Iraqi interpreters at loss for words

Local-hire Iraqi interpreters maimed during U.S. combat missions can’t fathom why the nation won’t pay for the high-tech prosthetics.

Maimed Iraqi interpreters showing up in U.S. cities such as Denver wonder why nobody — neither the government nor its contractors — is assuming long-term responsibility for them and hundreds of other seriously wounded interpreters who served U.S. forces in Iraq.

Consider the case of Diyar al-Bayati, who risked his life as the eyes and ears for soldiers on more than 200 combat missions, coaxing suspicious Iraqis, forging alliances and — beyond his interpreter duties — regularly taking up arms to fight alongside U.S. troops. When a roadside bomb in a 2006 ambush blew off his legs, al-Bayati kept firing at his unit’s attackers until he lost consciousness.

Today fellow refugees ferry al-Bayati around Salt Lake City, hoisting him in and out of a van. The military won’t pay for maimed interpreters to get the same high-tech prosthetics provided to U.S. soldiers. Al-Bayati, 22, has learned America may give only limited citizenship, housing and medical treatment.

“They say ‘limited,’ ” he said. “Why was our service in Iraq not ‘limited’? When they asked us to do missions, we didn’t say: ‘Our job is limited.’ ”

Yet al-Bayati acknowledges he’s lucky, one of a dozen or so wounded interpreters who’ve found shelter in U.S. cities including Denver. Hundreds more are hiding or running for their lives in Iraq and neighboring Jordan.

Read More