Sunday, August 19, 2007

We Owe Them

In this Sunday's Post Standard, Hart Seely writes a powerful story about a local man who has tried to serve his country as best as he can and has ended up with nightmares. His father, Kamal Mere, is a Palestinian who, at age 15, left his home in Jerusalem right after the Six Day War. Two years later he had settled in Chicago and in 1985 moved to Syracuse where he opened a business on the City's south side. I remember the business. This story is about his son, Naiel Mere.

Naiel joined the US Army five days after the WTC attacks. Eighteen months later he was in Iraq serving as an interpreter. His plans to serve his country were derailed when a rare skin disease forced his separation from the Army in 2004; he was awarded a Bronze Star for his service. Within six months (December 2004) Naiel had signed up with Titan Corporation (later L3 Communications) - a defense contractor that supplies interpreters to the US Armed Forces.

Maiel was back in Iraq.

He assisted in enlisting Iraqis as civilian interpreters, or "terps" as they're called, but it soon became apparent that he was also signing them up for an early grave. The Post Standard continues:

"At $1,050 a month, a "terp" could earn more than many Iraqi doctors. But if identified by insurgents, interpreters and their families became prime targets.

"In mid 2005, the enemy began to pinpoint translators as a tactical weakness in the U.S. force. Without its interpreter, the patrol could not understand a reasonable request or heed a critical warning. The insurgency wanted to send a message to anyone who was thinking of helping the United States."

I'll give credit to Seely, he provides a well written story and identifies the insurgents as what they truly are: "the enemy."

Naiel witnessed the deaths of hundreds of terps. He knew most of them. He was identifying the bodies at the morgue. He made death payments to the families.

"I would try to keep it professional. I would apologize for the loss. I would get down on my knees and I'd count the cash out in front of them. I'd fold it, and I'd stay on my knees to keep respectful. Then I would put the cash in their hands. And then they would just go crazy..."

This is not a fun job, I don't care how much they pay you. Because of the terrorists penchant for murder, Iraqis in record numbers are trying to get into the U.S. The U.S. State Department has agreed to allow 7,000 Iraqis to immigrate here in 2007, a mere pittance. So far the actual number allowed is far, far less.

"In March, eight Iraqis made it to America. One more came in April, and another in May according to the government. In June and July, 120 Iraqis arrived, signalling a rise.

Over those two months the U.S. took in 1,484 Iranians."

If this is accurate, it is astounding, appalling. What is with our government? Kirk Johnson, a former information officer with the U.S. Agency for International Development states:

I'm beginning to think that even the president of the United States can acknowledge our responsibility, and yet nothing would happen, because our government is so incompetent.

"We've been so cowed by this mantra of security threats that an Iraqi who works for us on Wednesday could go home Wednesday night and have a family member assassinated an be forced to flee the country. And on Thursday we view him as a potential terrorist. [...] It's a horrible indictment on who we are as a country, that we could forget our friends so quickly."

I almost agree. These government ingrates don't forget their friends, they ignore them. It is politically expedient to allow these people to die, just like they did in Viet Nam. If they live it is an embarassment.

But others do not forget. Like the surrounding Arab nations who are waiting to see if the U.S will cut and run again. Unlike our politicans, they won't forget for a thousand years.

If we continue to do this, we won't have a true friend left in the world. No one will trust us to go the distance.

And they will be right.

Naiel returned home after suffering what appears to be a nervous/emotional breakdown. After a close friend bled to death during an attack he could couldn't stop crying. But he has not stopped trying to help his terps. He writes,he sends emails. And he refuses to forget.

"Just like we owe our soldiers, we owe the translators. [...] They have sacrificed their lives, like soldiers... What are they going to get in return? A certificate? A coin? Well, that's not enough... We need to help them. We need to get them out of there."

This Palestinian American shows more virtue than many of our politicians who have lived in this country for generations.

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