Visa Denial Puts Heroic Iraqi Translator in the Crosshairs

By

Published April 03, 2009

| FoxNews.com

An Iraqi translator who has earned commendations for risking his life repeatedly to save the lives of many American soldiers in combat has been denied a visa to live in the United States because of nonviolent actions he took to overthrow Saddam Hussein — at the same time the U.S. government was calling for regime change in Iraq.

Jasim, whose name is being withheld for his safety, has received strong support from the U.S. military, and the Department of Homeland Security approved his application for a visa. But the State Department has denied Jasim a visa because he was arrested in 1996 for actions against the Saddam dictatorship.

Some of Jasim's supporters, however, believe the real reason he's been denied a visa is that he has become a "nuisance" to State Department personnel at the Baghdad Embassy. The State Department, citing privacy concerns, declined to discuss Jasim's case.

Because Iraqi translators are seen by jihadists and former Baathists as "traitors," Jasim's life is at greater risk the longer he stays in Iraq, according to multiple State Department and U.S. military officials. A number of translators and their families have already been tortured and/or murdered.

Jasim said his stepbrother, in fact, was captured in the fall of 2007 and was tortured to death in an effort to get to him. The U.S. Army officer who received and processed the report on the murder, Major Leslie Parks, told FOXNews.com that Jasim's stepbrother was tortured with an electric drill through his eyes.

U.S. military officials familiar with Jasim's case believe that he will be in even greater danger after U.S. forces withdraw from most of Iraq next year.

The State Department, meanwhile, has told Jasim that he must wait three more years before he can apply for a waiver of its visa rejection.

When he applied for his visa, Jasim feared it might be denied by an overworked consular officer on the basis of his arrest, so he attached a letter explaining the full circumstances.

Jasim wrote that his hatred of Saddam was formed at a young age, as the regime murdered five of his relatives during his childhood. Barely into adulthood, Jasim joined the Peshmerga, a largely Kurdish group whose primary goal in the 1990s was to overthrow Saddam — an objective supported by the Clinton administration.

The Pehmerga assigned Jasim to obtain documents and eavesdropping equipment that were in the possession of Saddam's ruthless son, Uday, and Jasimn said that he stole Uday's car in order to retrieve the documents and equipment.

Soon after, he was arrested, and he was sentenced to life in prison. For the next six and a half years, he was routinely tortured, he said.

On the eve of the Coalition invasion in 2003, Hussein released many prisoners as a "goodwill" gesture, and Jasim was among them.

A year later, he joined the Iraqi Special Forces. Though officially allied with Coalition forces, the Iraqi military suffered at the time from ethnic and religious divisions, as well as corruption. Jasim came to believe that they weren't fully behind the cause of freedom, so he signed up as a translator for U.S. forces.

During his three years as a translator, Jasim has exposed himself to enemy fire in the course of saving American lives. Three different Americans who served with him in Iraq told FOXNews.com that they are alive today because of Jasim.

"The only reason I am here today is because of Jasim," said Elisabeth Keene, a U.S. Army specialist who serves in a combat unit. "He saved the life of everyone in my unit.

"On several occasions while our guys were putting rounds down range, Jasim put himself in harm's way to pull the wounded out and treat them," Keene said. "Jasim is a hero to everyone he has ever met."

"I owe my life to Jasim ... hands down," said Master Sgt. Jason Krieger, who went on over 200 combat patrols with Jasim. "I consider him a brother, not only in arms, but in love as well."

Those who have worked with Jasim are astonished at the decision to deny him a visa. FOXNews.com has obtained numerous letters submitted by U.S. Army and Marine Corps personnel supporting his application. Each letter praises his heroism in glowing terms and strongly recommends issuing a visa.

Click here to see the letters of recommendation.

Jasim even received letters of recommendation from a couple of two-star generals. It is unusual for a translator's visa application to be endorsed even by one general.

U.S. Army Captain Joseph Schwankhaus wrote about one day in particular when Jasim performed multiple heroic acts. "While establishing security positions around a patrol that was struck by an IED, [Jasim] singlehandedly removed a wounded soldier from a disabled vehicle and ensured that he was treated by the company medic. During this security cordon, another soldier was shot in the head by a sniper and a large fire fight ensued. [Jasim], while under direct enemy fire provided cover for the wounded soldier while medical personnel rendered life-saving first aid."

Schwankhaus stated emphatically, "His dedication to my soldiers and his total disregard for his own personal safety assisted in saving the life of a very good Non-Commissioned Officer."

Many of the letters note that Jasim helped Coalition forces capture several high-ranking terrorists, including some from Al Qaeda. A joint letter from Sgt. Charles Burns and Maj. Charles Burnett stated, "[T]he information [Jasim] enabled the team to gather resulted in intelligence relevant to 90% of the maneuver commander's High Value Targets." Lt. Col. Antonio Aguto wrote, "The information [Jasim] gathered from Iraqi local nationals led directly to the capture" of the two highest-value targets in that region.

Click here to see his certificates of commendation.

Four experts in visa policy, including three former consular officers who reviewed Jasim's case history for FOXNews.com, said they found the official reasoning for Jasim's denial puzzling. Each expert spoke on condition of anonymity because of current employment or contacts with the State Department.

They said a specific provision in the law relating to "crimes of moral turpitude" should define Jasim's action of stealing Uday Hussein's car as "political," thus making him eligible for a visa. The first exception listed in the relevant law is that "purely political" actions do not qualify as "crimes of moral turpitude."

A former Capitol Hill staffer who was intimately involved in shaping visa policy for many years asked rhetorically, "How could this not be political? Did he get some personal benefit out of stealing Uday's car?"

Even if the State Department were to ignore the political motivations of Jasim's actions, each expert agreed that standard car theft likely wouldn't disqualify an applicant with an otherwise clean record.

"It's not such a serious crime that you could say anyone who steals a car is ineligible for a visa. Then you consider that it happened over a decade ago, while he was young, and he has no other criminal history," explained a former consular officer who served two tours. But, he stressed, "It certainly seems political to me."

Vice Consul David Jendrisak, the Baghdad-based consular officer who denied Jasim's visa, said in a phone interview that the decision to deny Jasim a visa was made in consultation with the legal office of Consular Affairs in Washington, D.C., something that isn't done for most visas. He acknowledged that the decision was based on Jasim's theft of Uday Hussein's car, which he said was not deemed a "political" act for purposes of the visa denial.

Based on government documents obtained by FOXNews.com, it appears that the Department of Homeland Security cleared Jasim for a visa, issuing him last May a "notice of approval." Jendrisak, however, said that DHS had no authority to issue a visa now. The consular officer explained that Jasim would have to wait three years to apply for a waiver from the Department of Homeland Security. He refused to explain why Jasim would have to wait three years.

Asked if he was concerned for the safety of Jasim and his family during that time, Jendrisak refused to comment.

Some of Jasim's supporters believe the State Department has ulterior motives for denying the visa. "When all the other agencies, including DHS, give their stamp of approval, I have a hard time believing that there is a generous explanation for this decision," says Maj. Leslie Parks, who served in Iraq coordinating outreach to local Iraqi civilian and government officials.

Parks, who worked with Jasim and estimates that the translator has gone on 1,300 combat patrols, believes the State Department may be singling out Jasim for being a "nuisance."

"Jasim's been high-profile for a while, starting with being featured on 60 Minutes in early 2007 (as 'Timmy,' his previous cover name) about translators who weren't getting the visas, despite their lives being threatened," Parks said.

“He’s also been a whistleblower on a few occasions, exposing potentially embarrassing information regarding the Embassy and other U.S. and Iraqi government agencies operating in the Green Zone.”

Starting a few months ago, Jasim organized his fellow translators to oppose a provision negotiated by the State Department to hand over the names and personal information of all translators to the Iraqi government. Translators feared that their lives would be at risk if their identities were learned by Iraqis who view them as "traitors."

Making sure their voices would be heard, Jasim gathered a public meeting of over 100 translators in Baghdad last December — during the time his visa application was being processed.

In a FOXNews.com story on this issue in January, Jasim criticized the State Department's deal. "We work so hard to get the bad guys, to capture terrorists, and now, because of a political deal, they're putting our lives at risk," he said. FOXNews.com identified him only by first name in that story. The consular officer who denied Jasim's visa, though, admitted that he knew of Jasim's role in leading opposition to the release of translators' personal information.

For now, Jasim continues his work with U.S. forces, hoping that the country he has served loyally for the past three years will welcome him, his new wife and their baby. Asked if he regrets his decision to support the U.S., he replied, "No, I'm proud of what I've done. I have to do what is right."

Every day he walks out in public, Jasim knows he could be murdered for working with the U.S. He is much more worried, though, about the safety of his family.

It's a concern shared by Americans who have served with him. "To deprive him of his opportunity to protect his family, after he had protected mine for well over a year, is nothing short of criminal," said Master Sgt. Krieger. "Every day he remains in Iraq, he, his wife, and newborn son are at risk of death, solely due to his service to our country."

URL

http://www.foxnews.com/story/2009/04/03/visa-denial-puts-heroic-iraqi-translator-in-crosshairs