Failure to communicate

Yet another story of greed, corruption and incompetence in the privatization of the US occupation of Iraq: Radar has an interview with a former private Arabic instructor who barely spoke Arabic:
The lack of Arabic translators in Iraq appears to stem from a Bush Administration decision to outsource translation services to private contractors. Called "linguistic support," these companies, two of the largest of which are Titan Corporation and DynCorp International, have received billions of dollars to provide language interpreters to the Iraq reconstruction effort. But many of the supposed "translators" sent to Iraq were untrained, had poor language skills, or couldn't speak Arabic at all. In many cases the contractors appear to have conducted no screenings or interviews with prospective translators. And Titan Corporation interpreters are accused of involvement in two cases of prisoner abuse in Iraq and one case of espionage at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

. . .

So you had been out of Arabic from the mid-'90s to 2002 when they hired you to teach soldiers Arabic prior to their Iraq deployment.
That's right, with zero experience. I'd never been to a Middle Eastern country.

Do you feel you were qualified for the job?
Was I the right guy to teach the course? No.

Did they give you any instructions?
I asked them, "What do you want me to do?" And they said, "You're the expert." Look, it was that REEP got the contract and then they sent an e-mail to me, because it looked like I spoke Arabic, asking me if I would come teach the course. That was it. There was no interview. There was no anything. No accountability. Nothing.

How did they know you really spoke Arabic?
Because it said so on my resumé. Because I said so when they asked me.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.