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Friday, November 4, 2011

Lost in Translation - Another Gov't Fumbles a Foreign Interpretation


The Feds messed up— big time. According to a story from Talking Points Memo, lawyer Haytham Faraj claimed that authorities fumbled a translated conversation between his client—alleged Syrian spy Mohamad Anas Haitham Soueid—and his wife via a flawed translator and even used Google Translate.

Faraj claimed that government “has demonstrated a serious deficit in its ability to translate recorded conversations from Arabic into English.” Talk about déjà vu— considering that just a month ago an Iranian refugee almost ended up being deported because of a government interpreter that also took creative liberties with the translation.

In this case, Faraj asserted that the Feds even misrepresented Soueid’s Arabic name by simply typing the words of his English name into Google’s translate program. He continued that the government translator even went far as to take “extensive liberties” between Soueid and his wife and transformed it “into a sinister warning that has no basis in fact.”

The lawyer cited a government transcript of the conversation which has Soueid saying “God Damn you - you - I will deal with you later” and observed that only the word ‘you’ was said within that statement and the rest was a “fabrication.”

Faraj continued:

“Within the same paragraph, the translator takes even graver liberties with the truth. The translator writes “you are talking to me over the phone- and this phone belongs to Intelligence agency - I am not supposed to be talking on it.” The translator missed a clear announcement of the words “over there,” the non possessive “telephone” and then “the intelligence service/agency” rather than “this phone belongs to the Intelligence Agency. To a listener fluent in Arabic, the speaker clearly indicates that he was not free to speak on the telephone because the intelligence service monitors phone calls. And that statement fits contextually within the tone, volume, and playfulness of the back and forth dialogue between husband and wife who defiantly and jokily states “Me, the intelligence service knows me…I...I am not afraid of the intelligence service.” Anyone aware of Syrian language, culture and life in Syria understands that Syrians constantly assume their calls are being monitored. Syrian culture is rife with humor about the Mukhabarat listening in on conversations. Such cultural aspects of Syrian life are commonly known and should be understood by anyone undertaking to translate a Syrian dialect conversation into English. The errors and fabrications in the Government translation are troubling, twist the meaning and portray a conversation that is disconnected from reality.”

So, all in two sentences the government translator reportedly botched the English translation and made contextual and cultural errors. Several questions come to mind in this case and the one last month with the Iranian refugee in Canada: Are these cases of bad contracting? Or are these cases of contractors hiring uncertified Arabic translators? Or was this all due to a shortage of Arabic translators since 9/11, according to Talking Point Memo.com?

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