Talk about Newsnight

A blog and forum.

Tuesday, 7 August, 2007

  • Newsnight
  • 7 Aug 07, 06:19 PM

From programme producer Kavita Puri.

A dead cow is moved into a lorry in SurreyFoot and Mouth
We are eagerly awaiting the Health and Safety Executive report into the source of the foot and mouth outbreak. Our team have found out some interesting developments which we'll reveal tonight. We shall also be reporting on the economic impact on the farming community.

In a volte face the British government has asked the US to release - from Guantanamo - prisoners with rights to reside in Britain. Who are these men - and how will they be supervised here? And is Gordon Brown sending mixed messages out on security?

Madeleine McCann
There's a whirlwind of speculation about Madeleine's disappearance, prompted by the reported comments from some police sources in the Portuguese press that they believe she may not have been kidnapped.

Zimbabwe cafe
And independent film-maker Eugene Ullman has a remarkable film from Harare. From the Book Cafe he reports on a group of artists who are able to express themselves and their art without fear of censorship. Read his article here.

Join Jeremy at 2230 on BBC Two and live on the website.

Iraqi interpreters - visa fight continues

  • Richard Colebourn
  • 7 Aug 07, 10:11 AM

Iraqi interpreters with US troopsDAMASCUS: The Sayidda Zeinab area of Damascus is now known to Syrians as ‘little Baghdad’. Above the traffic noise you can hear the shouts of bus drivers advertising services to and from Baghdad and Kirkuk. Stalls sell traditional Iraqi sweets that are unknown to the Syrians.

Outside the Fallujah Café, two teams warm up for a regular football game between Syrians and Iraqis. Some of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees now living here make up an enthusiastic crowd.

I met Jassim here earlier in the year when I interviewed him forNewsnight’s report about the death threats against Iraqi employees of the British and American governments. (Read my article here or watch the film here.) Until early this year, Jassim was working for the British military in Basra. He has continuously served alongside British soldiers since the start of the Iraqi conflict in 2003. But when a friend and fellow translator was kidnapped and decapitated, and Jassim received a death threat sent as a text message to his mobile phone, he knew he had to leave Iraq.

He arrived in Damascus clutching a stack of letters of recommendation from senior officers in a number of different British army regiments. They praise his hard work and bravery. But despite such commendations, he receives no support from his former employer. The British Embassy in Damascus refuses to let him in to even discuss his situation.

I wanted to find out whether things have improved since the media coverage.

“We’ve had no luck with visas,” he tells me. “They still won’t talk to us. We’re stuck here and we’re not allowed to work.”

The situation facing Jassim and his colleagues hasn’t received much attention in Britain – from the media or from politicians. By contrast, this is now a big issue in the United States.

The Washington Post has published a leaked memo written by the current US Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker. In it, he calls on the US State Department to grant immigrant visas to all Iraqis currently employed by the Americans.

“Unless they know that there is some hope of an [immigrant visa] in the future, many will continue to seek asylum, leaving our Mission lacking in one of our most valuable assets,” he writes.

Meanwhile, Senator Edward Kennedy has pushed legislation through Capitol Hill to deliver more visas for the translators. Lanny Davis, former Clinton White House Counsel and Newsnight regular, has set up a bipartisan campaign. And the New Yorker journalist George Packer is even writing a play about the plight of the translators he interviewed for his article, ‘The Betrayed’.

Iraqi interpreter works with Danish troopsThere is another development in this story. The Danish government will soon withdraw its 470 troops from Iraq. It recently emerged that, prompted by political pressure, they have secretly airlifted to Denmark the 200 Iraqi translators, and their families, who worked alongside them.

Gordon Brown has said that any recommendation on the future role of Britain’s troops in Iraq could be put to Parliament after the summer recess. Although Jassim has already left Iraq, he hopes for the sake of his colleagues left in Basra that the Ministry of Defence or the Foreign Office would consider copying the Danish evacuation.

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UPDATE - 8 Aug:
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The British government says it will review the cases of 91 Iraqi interpreters told their asylum claims will not be given special treatment. Defence Secretary Des Browne said the government took its "duty of care very seriously".

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