This review was not planned in advance, much like Biden’s mad, scrambling withdrawal from Afghanistan. However, there is a compelling justification for its sudden appearance, unlike Biden’s cut-and-run policies. Even before this week, thousands of Afghan interpreters and civilian contractors were desperately seeking asylum in America. They are the subject of Andres Caballero & Sofian Khan’s documentary, The Interpreters, which streams on PBS Passport and is available on VOD.
To protect the Afghans and Iraqis who risked their lives to assist the Coalition forces, in hopes of rebuilding a better country for their families, Congress passed the supposedly fast-tracked “Special Immigrant Visa” (SIV) program, but when did you ever know government bureaucrats to be efficient or display a sense of urgency? What was intended to take months according to statute, takes years in practice. Plus, the application process requires Kafkaesque reams of paperwork.
For the interpreters Caballero & Khan interview, the clock is ticking. Without their visas, it will only be a matter of time before they are hunted down by the Taliban or Daesh. Yet, what is truly chilling is the realization matters just got exponentially worse Afghan interpreters over the last few days.
Caballero & Khan give the greatest screen-time to a chain-smoking Iraqi interpreter who adopts the sly alias, “Philip Morris,” mostly likely because he was the easiest to follow over an extended period of time. Morris kept in contact with Minnesota National Guard sergeant Paul Braun, who doggedly followed-up on his end in a long, protracted effort to bring the interpreter and his family safely to America. The film makes a point of highlighting anti-immigrant sentiment, particularly that stoked by Trump, but it seems like the way Braun’s family and others in the MN community embraced Morris and his cause is just as important to the story.
Viewers also hear from several Afghan interpreters during the course of the doc, which suddenly makes it acutely topical. To paraphrase Sen. Ben Sasse and others, what we’re seeing now wasn’t just predictable, it was predicted. The Interpreters helps put a face on the massive tragedy underway. Yet, what can we expect for them when the administration cannot even evacuate American citizens at this time?
What we are watching is a disgrace and you can see the seeds of it in The Interpreters. It is short (at least in its 57-minute TV and VOD cut) and it clearly reflects the filmmakers’ domestic political biases, but it compellingly documents the perilous predicament far too many of our allies now find themselves in. It also shows what a bald-face lie it was for Biden to blame Afghans for not seeking asylum sooner. Recommended as a bit of truth amid the fog of chaos, incompetence, disingenuousness, The Interpreters streams on PBS Passport and it is available on VOD.