Saturday, February 24, 2007

Nour al-Khal Should Come to America

She was an Iraqi translator and fixer for Steven Vincent, a freelance journalist who broke a story in the NEW YORK TIMES about how the Iraqi police force was being infiltrated by Iranian-back fundamentalists and Shiite militiamen loyal to Moqtada al-Sadar rather than the central government.

According to his widow in broad daylight one day a death squad roaming the streets of Basra in a police car "wrestled Steven into a truck to take him to his death." The 5 kidnappers apparently had no interest in his translator, the 5 foot tall Nour al-Khal and tried to push her away. She would not go so they eventually threw her in the truck as well. bound and gagged for 5 hours---Steven was beaten, even bitten on the leg---and then both were put back in a truck, taken to the outskirts of the city, set free, told to run, and then SHOT IN THE BACK. Steven died but Nour al-Khal who "literally took a bullet for him, three, in fact," somehow survived.

Nour al-Khal is now in hiding in a small apartment and Lisa Ramaci-Vincent wants to repay her and bring her to America. But of course she is having trouble. "I have dealt with officials at the Baghdad embassy and the state department. I have filled out forms, I have made countless calls, sent innumerable e-mails. I have pledged to stand financial security for her. I have gotten a promise from the UN bureau chief of Al-Arabiya that he will hire her when-if-she gets here. And each path I have gone down has proven fruitless. I have been told SHE DOES NOT QUALIFY FOR REFUGEE OR ASYLUM STATUS BECAUSE IRAQ IS NOW A DEMOCRACY, AND THERE WOULD BE NO REASON SHE WOULD NEED TO FLEE..." [ABC News blog link]

Iraq is now a democracy and there is no reason she needs to flee. She doesn't qualify for refugee or asylum status. Right. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of people who have nothing to do with politics or journalism are dying in Iraq as "collateral damage" and this woman who worked as a translator for an American journalist, who took two bullets already because of that association, doesn't qualify for refugee or asylum status. That's horse shit, plain and simple.

The murder of journalist Stephen Vincent was two and a half years ago. And Nour al-Khal, his translator who survived their horrible ordeal, is stuck in Iraq, hiding for safety, unable to get permission to come to America, despite continuing efforts on the part of Vincent's widow, Lisa Ramaci-Vincent.

This shameful footnote to the Iraq adventure should be talked about, written about, complained about, gossiped about, and yelled about until someone with courage enough to make something happen gets proactive instead of reactive about the issue.

Is there no one in authority to cut through miles of red tape and make this happen? There seems to be no problem with detaining foreign nationals with no basis other than their being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Representatives from member nations of the UN, some of whom are card-carrying official enemies of the country, come and go in New York (and elsewhere, no doubt) with diplomatic immunity. And this young woman cannot be cleared to leave Iraq to come to the United States. What ever is wrong with this picture?

I just re-visited my post at the time and as I read I got angry all over again.

The story was not especially high-profile at the time it happened and few will now remember the details. It is burned in my memory because I was following closely at the time, but I'm an exception. Professional journalist who make a living writing about the news cannot pay the rent by getting stuck on a single story. Those who fall into that trap, no matter how principled their cause, soon need to do something else to pay the rent.

As a blogger I'm not limited by the need to get paid. It is my privilege and responsibility to write what needs to be written with the quiet satisfaction of knowing that the content of what I'm writing about will stand or fall on its own merit, whether or not anyone wants to pay to read it. last night I listened with half an ear to the circus on TV surrounding the disposition of the body of the late Anna Nicole Smith. Who is the world cannot by now recognize that name and relate all kinds of details about her tragic life and death? Compare and contrast that level of public involvement with some of the following links...

Iraq Slogger story link.

Testimony of Lisa Ramaci-Vincent for the Hearing Held on January 16, 2007 before the Senate Judiciary Committee Regarding The Plight of Iraqi Refugees.

Even Fox News was unable to ignore the story when it surfaced again last month.

A delayed refugee crisis in Iraq has left thousands of translators, aides to Americans in Iraq and others fleeing religious persecution and violent reprisal seeking escape to an unwelcoming United States.

Bush administration officials say the government will expand the number of open slots for Iraqi refugees to 20,000 in 2007 if funding is approved. The United States continues to work with international organizations to aid Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries of Jordan and Syria.But officials admit that the refugee problem they anticipated after the 2003 invasion of Iraq didn't reach full force until this past year when sectarian violence grew and millions were displaced or fled the country.

"At present, more Iraqis are fleeing their homes to other areas of Iraq and to neighboring countries then are returning," said Ellen Sauerbrey, assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, said in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee last month.Sauerbrey is among several State Department officials named to a new Iraq Refugee and Internally Displaced Persons Task Force to be spearheaded by Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky. The task force will try to coordinate assistance for refugee resettlement, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced Monday.

In its "fair and balanced" manner, of course, the story had to be fleshed out with enough content that the Fox audience would not throw up at the mention of yet another immigrant wanting to come into the country. Starting with a reference to Senator Kennedy, whom everyone knows is a child of Satan, the story made clear that he was all for it (despite the fact that the Administration was behind it) so there must be something sinister that is not being reported.

Democratic senators last month slammed the administration for not coming to the aid of vulnerable Iraqis and leaving them at the mercy of their adversaries.

"We can no longer ignore the plight of millions of people — many of whom have helped our efforts," Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said during the Jan. 16 hearing. "We know that America must respond."

Notice how "Democratic senators...slammed the administration" even though the Democratic Senator from Massachusetts spoke positively about the issue. This is whiplash double negative spinning at its poetic finest. Don't forget the story was headlined ("Iraq Translators Face Closed Door U.S. Immigration Policy") as an immigration issue, not a story about human rights, democracy or even the US activities in Iraq.
Several problems were listed, including the fact that "the U.S embassy is in the heavily fortified Green Zone and...the staff is ill-equipped to handle applications." Not high on the list of priorities, no doubt. Embassies have to be careful not to process too many applications, I suppose.

Besides "the United States has provided more than $800 million in assistance since 2003 to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other U.N. and non-governmental agencies that handle services and resettlement of refugees from temporary sanctuaries in Jordan and Syria to 'third countries' like the United States." The UN is being paid to handle the problem and we know how wonderfully efficient that body is.

And don't let's leave out a few words from the U.S. Freedom Foundation and the Heritage Foundation.

Fred Peterson, national security expert with the U.S Freedom Foundation in Washington, a balanced approach keeps in mind domestic security as well as the goal of ensuring Iraq is a place where people want to stay, not flee.

James Carafano, national security expert for the Heritage Foundation, said it was unfair to suggest that the White House was in denial.
"They're not stupid, they know he numbers are fleeing out of the country," he said, noting that typically government bureaucracy is "reactive and not proactive."

Maybe the Fox audience isn't hurling by this point but I sure need to. National Security is at risk, you know. And everyone knows how very slow bureaucracies move.
Well who in hell is in charge of the bureaucracy, tell?
If this is fair and balanced reporting then I'm among the next American Idol finalists. This is what I call drowning the baby in its first bath. I don't know what makes me more disgusted, the content of the sorry story or the truly ugly spin with which this last reference has been sprayed.
Update, June 29


Lisa Ramaci-Vincent said...

On behalf of Nour and myself, I want to thank you so much for this heartfelt column. I can't tell you how I appreciate it. The more focus there is on this issue, perhaps the more pressure that will be exerted on those in the government who make these decisions.

I remember you wrote a very touching tribute to Steven after he was killed; at that point in time I was not in a place where I could write and thank you for it, so I do so now. God bless -

Kobayashi Maru said...

Nobody is really accountable in any bureaucracy. That's what makes them so awful no matter who is ostensibly in charge. Franz Kafka got it right.

While I certainly feel for Ms. al Khal and would admit her in a heartbeat if it were up to me (it's not), one question this raises is how much of a role exceptionalism, special favors, "who you know", etc. should play in a policy that affects millions beyond this one individual.

It is not only in the sphere of immigration where policy-making on the basis of individual cases makes for bad policy. Emotionalism and exceptionalism breed policies that undermine fairness and justice more broadly.

I sense in your post here Hoots, some need to show through the al Khal case that Iraq is a terrible, horrible, violent, untenable place and that of course she and we and everyone else should simply get out. No doubt she could get out. The issue here though is not about getting out, but about admitting her to the United States.

Again, if it were up to me, I'd do it in a heartbeat, but then if it were up to me we wouldn't have a democracy, we'd have an autocracy. Be careful what you wish for.

Hoots said...

Thanks for your comment.

You are entirely correct. If this case is reduced to just that, a "case," then there is no discussion. The regulatory jaws of immigration restrictions (quotas, &c.) like those of the IRS, can be invoked at will...

Never mind that porous borders North and South, as well as an underground economy thriving on illicit drug sales, undocumented workers and the proceeds of their labor represent an avalanche of potential "cases" outside the realm of those two monster bureaucracies. (And I hear arguments suggesting that both of those monsters be made more efficient by enlarging them.)

My contention is simply that doing the right thing trumps everything else.

The president can pardon convicted criminals. Congress has convened in special (if unsuccessful) session attempting to intervene in the individual case of Terri Schiavo. Ways exist to aid individual "cases" with enough public pressure. That's what I want to see happen.

The effort may prove to be in vain. It might, however, succeed. On the chance of success, I want to be counted on the side of those who helped make it happen.

Anonymous said...

I am a female transelater who worked 3 years with the coalition. I worked in and out of baghdad. i been threatened many times so i had to leave the country to save my family. Terrorists now sending threats to my little brother because of this and i been trying to get psylum to the states but i do not have hope that the US gov will really help.