• Save Our Terps! How (and Why) to Write Congress Now

    September 28, 2013

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Iraq, Military

    From time to time I offer this space to guest bloggers with something important to say.

    Today, our guest is long-time friend of this blog, Charlie Sherpa. Sherpa runs his own blog at Red Bull Rising. It’s one of the best milblogs out there, and always worth your time. This guest piece tells of how we can help save some of the Iraqis and Afghans who served as interpreters (‘Terps to the trade) during our adventures in their countries. These folks saved regular Americans’ lives in many cases, and helped us make the best of the crappy situation our national leaders flung us into. Many of them did this at great personal risk, and they were promised in return that they would get visas to the U.S. for themselves and their immediate families. This would save their lives from the revenge and retribution that is even now sweeping through their countries as the U.S. once again grows tired of another quagmire and abandons it.

    Not such a surprise as much as an expectation, America’s promise to give them visas had as much validity as what drunk men say to drunk women they pick up from a bar. The next morning it all seems embarrassing and awkward to even bring up those promises, at least to the man. The woman’s opinion is usually not given much air time.

    I’ve written myself on this topic in the past. A core problem is that this program was set up to do one thing, circumstances changed, and the program became unattractive to the government but was never canceled. State has always given out Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs), typically to foreign nationals who had worked in our embassies, and typically at retirement. The SIV program for Terps was intended the same way, a thank you for what was expected to have been years of service. This of course presumed the U.S. had won quickly the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and service to the U.S. there was similar to what it was in London, Kenya or Bonn. When the wars went a different way, the SIV program morphed into a way to save the lives of Terps, which a) flooded what was supposed to be a limited pool of older, well-vetted applicants with many young less-known people and b) was an embarrassment to the USG, a daily reminder of all the good we failed to accomplish. Congress was afraid to just do away with or radically change the program and generate bad PR while the wars still dragged on, and State had no bureaucratic interest in sticking its neck out to approve what it saw as risky cases. Now, with Iraq a distant memory and Afghanistan about to be, the plan in Washington seems to be to just allow the program to fade away, sorry to the Terps. Hence, a human quagmire.

    Not leaving a comrade behind does not just apply to fellow soldiers. According to Charlie Sherpa, here’s how to help.


    In the days before the Internet, I pulled a few short stints in the offices of a couple of U.S. senators. A couple of times as an “intern,” one time as a “Congressional fellow.” In such capacities, not only did I get opportunities to open the daily mail and prepare internal media summaries, I regularly answered letters from constituents. I even learned to use the machine that signed the senator’s name—before some idiot co-worker started writing and signing his own job references.

    Through those experiences, I learned that a letter “written by a senator” on behalf of a constituent was often like applying the Penetrating Oil of Helpfulness to the Stuck Machine Bolt of Bureaucracy. I helped get retirees their Social Security checks, veterans their missing medals, and school kids their answers to social studies tests. Small and concrete victories. Democracy in action. Your tax dollar at work.

    To this day, I still write business letters like a certain senator from Iowa:

    Dear CONSTITUENT NAME:

    Thank you for contacting me regarding PROBLEM X. I am glad to be of help. […]

    I have a sent a letter to AGENCY Y regarding this matter. I will contact you again when I receive a response. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to let me or my staff know if I may be of additional assistance. Keep in touch!


    Later, after I’d joined the Army, I was on the receiving end of a few of these Congressional inquiries. Troops would write their representatives about pay concerns, food quality, or other matters. No matter how seemingly silly some of the questions were, the military put an emphasis on quickly investigating and responding to each query. Whether because of the legislative power of the purse or the War Powers Act, when Congress calls, soldiers listen.

    On Capitol Hill, constituent letters also factored into senators’ legislative calculations. So-called “legislative correspondents,” specialized research staffers who kept up-to-date on where their senators stood on matters of policies and politics, were more likely to respond to such letters. The whole office would see the weekly contact summaries, however—that was our feel for the pulse of opinions back home.

    Usually, responses to individual constituents were kept non-committal. A letter about a hot-button issue like gun control, for example, would likely receive a boilerplate response, blandly marking out the senator’s current positions. The response to a “pro” letter would often be very similar to the one for a “con” letter. In one senator’s office, we called such letters “robo-letters.” I preferred the more-punny term “Frankenmail,” a nod to Congressional members’ power to send official mail without paying postage.

    Staffers would tally letters and telephone calls they the senator’s office had received on given topics. Letters from constituents mattered more than letters from out of state. It didn’t matter whether a constituent identified themselves as Republican, Democrat, or Independent: A constituent was a constituent. We were all in this together. We called it “representative democracy.”

    Letters that were obviously written by individuals, citing specific examples and requesting specific actions, were valued more than fill-in-the-blank form-letters. The latter were considered more as evidence of Astroturf by special interests than actual grassroots support. Bottom line: Constituent contacts were like straw polls. People who write letters are people who are motivated to vote. A senator might not vote your way every time, the thinking went, but he or she was bound to listen.

    Despite the gridlock and partisan gameplay that generate so much of today’s headlines, I’d like to think that Congress, fundamentally, still operates that way. Our legislative branch has to listen, right?

    If it doesn’t, what values are we fighting for?

    Write an Email Today

    I was recently inspired to dust-off my letter-writing skills (developed at taxpayer expense!) regarding the plight of Iraqi and Afghan interpreters who are seeking to immigrate to the United States. These are men and women who have risked their families and their futures to help U.S. forces. Troops call them “terps” for short.

    I’ve posted my letter below, as an example. I am sending similar letters to other U.S. senators and representatives—and note that many Iowa and Minnesota members (“Red Bull” country) of Congress are involved in immigration policy.

    Check out who’s on the senate House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Border Security, for example, or the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security.

    I hope that you might be similarly motivated to voice your own opinions to Congress, whether about this or other topics.

    For more how-to-write-Congress tips, click here. There’s also a list of Congressional e-mail and contact info here.

    Dear Senator Grassley:

    I am retired Iowa Army National Guard soldier who deployed under Operation Enduring Freedom orders in 2003. In 2011, I also traveled to Afghanistan as civilian media, during the largest deployment of Iowa National Guard soldiers since World War II. I am writing to you regarding the need to eliminate bureaucratic obstacles to granting special visas to Iraqi and Afghan interpreters who have fought alongside U.S. soldiers, and who have placed themselves and their families at great risk on our behalf.

    It is my understanding that an extension of the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act of 2007 and Afghan Allies Protection Act of 2009 was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee in May 2013. Without extension, these programs will soon expire. In your response to this correspondence, I would appreciate an update regarding the status of this and other efforts to deliver upon America’s promise to our allies.

    According to recent news reports, including those in the Washington Post and National Public Radio, the U.S. State Department has failed to effectively or efficiently implement the special immigrant visa program authorized by Congress. According to the above-cited news reports, as of late 2012, only 32 visas had been issued. As of June 2013, only 1,120 visas of the 8,750 authorized had been issued.

    I am not going to suggest that all interpreters are saints. To be honest, some seemed suspect in their actions, attitudes, and interactions with U.S. soldiers. Others, however, were shining examples of Afghan bravery and American ideals. All are worthy of consideration, and safety after we leave Afghanistan. We owe them that.

    Please help our citizen-soldiers—past, present, and future—deliver on our country’s promises.

    Thank you for your attention. Keep in touch!

    Respectfully,

    /Charlie Sherpa/




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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Recent Comments

    • Kyzl Orda said...

      1

      Dear PVB, this is one of those situations were “unofficial” policies need to be uncloseted and ended, because ‘unofficial’ policies are designed purposefully to trump official policy and usually prevent something important from taking place. Congress needs to be called on it, or maybe alerted if they are sincerely not-in-the-know

      This is often where bureaucracy scandals, State included, get dragged into muck. Political appointees are sometimes to blame for instituting ‘unofficial’ policies. These are truly the bane of our democratic existence, often blocking the internal workings of how our system is supposed to function

      When I worked at State during the Bush-Cheney years, it was ‘unofficial’ policy to discourage service people from bringing Iraqi and Afghani nationals to the US on family and the special visas. There was a famous case shortly after the 2003 invasion of Iraq where one of our soldiers fell in love with an Iraqi Kurdish woman and wanted to bring her back but was at first denied and even pressured to drop it. I think that might have been during the time of the Coalition Provisional Authority but when the ‘new’ system was implemented after that, I think it was COngress who cracked the whip and a special visa process for Iraqi and Afghani interpreters was grudgingly set up but the neo-cons were not happy and there was not oversight on the conduct of this process. ‘Unofficial’ policies should not be tolerated in a democratic system, please remind Congress that too

      09/28/13 12:09 PM | Comment Link

    • wemeantwell said...

      2

      A core problem is that this program was set up to do one thing, circumstances changed, and the program became unattractive to the government but was never canceled. State has always given out Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs), typically to foreign nationals who had worked in our embassies, and typically at retirement. The SIV program for Terps was intended the same way, a thank you for what was expected to have been years of service. This of course presumed the U.S. had won quickly the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and service to the U.S. there was similar to what it was in London, Kenya or Bonn. When the wars went a different way, the SIV program morphed into a way to save the lives of Terps, which a) flooded what was supposed to be a limited pool of older, well-vetted applicants with many young less-known people and b) was an embarrassment to the USG, a daily reminder of all the good we failed to accomplish. Congress was afraid to just do away with or radically change the program and generate bad PR while the wars still dragged on, and State had no bureaucratic interest in sticking its neck out to approve what it saw as risky cases. Now, with Iraq a distant memory and Afghanistan about to be, the plan in Washington seems to be to just allow the program to fade away, sorry to the Terps. Hence, a human quagmire.

      09/28/13 12:29 PM | Comment Link

    • enough nonsense said...

      3

      I want to write Congress about the lack of due process and whimsical approach to discipline at State. Chairman Issa (comments on his politics aside) had a report prepared (http://oversight.house.gov/report/benghazi-attacks-investigative-update-interim-report-on-the-accountability-review-board/) and really mind boggling stuff is in there. Here we go:

      page 76: “The Secretary’s decision to place the four employees on administrative leave created substantial uncertainty for the employees and their relevant supervisors. In fact, senior Department officials and supervisors interviewed by the Committee COULD NOT EVEN DESCRIBE THE ADMINISTRATIVE LEAVE PROCESS (emphasis added).” Question to Ambassador Jones regarding admin leave: “Is it your opinion it’s a fairly routine measure or is it fairly uncommon? just your opinion.” Answer: IN MY EXPERIENCE IT’S UNCOMMON (emphasis originally in bold)

      page 77: PDAS Dribble “was also unfamiliar with the administrative leave process.” Question: “Have you ever heard of anybody being placed on administrative leave for as long as Mr. Maxwell has been placed on administrative leave?” Answer: “No, I don’t know — I DON’T REALLY KNOW MUCH ABOUT ADMINISTRATIVE LEAVE (emphasis added). So no.”

      page 78: Former A/S for DS Boswell answers the question “Why is it taking this long” with “I can’t answer that. “I don’t know” is the answer.” Then asked “Have you ever seen something like this -” he answers “No” then the question is completed with “in your experience at the State Department?” Answer: “No, I have not.”

      page 78: Former DSS Director Bultrowicz is interviewed, on admin leave for 7 months as of July 21st, 2013. Question: “What have you been told as far as how long that status will last?” Answer: “Until a decision is made…So, I mean, I don’t know. I was not given a specific length of time.”

      page 79: Ambassador Jones “could not explain why the process has taken so long.”

      page 80: “Though the four employees were told the period of administrative leave would be far shorter – only long enough to find a new placement. Instead. they remained in administrative limbo for approximately eight months. While on administrative leave neither the four employees nor their supervisors received updates as to the status of the personnel investigations.”

      page 81: “Scott Bultrowicz repeatedly asked for access to the classified report so he could better understand exactly why he was put on administrative leave. The State Department repeatedly denied his request.”

      page 87: “The employees placed on administrative leave were not given an opportunity to respond to the allegations against them….they were also unable to undertake any formal process to challenge the criticisms -or even review them at all…THE DEPARTMENT, IN CONTRAST TO TWO HUNDRED YEARS OF SETTLED JURISPRUDENCE AND CONSTITUTIONAL WRITING, ALSO DENIED THEM THE OPPORTUNITY TO FACE THEIR ACCUSERS AND RESPOND TO THEIR ALLEGATIONS. (emphasis added)

      page 88: DAS Maxwell testifies, “So for six months, I was in the administrative-leave status, which amounts to sort of a punitive measure without knowing what the charge was.”

      page 89: DAS Maxwell continues, “There was no fairness. There was no due process in the way I was removed from my position….No. I have no visibility on the process. I don’t know who is involved with the process. I don’t know at what stage we are at in the process. I KNOW NOTHING ABOUT IT (emphasis added).”

      page 91: A/S Boswell says, “When you asked me what effect on my life, it has been a profound effect, a profoundly deleterious effect on my life. […] I had planned — had various plans to move on. All of those are on the shelf. And so it is perhaps the most painful period of my professional life.”

      I post this on behalf of the several people that have, are, and will suffer the utter bullshit that is the State Department’s “disciplinary” process. When the highest levels of the Department have no g-d damn clue why they are being placed on admin leave or what the charges are against them, what can others expect? Even more ironic, when the Director and the A/S don’t know what the charges are against them but complain that this is unfair and the period of their life they are in is the most painful – now you have a small idea of what others have, are, and will undoubtedly go through when curtailed or suspended and their lives ruined without a clue about how to defend themselves. Perhaps I will send this to Congress on behalf of the people I once saw suffer a fate that they teach us only happens in other countries. Never here, never that. Shame on HR. Shame on Special Investigations. Shame on PSS. Shame on anyone who forgets that the tables can always be turned. You’re safe today in judging and punishing others with sheer impunity. Tomorrow, well look at the people who only suffered admin leave paid at full salary. But no one will repair this. Just look at PVB’s case.

      09/29/13 12:02 AM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      4

      pvb said:

      quote:”…the plan in Washington seems to be to just allow the program to fade away.” unquote

      Ha! Typical SOP for EVERYTHING..not just “programs”, but Congressional Committee questions to Department criminals like Holder for the Fast&Furious debacle, Clapper, Alexander, Clinton and all the rest of expert liars who escape accountability for ANYTHING. And then, you have LIVES..ie.. Guantanamo detainees who have been slated for release..only to live out their pathetic existence until they are murdered, commit suicide..or simply die..after decades of waiting for this deviant government to do what is right. Instead…the USG will do nothing until the story and these human beings just fades away, as they fully know what would happen once these human beings are released. The “torture” story would inundate Obama AND may cause the UN to push for prosecutions…and they ain’t gonna let that happen..no matter HOW MANY people die at their hands.

      Meanwhile, the USG scumbags collect their paychecks and perks and simply let human beings suffer because they can’t face the the consequences of their actions. I despise these detestable War criminal bastards with every fiber of my soul. If every ounce of contempt in the entire universe could be distilled into an 8 ounce drink, it still wouldn’t match what I feel. And now..knowing what we do about the Surveillance State…there is only one thing left that will save America. You know what it is..and so do I. Let’s pray it happens soon. Otherwise..Orwell’s vision will come to pass..on steroids.

      09/29/13 2:58 PM | Comment Link

    • Kyzl Orda said...

      5

      “When the highest levels of the Department have no g-d damn clue why they are being placed on admin leave or what the charges are against them, what can others expect? Even more ironic, when the Director and the A/S don’t know what the charges are against them but complain that this is unfair and the period of their life they are in is the most painful….

      Meanwhile, the USG scumbags collect their paychecks and perks and simply let human beings suffer because they can’t face the the consequences of their actions ”

      Dear Enough Nonsense: Well said, and I dont care who the person is, i wouldnt wish that on any human being, even if it happened to my own corrupt local superiors at ECA Bureau. No one deserves deserves to experience the robbery of their due process. Not one person in this world

      09/29/13 10:43 PM | Comment Link

    • wemeantwell said...

      6

      It becomes a vicious cycle downward. Decent people see all this and avoid govt; decent people inside govt either leave, curl up into little balls, or stop being decent. The corpse rots from the inside; “leaders” who don’t care about their workers are a large part of the cause of this.

      09/29/13 11:01 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      7

      The misconception is that we have these wars to help people when we are only helping the people who make money off these wars.

      Speaking of misconception – Hillary 2016:

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/charles-ferguson/hillary-clinton-documentary_b_4014792.html

      09/30/13 2:43 PM | Comment Link

    • Charlie Sherpa said...

      8

      UPDATE: Des Moines Register article dated Sept. 29, 2013 describes how some 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry “Red Bull” Division (2-34th BCT) soldiers worked with a U.S. senator’s office and Catholic Charities to successfully relocate an Afghan interpreter, his wife and baby son to Des Moines, Iowa in summer 2013.

      See article at link:
      http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20130930/NEWS/309300037/Iowa-troops-fight-to-bring-their-Afghan-interpreter-to-U-S-?Frontpage

      09/30/13 2:46 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      9

      PVB wrote:

      quote”It becomes a vicious cycle downward”unquote

      Peter, USG viciousness notwithstanding, there is another front of viciousness that is beginning to look like the DOMESTIC part of Law Enforcement establishment has gone stark raving mad. Case in point..SWAT team and militarized police murder of innocent citizens. While most people don’t see it happening, the militarization of Law Enforcement in this country, regardless of Posse Comitatus laws, has now reached the point whereby common, domestic police departments are armed with weapons that would make despots of the world jealous. Even very small “villages”..my particular one notwithstanding. And given the typical mentality of macho..authoritarian cops who will kill you in a heartbeat with impunity, personally, I believe at some point, one of these depraved units or individuals will cause the beginning of a moral outrage of biblical proportions, as the number and severity of assaults and murders perpetrated by Law Enforcement on innocent citizens, has reached critical mass, only to be stopped by an outbreak of mass armed citizen reprisal. Here is one such example:
      http://azstarnet.com/news/local/column/steller-let-s-learn-something-from-guerena-killing/article_d2079a62-f68c-5bdc-8b84-6e6eb60d7e87.html

      The members of this psychotic SWAT team pumped SEVENTY ONE bullets into this innocent vet. And not one single cop was held accountable. To add insult to injury..”the Pima County Sheriff’s Department has steadfastly defended its performance in the investigation and raid that led to the death of Jose Guerena.” right. Living proof these contemptible sub-human bastards all over this nation don’t give a flying fuck about “civil rights”, or even common fucking sense. They’ll kick your door in regardless of the Constitution or your innocence..and murder you at the drop of a hat. All I can say is..they’ve LOST their “mandate” of legitimacy now, and it’s only a matter of time until they face an armed citizen insurrection against them. After all..WE’VE been labeled as “potential terrorist threats”. Well..if that’s what they think,..let them. In reality..we now know WHO the terrorists REALLY are. The domestic Law Enforcement of this nation. That’s who. Here is the proof…..
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_killings_by_law_enforcement_officers_in_the_United_States

      melov…excuse me …I have to puke.

      09/30/13 3:40 PM | Comment Link

    • Michael Murry said...

      10

      Excuse me, but “our” (meaning U.S. military and State Department) interpreter/translators get their training at facilities like the Defence Language Institute before deploying to serve in foreign countries. It would clarify matters and sound less arrogant to refer to “foreign national” interpreters when discussing those foreign citizens who work for the United States government abroad and/or their own countries and/or themselves — often difficult to tell which — providing language services for pay to U.S. government employees who cannot function — even minimally — in the local language.

      Then, too, as a Chinese businessman once told me when I worked for awhile in Beijing, China: “Never trust your interpreter. He’s the one selling your secrets to your competition.”

      Or, put another way by former Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak: “The only thing the Americans can train the Iraqis is in how to kill Americans. How stupid can they be?” Ditto for the Afghans. Ditto for the Vietnamese.

      As with our military misadventure in South Vietnam in which I served, the so-called “insurgents” — i.e., “patriots,” in their own view — typically infiltrate every level of the U.S. supported puppet regime and know in advance pretty much everything the Americans plan to do and how they plan to do it. And the local “interpreters” provide one of the easiest and most effective avenues of such infiltration. So which foreign national interpreters need “saving” remains very much an open question.

      And, anyway, wouldn’t the foreign country in question need such educated persons to help rebuild their devastated country after the Americans leave? I mean, wouldn’t robbing the devastated foreign country of its best brains add further insult to an already enormous level of physical, societal, economic, and cultural damage?

      I do not wish to sound cruel, but whether or not a foreign national interpreter requires “saving” after working for the Americans depends on many factors such as these, not to mention the Law of Unintended Consequences which concerns the rather sorry U.S. record of destroying that which it claims it so very much wants to save.

      09/30/13 8:01 PM | Comment Link

    • wemeantwell said...

      11

      To clarify, the interpreters referred to in my posting are local Afghans picked up in Afghanistan. They do not receive training in the U.S.

      09/30/13 8:27 PM | Comment Link

    • Michael Murry said...

      12

      Mr. Van Buren,

      Again: (1) what makes these foreign national interpreters “ours” — meaning belonging to us — and (2) why do they require “saving”?

      Pardon me, but something about that first-person-plural possessive pronoun “our” just grates on my Vietnam veteran nerves. And if “picking up” an American worker for a temp job doesn’t vest that employee with any subsequent obligations on the part of his employer or government, then I fail to see where hiring a local Iraqi or Afghan temp interpreter does either. We paid them for services rendered. That doesn’t mean that we own them or that they own us.

      10/1/13 11:26 PM | Comment Link

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