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Posts Tagged ‘Iraqi Interpreters’

Left Behind in Iraq

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on May 19, 2010

Obama’s withdrawal strategy offers no serious solutions for America’s Iraqi employees, who are likely to enter the war’s worst days once the United States is gone.


America is leaving Iraq. We already itch to forget. The U.S. media gave more coverage to the elections in Zimbabwe than those held in March across Iraq. We award Oscars to films about Iraq, but don’t particularly care to watch them. The seventh anniversary of the U.S. invasion passed recently, with little notice.

Another regrettable anniversary recently passed, one from which U.S. President Barack Obama might take heed. The fall of Saigon 35 years ago marked the end of the Vietnam War and the beginning of a seismic refugee crisis. An eleventh-hour request for $722 million to evacuate the thousands of South Vietnamese who had assisted the United States went unfunded by a war-weary Congress. What ensued in those early morning hours on the rooftops of Saigon, as desperate Vietnamese clamored beneath departing helicopters, would be the war’s final image seared into the American conscience. Al Jazeera rebroadcast these scenes of abandonment throughout 2005, when I worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Baghdad and Fallujah. My Iraqi colleagues who risked their lives to help us were demoralized by the footage, and constantly worried about what would happen to them when we left.

Since my return, I have been trying to help thousands of Iraqis who fled the assassin’s bullet. They have been tortured, raped, abducted, and killed because they worked for America. My organization, The List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies, assists these imperiled Iraqis in navigating the straits of the winding U.S. refugee resettlement bureaucracy. Although it is the largest single list in existence of U.S.-affiliated Iraqis, at several thousand names, our list is only a reflection of a much larger community. Estimates vary, but between 50,000 to 70,000 Iraqis have been employed by the United States over the past seven years. It is likely that thousands have already been killed as “traitors” or “agents” of America. (I have a separate list documenting hundreds of assassinated interpreters who worked for just one contractor, a small but gruesome glimpse.) And while I once thought that the dark years of Iraq’s 2006-2008 civil war were the bleakest for these Iraqis, I am increasingly concerned that the worst days are yet ahead.  Please read the full story here

Posted in ACE, AIG and CNA, Civilian Contractors, Contractor Casualties and Missing, Department of Labor | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Inside the the No Bid Deal for Iraqi Interpreters

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on May 12, 2010

MEP says they are working with their insurance company to make sure all wounded employees are treated quickly, and properly.

“We bend over backwards to provide benefits and medical care.”

We’d be very interested in hearing about how they are getting along with this discussion……..

By Noah Shachtman at Wired’s Danger Room

Three years ago, Mission Essential Personnel, LLC was a miniscule military contractor, banking less than $6 million annually to find a handful of linguists for the American government. Earlier this week, the U.S. Army handed the Columbus, Ohio company a one-year, no-bid $679 million extension of its current contract to field a small city’s worth of translators to help out American forces in Afghanistan. Not bad for a company that’s been accused of everything from abandoning wounded employees to sending out-of-shape interpreters to the front lines. MEP vigorously rejects the charges.

The U.S. -led counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan relies on gaining the trust of the local population. But those relationships can’t be established without people who can speak Afghanistan’s array of languages. So the American military turns to Mission Essential Personnel (MEP) to recruit, screen, and bring more than 5,000 of those interpreters to the battlefield. Today, no other company comes close to supplying as many translators in Afghanistan. And with this new “indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity with cost-plus-award fee contract,” MEP is guaranteed another year as the dominant player in the translation market there.

To MEP spokesman Sean Rushton, the $679 million contract extension is a validation of “our very positive performance” — and a stop-gap measure to ensure that U.S. forces can keep talking with the locals while a more competitive contract is prepared to be put up for bid. Tens of thousands of fresh troops are streaming into Afghanistan for a new offensive there; they need people who can speak the language. “Obviously, this coincides with the surge,” Rushton tells Danger Room.

A small handful of MEP’s translators are American citizens of Afghan descent. If they have the right language skills, and can pass a security clearance, they can make up to $235,000 per year, plus health benefits and a 401-K, “analyz[ing] communications” and “perform[ing] document exploitation” on one of Afghanistan’s big, comfortable military bases. But the vast majority of MEP’s recruits are local Afghans, earning about $900 a month to accompany frontline troops into action. These interpreters are given a week’s worth of training before they’re shipped out to combat. Once there, they’re required to spend a year working 12-hour days, seven days a week, and be on-call during the remaining time.

It can be a grueling schedule. The work is dangerous — “some 24 MEP linguists have been killed and 56 injured” in less than two years, CorpWatch’s Pratap Chatterjee reported. Not all of MEP’s hires are up for it.

“In just the bare minimal outlines of how they could run their contract effectively, they are a resounding failure, and have a knack for hiring septuagenarians for combat units while misassigning their language skills,”’s Josh Foust complained last summer.

I’ve met guys off the planes and have immediately sent them back because they weren’t in the proper physical shape,” linguist supervisor Gunnery Sgt. James Spangler told the AP around this same time. “They were too old. They couldn’t breathe. They complained about heart problems,” he said.

But the Army, not MEP, assigns where interpreters go. And the military’s contract doesn’t specify how many pull-ups an MEP translator has to do. Besides, senior citizens can be invaluable in a senior commander’s headquarters, Rushton responds. “All of our linguists meet and exceed the requirements that we were given,” he says.

MEP instantly became Afghanistan’s biggest linguist shop in 2007, after the defense contractor Titan only managed to muster about half of the translators it promised to the military. The U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command put the translation contract up for competitive bid, and awarded the job to MEP, a start-up founded by special forces veterans. Today, the company, lead by former marine and Blackwater vice president Chris Taylor, says it fills 97 percent of the translators’ billets, up from Titan’s 41 percent fulfillment rate.

While MEP hasn’t faced the kind of scrutiny paid to contractors like Blackwater, the firm has come under fire for the treatment of its linguists. Chatterjee reported last year that MEP rehired many of Titan’s old interpreters — and then promptly cut their salaries by as much as 50%. Some were canned, for seemingly flimsy reasons. One linguist, wounded in action, felt he was fired, essentially, for getting hurt.

MEP insists the accusations are way off-base. ”We’re very committed to making our company a different kind of company. To giving these guys better treatment,” Rushton says. “We bend over backwards to provide benefits and medical care.” But, according to Chatterjee, MEP’s record of caring for injured translators is far from perfect. When interpreter Abdul Hameed was wounded by an improvised bomb last August, MEP made sure he received disability pay. But it was only “$110.01 a week — barely enough to pay for his medical expenses.” MEP says they are working with their insurance company to make sure all wounded employees are treated quickly, and properly. Meanwhile, the company is gearing up for the Army’s next translation contract. A formal request for proposals is expected to be released by the end of the summer.  Original story here

Posted in ACE, AIG and CNA, Civilian Contractors, Contractor Casualties and Missing, Department of Labor, Exclusive Remedy, Political Watch | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Foreign Interpreters Hurt in Battle Find U.S. Insurance Benefits Wanting

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on December 21, 2009

Foreign Interpreters Hurt in Battle Find U.S. Insurance Benefits Wanting

by T. Christian Miller, ProPublica – December 18, 2009 4:42 am EST

This story was co-published with the Los Angeles Times [1].

Malek Hadi was working with the U.S. military police when a homemade bomb detonated beneath his Humvee in September 2006. It cost him his right leg and several fingers. Documents show AIG insurance withheld his disability benefits in an effort to force him to accept a lump-sum settlement. Left: Hadi in Baghdad. Right: Hadi in his Arlington, Texas, apartment (Allison V. Smith/For The Los Angeles Times.)

After the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the U.S. military discovered that rebuilding the country and confronting an insurgency required a weapon not in its arsenal: Thousands of translators.

To fill the gap, the Pentagon turned to Titan Corp., a San Diego defense contractor, which eventually hired more than 8,000 interpreters, most of them Iraqis.

For $12,000 a year, these civilians served as the voice of America’s military, braving sniper fire and roadside bombs. Insurgents branded them collaborators and targeted them for torture and assassination. Many received military honors for their heroism.

[2] At least 360 interpreters employed by Titan or its successor company were killed between March 2003 and March 2008, and more than 1,200 were injured. The death toll was greater than that suffered by the armed forces of any country in the American-led coalition, other than the U.S. Scores of translators assisting U.S. forces in Afghanistan have also been killed or wounded.

An insurance program funded by American taxpayers was supposed to provide a safety net for interpreters and their families in the event of injury or death. Yet for many, the benefits have fallen painfully short of what was promised, an investigation by the Los Angeles Times and ProPublica found.

Interviews, corporate documents and data on insurance claims show that:

  • Insurers have delayed or denied claims for disability payments and death benefits, citing a lack of police reports or other documentary evidence that interpreters’ injuries or deaths were related to their work for the military. Critics, including some U.S. Army officers, say it is absurd to expect Iraqis or Afghans to be able to document the cause of injuries suffered in a war zone.
  • Iraqi interpreters sent to neighboring Jordan for medical treatment say they were pressured to accept lump-sum settlements from insurers, rather than a stream of lifetime benefits potentially worth more, and were told that if they didn’t sign, they would be sent back to Iraq — a likely death sentence.
  • Interpreters who have immigrated to America as refugees have ended up penniless, on food stamps or in menial jobs because their benefits under the U.S. insurance program are based on wages and living costs in their home countries, not in the United States. Payments intended to provide a decent standard of living in Iraq or Afghanistan leave the recipients below the poverty level in this country.

Malek Hadi was working with U.S. military police outside Baghdad when a homemade explosive detonated beneath his Humvee in September 2006. The blast tore off his right leg, mangled his left and sheared off several fingers.

Today, Hadi, 25, lives alone in a crime-ridden neighborhood in Arlington, Texas. He struggles to climb the stairs to his second-floor apartment on crutches. He has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder but is not receiving treatment because his insurer has refused to pay for it.

Malek Hadi (Allison V. Smith/For The Los Angeles Times.)
Malek Hadi (Allison V. Smith/For The Los Angeles Times.)

He lives on $612 a month in disability payments –- the maximum available under the war-zone insurance system.

“When we were in Iraq, we were exactly like the soldiers,” Hadi said. “Why are we treated differently now?”

Retired Army Col. Joel Armstrong, who served in Iraq and was a leading proponent of the 2007 U.S. troop buildup, or “surge,” that helped reduce violence in the country, said Iraqi interpreters were crucial to the strategy’s success.

“Without them, you really can’t operate effectively as a force. It’s just impossible,” Armstrong said. It is deplorable, he added, that interpreters injured while assisting American troops have had to fight for benefits.

“Every American should feel terrible about it,” he said. “It’s a shame.”

American International Group Inc. (AIG), the principal provider of insurance coverage for interpreters in Iraq, declined to answer detailed questions on its policies or comment on specific cases.

Marie Ali, a spokeswoman for the AIG unit that sold the coverage, said the company “is committed to handling every claim professionally, ethically and fairly. In all cases, it is our policy to respect the privacy of our customers and claimants and not discuss the specifics of individual claims.”

Under a World War II-era law known as the Defense Base Act [4], companies working under contract for the U.S. military must provide workers’ compensation insurance for their employees, both Americans and foreign nationals. The cost of the coverage is built into Pentagon contracts and so is ultimately paid by taxpayers.

The insurance system, administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, once handled a few hundred claims a year. It expanded dramatically after the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq because of the Pentagon’s heavy reliance on civilian contract workers to drive fuel trucks, cook meals and provide other support services.

Today, there are more civilian workers than uniformed soldiers in the two battle zones, and more than 1,400 contract workers have died.

Interpreters in Iraq were covered by insurance purchased by their employer, first Titan Corp. and later L-3 Communications, a New York defense contractor that acquired Titan in 2005. L-3 paid AIG more than $20 million a year in premiums, according to corporate records.

Once a worker files an injury claim, the employer’s insurer must begin paying benefits within two weeks or file a “notice of dispute.”

Interpreters who suffered the worst injuries, such as loss of a limb or severe brain damage, typically received compensation relatively quickly. That is because they were treated at U.S. military facilities in Iraq, where staff members documented their injuries.

In other cases, AIG often had difficulty establishing to its satisfaction that interpreters’ injuries or deaths were work-related. The company routinely filed notices of dispute while it investigated the claims.

“Even determining the facts of an accident – the location and the circumstances – can be a challenge,” Charles Schader, AIG’s president of worldwide claims, told a Congressional panel in June [5]. “Without sufficient information, examiners cannot make timely final determinations within 14 days.”

To pay death benefits, AIG required police reports or other supporting documents, according to former L-3 officials. Internal L-3 records from 2005 show that AIG examiners sent to Iraq were able to find documentation deemed necessary for benefits in only half the cases examined.

Colleen Driscoll, former chief claims manager for L-3, said that 10 percent to 20 percent of the company's Iraqi workers who should have received benefits were denied.
Colleen Driscoll, former chief claims manager for L-3, said that 10 percent to 20 percent of the company’s Iraqi workers who should have received benefits were denied.

“If you’re missing one piece of documentation, you got denied,” said Colleen Driscoll, former chief claims manager for L-3. “These guys get murdered coming and going to work, and AIG turns them down because they don’t have a letter from the insurgents.”

Driscoll, a former U.N. refugee official, left L-3 in 2007. She said the cause was a dispute with company executives over treatment of injured interpreters.

She and another former L-3 official, Jennifer Armstrong, said their experience suggested that 10 percent to 20 percent of the company’s Iraqi workers who should have received benefits were denied.

Armstrong said that in one instance, a slain interpreter’s widow and children had to live for months in the company’s compound in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad while they waited for death benefits to be approved. It was too dangerous for them to remain in their home, and they could not afford to relocate, she said.

“The Iraqis were looked at as second-class citizens,” said Armstrong, who now works for another defense contractor. “It just became a business. When it became a business, you lost sight of the goal.”

L-3 did not respond to requests for comment.

AIG arranged for many of the most severely wounded Iraqis to be transferred to neighboring Jordan, where medical facilities were better and interpreters did not face the risk of assassination.

Emad Hatabah, a Syrian-trained physician who had been medical director of AIG’s Jordanian subsidiary, exercised broad authority over their care. A medical evacuation company that Hatabah owned transported interpreters from the war zone. He selected their doctors and arranged stays at hotels and rehabilitation clinics.

Once their treatment was concluded, Hatabah presented interpreters with settlement agreements providing for lump-sum payments, in return for which AIG would be released from further liability.

Several Iraqis said Hatabah pressed them to sign and told them that if they refused, they would be sent back to Iraq. In spring 2007, more than a dozen interpreters sent L-3 officials a petition complaining of “bad treatment” by Hatabah and asserting that he had threatened to have them deported.

Ali Kanaan, who worked as in interpreter, suffered vision damage and burns to a third of his body as a result of a 2006 suicide bombing. Kanaan said that he was pressured to take a lump-sum payment for his injuries, in return for which AIG would be released from further liability. Now 23, he works at a cigarette store in Denver. (Photo by Matthew Staver/For The Los Angeles Times)
Ali Kanaan, who worked as in interpreter, suffered vision damage and burns to a third of his body as a result of a 2006 suicide bombing. Kanaan said that he was pressured to take a lump-sum payment for his injuries, in return for which AIG would be released from further liability. Now 23, he works at a cigarette store in Denver. (Photo by Matthew Staver/For The Los Angeles Times)

One of the interpreters, Ali Kanaan, suffered vision damage and burns to more than a third of his body as a result of a 2006 suicide bombing.

Kanaan said Hatabah offered him a $61,000 settlement on AIG’s behalf. He said that when he resisted, Hatabah told him that if he didn’t accept the lump sum, he would have to return to Iraq to pursue a claim for disability benefits.

Kanaan decided to take the offer.

“If you obey Dr. Emad’s rules, you’ll be fine,” he said. “If you don’t, you got kicked out.”

Kanaan later immigrated to the U.S. as a refugee. Now 23, he works 12 hours a day in a cigarette store in Denver. At night, he cleans the stove hoods in restaurant kitchens. The caustic chemicals irritate his skin grafts, he said.

Hatabah, interviewed in Amman, the Jordanian capital, said the interpreters received exemplary care. He denied pressuring any of them to sign settlements or threatening to send them back to Iraq.

Emad Hatabah
Emad Hatabah

Hatabah said AIG’s office in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, sent him settlement agreements and his only role was to witness the signing of the documents. He said that because he is employed by AIG, he took care never to act as the treating physician for any interpreters, in order to eliminate even the appearance of a conflict of interest.

“I believe we did more than a good job,” Hatabah said. “It was a perfect job.”

Interpreters and other injured workers can appeal insurers’ denials through a dispute-resolution system in the Department of Labor. Ultimately, an administrative law judge decides the matter. The department must approve all settlements, and officials are supposed to review offers with the affected workers to make sure compensation is “adequate.”

“The whole purpose is to recognize that a guy who’s never had a $100,000 check in his life before is a sucker for a bad deal,” said Joshua Gillelan, a former lawyer for the department who now represents civilian workers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But few Iraqis know they have rights in the system, and interpreters interviewed for this report said the Labor Department never contacted them about settlement offers.

“Nobody called me or told me or did anything for me,” said Nazar Taei, 40, whose legs were riddled with shrapnel during a mortar attack in 2006.

After he arrived in the U.S. as a refugee, AIG offered Taei an $18,500 settlement, he said. He was dissatisfied with the amount, but accepted it.

“I told AIG, ‘Is this enough for somebody to start his life, who lost his job, a part of his life?’” recalled Taei, a Denver resident who recently enlisted in the U.S. Army and hopes to become a translator. “They said, ‘Those are the rules. We can’t do anything for you.’”

In at least one case, an AIG representative discouraged Iraqis from reaching out to the Labor Department. In an e-mail exchange last year, the father of an L-3 interpreter killed in a car bomb wrote to AIG, seeking to speed payment of death benefits.

The father, who revealed details of the case on condition of anonymity, asked an AIG examiner in Dubai about contacting Labor officials.

“I wouldn’t advice you to do so,” the examiner replied by e-mail. “You would be taking the full responsibility of the outcomes.”

Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis
Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis

Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis declined requests for an interview. In a statement, the Labor Department said the increase in civilian contract workers in Iraq and Afghanistan has posed formidable challenges for the war-zone insurance system. The department has no employees posted in Iraq, Afghanistan or surrounding countries, nor any speakers of Arabic or Afghan dialects.

The statement said Labor depends on insurers and defense contractors to inform workers of their rights and to report injuries.

“There is no way to accurately monitor compliance as the many levels of subcontracting to workers from around the globe makes such oversight impossible,” the statement said. “We understand and are concerned about the fact that we are unable to place staff at the front lines to ensure that all workers understand their rights.”

In this April 17, 2007, photo, Sgt. 1st Class Jerry Byrd of the 82nd Airborne Division talks to a Baghdad schoolmaster with the help of an Iraqi interpreter (center). (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
In this April 17, 2007, photo, Sgt. 1st Class Jerry Byrd of the 82nd Airborne Division talks to a Baghdad schoolmaster with the help of an Iraqi interpreter (center). (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

After the homemade explosive blew off his leg in 2006, Malek Hadi was sent to Jordan for treatment. There, AIG offered him a $60,000 lump-sum settlement, he said.

Hadi rejected the offer and said he was deported to Iraq within a month.

He later returned to Jordan as a refugee. He had applied for disability benefits but was not receiving any, and he could not get an explanation from AIG, he said. He lived on handouts from family and friends while waiting for permission to immigrate to the U.S.

Internal AIG documents indicate that a claims examiner withheld Hadi’s benefits in an effort to force him to accept the lump sum. Hadi was “clearly entitled” to benefits, a different AIG examiner wrote in a memo dated August 2008. The company had not paid because the previous examiner “was trying to get the claimant to decide whether to settle his claim,” the memo said.

After arriving in the U.S., Hadi again contacted AIG, this time seeking medical treatment as well as disability payments. A psychologist working with a refugee agency in Texas had diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition, Hadi’s prosthetic right leg was causing sharp pains and his damaged left leg ached constantly.

AIG formally contested the claim, saying that he needed further medical evaluation. This past summer, more than three years after Hadi’s leg was blown off, AIG began paying him disability benefits of $612 a month. The insurer still has not approved his request for medical treatment.

Hadi spends most of his days in his apartment in Arlington, Texas, watching Arabic television and texting friends back home. “I lost my leg. My life is broken,” he said. “For what?”

A favorite possession is a gold coin given to him by a member of the 89th Military Police Brigade after he was injured.

“Proven in Battle,” it says.

Write to T. Christian Miller at

Posted in ACE, AIG and CNA, Contractor Casualties and Missing, PTSD and TBI, T Christian Miller | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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