Archives About Staff BagNews is dedicated to visual politics, media literacy and the analysis of news images.
August 11, 2007

Shadows Of Their Former Selves




Two-and-a-half weeks ago, I highlighted George Packer’s New Yorker piece on America’s shameful treatment of its Iraqi employees on their own soil.  The fierce photo by James Nachtwey accompanying the piece only heightened the pain.  I’m not sure why this subject is producing such emotive imagery, but it is.

This past Tuesday, the BBC followed up with an English side to the horrible shame.  Apparently, the British — following America’s lead — are rejecting the asylum requests of 91 Iraqi interpreters. 

We are all familiar with film techniques to disguise identity.  What is telling — and what I don’t remember seeing before — is how one video could employ so many.  If somehow opposite of the Nachtwey image, this sequence also has a lot to say.  It speaks of being sidestepped and being walked all over.  It references life in the shadows, annihilation and already being a ghost.

(screen shots: videography unattributed.  BBC Newsnight.  Iraq.  Reporter: David Loyn)

  • paulimorph

    “We re Formers Of Our Shadow Selves”

  • Mona

    This administration has so many ghosts and shadows: ghost detainees, shadow government, etc… The Danes did well, they pulled out and pulled their translators with them. One must bear in mind that these translators had hope in America accomplishing anything. I saw a documentary entitled “How I planned to kill Tony Blair” about an Iraqi journalist detained in Abu Ghraib on that charge! These translators don’t do as much damage as the other officionados who explain on Fox news and the NYT ( yes, I will lump them together) what the ME and the Arab mind is all about. These get paid big bucks.. these are in charge of translating culture. Where is the outrage against war profiteering? Lost in translation is now a metaphor, as a translator I would say that the only thing lost here is gullibility.

  • jtfromBC

    Collaborators alias interpreters
    The collaborator through history has been one of the most loathsome of humans. The spectrum of collaborators is quite wide extending from the “elite” Quisling down to the lowly policeman. The value of the collaborators to the occupier is inestimable. It is not an exaggeration to say that an occupation cannot exist without the help of the collaborators. This explains why the Iraqis gradually shifted their attacks mostly against the Iraqi collaborators instead of mostly against the American occupiers.
    It is rather inexplicable why some people choose to become collaborators knowing that an occupation ultimately ends and that the occupied people finally punish the collaborators. Yet, the only period that the collaborators can be really punished is during the occupation itself.

  • Karen

    This is disgusting.
    From the Times Online:
    “The Danish authorities have accepted this. All 22 interpreters used by its military contingent in Iraq were given the choice of evacuation to Denmark or a third country with their immediate families, or substantial cash compensation. Some 200 Iraqis were airlifted to Denmark last month as a result.
    Spain offered its Iraqi employees asylum before withdrawing its troops from the country in 2004. Poland has said of its local employees that “we will not leave these people alone”.”
    I don’t know that the full harshness of “collaborator” applies here, but it is of no consequence: these people helped the “coalition” and should not be left behind to die.

  • margaret

    What evil comments above about “collaborators.” Translators are there to help communications between two different cultures. If this country had more of them, better communications, and more dialogue, certainly before going to war, then people in Iraq might not hate us so much. I think we owe our helpers help when we leave, and we certainly should allow immigration for those, especially educated people who wish it.

  • jtfromBC

    If collaborator is too harsh or evil a job description for interpreter how about assigning responsibility for those threatened to the **private contractors**.
    The interpreters domiciled in Poland, Denmark, Spain are small in number and these countries have left or are leaving.
    From my reading the US is not leaving anytime soon and the most reliable experts have a minuminum of 50,000 troops staying for a long time when conditions improve!!!
    Imagine the huge numbers of interpreters presently employed by the US and their precarious state. With 4 million displaced what sort of message would the US send if it started providing a safe haven to this group… “an interesting metric” – as Donald Rumsfeld might have said before he was outsourced.
    “..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

Refresh Archives

Random Notes