Greece and Rome (Second Series)

Research Article

Translator, Traditor: The Interpreter as Traitor in Classical Tradition*



In recent years, a series of reports have appeared in the British press about the fate of Iraqi interpreters employed by the British forces in Basra. As well as the day-to-day risk of death or injury in the course of their work, interpreters have been vulnerable to reprisals from insurgents who view them as collaborators and traitors. There have been a large number of documented cases of Iraqi interpreters being murdered, often in an especially brutal manner. Many other cases have gone undocumented, in part because of the tendency for interpreters to work under pseudonyms and even wear masks to conceal their identity, making it difficult to identify a particular victim as an interpreter. The issue of protecting interpreters came to a head in 2007 with the handover of Basra to Iraqi administration and the subsequent withdrawal of British troops. A special protection scheme was set up, whereby those who had worked for the British forces for twelve months would be eligible for resettlement in the United Kingdom. The issue, however, has remained a contentious one: many interpreters were ineligible for resettlement or did not want to move to the UK, and many of those who did accept resettlement found themselves economically disadvantaged and socially marginalized. One group of Iraqi interpreters have taken legal action against the British government.

(Online publication April 15 2011)


* I would like to thank Maya B. Muratov (Adelphi University) and Greece & Rome's anonymous reviewer for their many helpful comments and suggestions. All unattributed translations are my own.