I recently joined the editorial board for the Philadelphia Daily News. Even though they are the anonymous voice of the editorial board, I do at times take extra time in crafting specific editorials that I feel are of utmost importance -- like this one.
WHERE ARE THE TRANSLATORS?
THE ANSWER: "Don't Ask and the Administration won't tell"
President Bush's defense in the wiretapping scandal that has engulfed the administration is that because this nation is at war, extraordinary measures must be taken to uncover terrorist plots before they can hatch.
While the subversion of the legal system to achieve this goal is debatable, the president is right in saying that all available resources must be spent to protect Americans.
To that end, the president has proposed spending $114 million to expand the teaching of Farsi, Arabic and Chinese in public schools. As he explained, "We need intelligence officers who, when somebody says something in Arabic or Farsi or Urdu, know what they're talking about. "
But the terrorist threat is very real right now, and this nation doesn't have the luxury of time to wait until schoolchildren are ready to become intelligence officers. Indeed, in the summer of 2004, then-Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge lamented, "We need more Arabic-speaking analysts. " As in, right now.
Both a 2002 General Accounting Office report, and a 2001 congressional study found that the lack of available translators has adversely affected the nation's ability to root out terrorist plots.
Pentagon numbers reveal that between 1998 and 2004, the military discharged 20 Arabic linguists and six Farsi translators for violating the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy on homosexuality.
Fifty language experts have been discharged overall since the policy was instituted. (And nearly 10,000 troops overall have been booted from the military under the same policy. ) We should be bringing more qualified people into the military, not kicking them out for trivial reasons.
If the president truly believes that there is no time to run wiretap orders past a court for a warrant, then certainly he must agree that we don't have time to debate bringing back those linguists who were discharged because of their sexual orientation at a time when they are so desperately needed.
And if he is truly committed to this nation's security and giving the support to the men and women who are fighting for us in Iraq, as we have every reason to believe he is, then he should issue an executive order canceling "Don't ask, don't tell." *