The federal government is making public a huge trove of documents seized during the invasion of Iraq, posting them on the Internet in a step that is at once a nod to the Web’s power and an admission that U.S. intelligence resources are overloaded.
Republican leaders in Congress pushed for the release, which was first proposed by conservative commentators and bloggers hoping to find evidence about the fate of Iraq’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs, or possible links to terror groups.
The web surfers have begun posting translations and comments, digging through the documents with gusto. The idea of the government turning over a massive database to volunteers is revolutionary — and not only to them.
“Let’s unleash the power of the Internet on these documents,” said House Intelligence Chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich. “I don’t know if there’s a smoking gun on WMD or not. But it will give us a better understanding of what was going on in Iraq before the war.”
One such web surfer referenced above is Joseph Shahda, who has already translated ten of these documents as of this writing and vows to continue on until the deed is done.
Shahda is originally from Lebanon, having come to the United States in 1994 during his early twenties. He has lived in the United States for the last twelve years. Shahda is a Christian and speaks Arabic and English fluently.
In Shahda’s own words:
I feel a great sense of duty to do the translation of some these documents because that is the least I can do in time of war to serve the United States of America to whom I am in eternal debt and gratitude, and what I am doing is a small payback toward this debt that I can never fully repay no matter what I do. My efforts to do the translation pale in comparison to the great efforts and sacrifice that our brave troops are doing on a daily basis.
I asked Shahda during a phone interview with him on March 29, 2006, why he thought the government didn’t translate the documents.
Joseph said doing translations on the many thousands of documents would use up too many of limited government resources. He also feels that our government has moved beyond Saddam Hussein, that the lack of massive stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction was somewhat of an embarrassment best not dwelt on. Shahda also suggested that government bureaucrats in agencies that would be charged with this task tend to be somewhat arrogant, deeming the job beneath them and not worth the bother.
I’d have to agree with Joseph in that Arab-English translators are at a premium and likely needed more in the ongoing conflict in the Middle East than in the translation of documents from times past. In addition, each translation might require at least two translations of each document to ensure accuracy.
Some would argue this is also an issue with citizen translators but Joseph assured me that he is extremely careful with his translations and welcomes any additional translations alongside his own. In fact, I was privy to a FreeRepublic thread in which Joseph made a typing error, of all things, in his translation. He omitted the word “not” in a sentence. Shahda immediately informed the FreeRepublic moderators of the error. It was quickly corrected and any comments made based on his typing error were removed from the thread. I was impressed with the speed with which all this was handled and the care taken by both Joseph and FreeRepublic to insure the data was accurate. The entire episode left me with a confident feeling of credibility on the matter. I’d argue we are in the midst of some serious history-making and we are learning as we go.
I asked Shahda which of his then ten translations were most startling to him.
Joseph indicated the following two translations:
With each translation, Shahda includes the Pentagon number assigned to the document and provides details about what sort of document is being translated, whether a memo or a letter on official letterhead. He indicates which paragraphs he is translating by meticulous paragraph lettering and details who wrote the letter and to whom it is addressed. If the document being translated is vague or unclear in terms of recipient or writer, Shahda so states. Joseph is very careful to make it clear to the reader only what he translates and avoids any editorial insertion into his translations.
In response to my question about his thoughts on whether the United States can win the Iraq war, Shahda stated emphatically that the United States is already winning the war.
“We are winning the Iraq war, let’s start with this fact,” Shahda stated with a passion. “and we are going towards a result of victory”.
Joseph then explained that there are perhaps thirty to forty thousand terrorists against 140,000 U.S. troops. There are 230,000 Iraqi troops working with the U.S. plus 30,000-40,000 coalition troops. Shahda says the numbers are against the terrorists right from the start.
“I was in Lebanon during the bombing of the Marine barracks,” Joseph explained. He described the dancing in the street by the Palestinian terrorists responsible for the attack, how they shouted with joy that they had beat the Americans. Only a loss of American resolve can cause us to lose the war, Shahda explained. This from a man who witnessed what happens when America doesn’t fight back.
We discussed the ominous situation in Iran and Joseph felt that while America could flatten Iran easily, he didn’t think this would be necessary. “The Iranian people are wonderful and hate the regime governing them,” he said. Joseph expressed joy over the recent “Cedar Revolution” in his own country and stated firmly that such a thing would never have happened were it not for America being involved in the mess that is the Middle East. He believed that American presence and resolve could well cause an uprising in the Iranian citizenry given the right time and circumstance.
Joseph Shahda’s optimism and love for America was palpable. In just talking to him I felt my resolve toughen and my own love of my country of birth deepen. Everyday he sits down and begins more translations. I’d argue that Shahda’s meticulous efforts are far better than we could expect from the government bureaucrats.
These are historic times. This is an historic action by our government, this recruitment of citizens to aid in the proper documentation of history.
For what Shahda is revealing via his translations is how it really happened. Some might argue that the documents cannot be verified. Of course they can’t. They were captured during the turnover of a violent regime. Documents captured during W.W. II could not be verified, indeed, any documents obtained in this manner are what they are: details of a government that is no more. Common sense should dictate that Saddam’s dying regime had better things to do than create forgeries of thousands and documents, letters and memos. To argue that the American administration might have foisted false documents on the American public is to also run roughshod over common sense. Both Saddam and the United States simply had more important issues than bothering with this sort of silliness.
History is being made by the likes of Joseph Shahda and other bloggers who are on top of this.
Citizens are doing the grunt work and citizens will decide, on the common sense that helps us carry this country on our collective backs, what to believe. We run this country. We can figure it out.
With a little help from dedicated souls like Joseph Shahda.
Below, the remaining documents and links translated by Shahda as of this writing: