Rosalea Barker of The Wires has an interview with a conscientious objector, Joshua Casteel, who was in the army for 8 years and was trained in Arabic for Iraq.
He learnt at the Defense Language Institute at Monterey in California. In Iraq he worked as an interrogator.
bq. Q: Uh-huh. I’m curious how that served you. Do you feel that you were trained to the point that your language skills were an asset and not a hindrance? You know, giving you a false sense that you were understanding something that you didn’t understand?
bq. A: Well, we used translators constantly. Native linguists. Even those of us who went to training. Because we didn’t have the mastery of dialect that was necessary in order to really do the job. It gave us a sense of kind of control, or a sense of security that we could usually understand what they were saying, the more that we were in the country and sort of picking up the idioms. But being able to communicate to them in an efficient way was very difficult. So we always used translators.
This did not work well because of all the cultural nuances that the Americans didn’t understand. What is a native linguist? Someone from Iraq who speaks English, presumably.
The interviewer occasionally seems out of her depth.
bq. The bulk of my interrogation involved local laborers, schoolboys, young fathers, imams, veterans of previous Iraqi wars. We were interrogating what we referred to as Average Ahmed.
Q: Average Ahmed?
A: Like Joe Schmo. And those were the people who allegedly were the face of the insurgency, and these were just everyday normal people.