led to the death of Fattah Karimi, a private contractor translator. Mr. Karimi was a newly naturalized U.S. citizen at the time of his death; but his young bride was still an Afghan national.
No matter which job was most dangerous, the fact remains that there is a special danger that accompanies translation work–especially translation work for local nationals. Once the war ends, they don’t get to leave. They have to stay. But for some, staying also means living as a target.
The general public is starting to hear more about the dangers faced by local national contractors after they work alongside the United States military. Many stories focus on immigration, and the troubles faced by local national contractors trying to immigrate to the United States.
Consider a piece from Jesse Ellison at The Daily Beast entitled “As War Nears An End, Our Afghan Translators Are Being Left Behind:”
Now, with the surge done and withdrawal planned for 2014, [the translator] has found himself alone in a nation where, he says, many see him as an infidel, a traitor to his people, a “piece of shit” for working with the occupiers.
“If I try to go to my home town (in the Kunar province) I’d be killed,” he wrote in an email, “and beheaded because I have worked for coalition forces and everyone knows that in my area.”
A similar sentiment was expressed in Kyla Ryan’s article, “Left Behind: The Afghan Translators Who Served With the U.S. Military:”
Translators play a crucial role for the U.S. military, and the Iraqi Refugee Assistance project estimates that around 50,000 Iraqi and Afghan nationals have served as translators over the past decade. However, working with the U.S. often comes with a heavy cost: being branded a “traitor” by the Taliban and other groups, putting the translators and their family members at constant risk.”
And then there was Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. Back in October, Last Week Tonight aired a segment about the immigration difficulties faced by Afghan translators who have aided the United States. If you don’t have 16 minutes to watch the video, then check out Eleanor Goldberg’s write-up, “Afghan Translator Whose Dad Was Killed By Taliban Desperate To Bring Family to U.S.,” which states in part:
When Mohammad, 24, told his father that he was offered work as a translator with the U.S. military, his dad was thrilled. He felt this was the best way Mohammad could defend his country against the Taliban.
That decision ultimately cost Mohammad’s father his live. The Taliban killed the Afghan translator’s dad and kidnapped his younger brother, Mohammad said in a recent interview on “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver.” Desperate to bring the rest of his endangered family to the U.S., Mohammad has now turned to a crowdfunding campaign since the U.S. government has failed to help him.
Mohammad is just one of tens of thousands of Afghans who risked their lives to accompany troops on dangerous foot patrols, find out about imminent attacks and warn them of planted improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Despite their sacrifices, thousands of these interpreters, who are now Taliban targets, can’t get U.S. visas because of he painstaking bureaucratic process, Oliver noted
Defense Base Act Benefits:
When reading about the plight faced by these local contractors, I can’t help but consider the applicability of the Defense Base Act. An often overlooked federal workers compensation system, the Defense Base Act applies to both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals. See 42 U.S.C. § 1652.
Local nationals–meaning nationals from the host country of the operations–are covered by the Defense Base Act. But the DBA is slightly modified for all foreign nationals. For instance, the potential beneficiaries in DBA cases involving foreign nationals is limited to spouses, children, and financially dependent parents. Further, there is no minimum compensation rate for foreign nationals. This is an important distinction with local Afghan and Iraqi employees because their pay is very, very low (roughly $200 to $300 per week).
So, what if an employee like a local national translator experienced an injury–physical or psychological–because of his employment? In that situation, the injuries caused as a result of the injured worker’s affiliation with his employment would be covered. Over the past decade, I have been involved in cases where local nationals have been threatened, beaten, even killed because of their employment with U.S. forces. In each and every case where evidence and a medical diagnosis confirmed that the basis for the injury was in retaliation for the employee’s work with the U.S., Defense Base Act benefits were ultimately paid to the injured worker. You can imagine some of the horrific physical injuries and long-standing psychological injuries experienced by local national translators.
To answer the question that started this post, there are indeed people who are willing to help their home country, Afghanistan, even though doing so might mean having to leave…at gun point…or to escape a price on their head. Many local nationals who choose to work on the side of U.S. forces face real and violent persecution, all for helping. In the event a local national is injured because of his employment with the United States, he may be entitled to workers’ compensation.
While the immigration issues raised by the media remain problematic–mired in a bureaucratic nightmare might be a better description–these local nationals may be entitled to Defense Base Act benefits. If one federal law can’t help (immigration), perhaps another can (the Defense Base Act).
Groups and People Trying to Help:
I urge you to visit some of the following websites:
- No One Left Behind “helps Afghan and Iraqi translators gain their U.S. Special Immigration Visas and ensures that they are properly resettled in America.”
- The Iraqi Refugee Assistance Program is “dedicated to providing comprehensive legal aid to refugees seeking resettlement, providing representation for those who have none and helping vulnerable families and refugees navigate the complex rules and processes of the international resettlement system.”
- Get Jalil out of Afghanistan is a “Go Fund Me” page where donors can help with a fund set up to help a targeted Afghan national who worked as a translator in support of the U.S. escape Afghanistan. Take the time to read through some of the updates, which humanize the problem faced by allies halfway around the world.
Injured workers may be entitled to medical and compensation benefits. The Defense Base Act applies to everyone, even local national linguists. If you or a loved one was injured overseas, then contact me. I can be reached at (985) 246-3194, [email protected], or through the info form to the right of this post. The case evaluation is completely free. And I help people anywhere in the world.
Photo courtesy of ResoluteSupportMedia.