For most interpreters, the harshest professional feedback they will ever see is an irate email. Not so for Afghan interpreter Janis Shinwari who went out to his car one morning to discover the words, “Judgment Day is coming soon,” scrawled across the hood of his car. Shinwari got the message. “I’m sure somebody is watching me. I cannot trust anybody.” Like thousands of other Afghan linguists who worked with coalition forces, Shinwari has to get out of town as the Americans pull out to save his own skin.
Shinwari had waited two years to receive a visa through a program for Afghans who helped U.S. forces there. A similar program for Iraqi interpreters is set to expire at the end of this month unless Congress renews it, reports Joe Gould of Army Times.
Shinwari received his visa two weeks ago, after 100,000 people signed a Change.org petition his former commander Matt Zeller created for Shinwari. As Zeller’s interpreter, Shinwari saved his life in combat, and Zeller wanted to return the favor. On September 20, the State Department visa website listed Shinwari’s status as “Approved/Issued.”
Once Shinwari got the good news, he left his job as a translator and sold almost everything he owned as he prepared for immediate departure in the face of Taliban threats. Zeller comments, “After the State Department issued him his visas, he did what anyone in his situation would do – what I would do, too – he sold his house, his possessions, and quit his job because he was told he was on his way to his new life in America.”
But now the State Department wants Shinwari to give the visa back. There is an issue, but State refuses to tell Shinwari what the issue is.
Although officials refuse to discuss the particulars of Shinwari’s case, a spokesman said, “More broadly I would emphasize that every visa decision is a national security decision. Our visa procedures and processes are designed to address national security concerns at every stage of the visa application process.” As a result, thousands of our Afghan allies are left twisting in the wind as American forces pull out of Afghanistan at last.
Zeller notes, “Now, he literally has nothing but the promise our nation made to bring him and his family to the U.S. for his near-decade of faithful, honorable, and heroic service to the U.S. military. Apparently, the State Department feels it’s perfectly routine and justified to break that promise.”
So despite testimony of his heroism from his comrades in arms and the gratitude of thousands, a not-so-grateful government has left Shinwari in logistical limbo and in greater danger than ever before.
“I’m afraid I’ll be in serious trouble,” he told Perry Chiaramonte of Fox News. “The interpreter village was really the only safe place. I have nowhere to hide.”
You can express your support for Shinwari and other linguists stuck on the same sinking boat at the Change.org website.