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April 8, 2006
IBD Decries 'Amateur' Effort On Saddam Translations

An editorial in the Investors Business Daily scolded Congress and the White House for not putting more of an official effort into translating the tens of thousands of documents captured during the fall of Iraq in 2003. CQ reader Angry Dumbo points out one passage that stands out regarding the efforts made by the blogosphere (especially at Free Republic, which translated the document I posted earlier this week):

Equally embarrassing to our spies is another newly released document from 1999 detailing plans for a "Blessed July" operation.

According to the English translation on the Foreign Military Studies Office's Joint Reserve Intelligence Center Web site, Saddam's older son Uday ordered 50 members of the fanatical "Fedayeen Saddam" group to stage bombings and assassinations in Iraq and Europe — including London, where 10 people were assigned.

Excerpts from a long, recently declassified report by the U.S. Joint Forces Command's Iraqi Perspectives Project will be published in the upcoming issue of Foreign Affairs magazine. Looking at the "Blessed July" document, Foreign Affairs notes this "regime-directed wave of 'martyrdom' operations against targets in the West (was) well under way at the time of the coalition invasion." ...

At present, we're relying too much on translations by bloggers and other amateurs [emphasis mine -- CE]. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., says the White House has been dragging its feet for fear of embarrassing supposed allies (such as Russia) whose links with Saddam would come under scrutiny.

I understand Angry Dumbo's irritation. It really does not matter whether amateurs or professionals translate these documents -- rather, the accuracy of the translation is all that we need to ensure. Bloggers have done this because the government simply didn't want to commit the resources necessary to do it. Rather than scold Rep. Hoekstra, IBD should congratulate him for getting someone engaged in determining the contents of this treasure trove of documentation.

However, knowing the extent of IND's support of the blogosphere, this does not appear to be meant as an insult to bloggers. IBD wants to press the government to take responsibility for the evaluation of these documents rather than push it off to a community of volunteers. That's commendable; the government never should have let these sit for three years unexploited. We could have bridged a gap in our understanding of the war much earlier and avoided a lot of political infighting as a result.

On the other hand, I'm not sure that I agree with IBD's overall assessment of this credibility gap between the volunteers and the professionals within the intelligence agencies. The administration has to deal with a high level of distrust, a lot of it irrational, that would make anything they produce suspect in most circles. The administration sees the pre-war argument as something they're not likely to win even if the documentation shows clear links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, because most of the debate has become so unhinged that people now demand a threshold of proof so high that it surpasses even criminal prosecution. Under these circumstances, it might work better to have the documents independently translated and verified.

One argument that I received after posting the translation supplied by Laurie Mylroie was that because the translation came from Free Republic, it made it unreliable. After that argument was made, I contacted two professional translators who will translate page 6 of the BIAP document independent of each other. When I receive those translations -- for which I paid a fee to both -- I will post them along with the FR translation as soon as they arrive. That should put an end to speculation about the motives of the translators, and put to rest the worries about "amateurs" involving themselves in the process.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 8, 2006 11:49 AM

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