Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Poor translations mar Abbottabad documents

A close examination of the documents seized in Abbottabad by US Special Forces last May and released by the Combatting Terrorism Center last week reveals an inconsistency.
The complete translated documents made available on the CTC website are very poorly translated and contain basic grammatical and spelling errors. However, the commentary provided by CTC quotes from the same documents, but gives much more accurate translations.
Thus the letter (SOCOM-2012-0000007) written by al-Qaeda leaders Atiyatullah and Abu Yahya al-Libi to Hakimullah Mahsud, emir of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan TTP and dated 3 December 2010, refers to the "concept, approach and behaviour of the TTP" in the translation provided, but "the ideology, methods and behaviour" in the commentary.
Again, the translated letter refers to the "clear legal and religious mistakes", while the commentary refers to "clear legal errors and dangerous lapses".
Perhaps more annoying is the sentence that is the crux of the letter. The translation runs as follows: "Considering Hakimullah as the sole Emir for everyone to swear allegiance to, whoever oppose him and isn’t a member of the movement is an adulterer, the none differentiation between the Jihad Emirate and the Great Imam post, and neglecting the daily conditions of the Muslims; all of which according to the Shari’a (Muslim laws) are a misconception of the real situation, and may cause an inter-Mujahidin fighting."
This does not even make sense.
In the commentary it is translated (with useful comments) as follows: "News had reached `Atiyya and al-Libi that Mahsud had declared himself to be “the singular leader to whom everyone must pledge allegiance and declaring anyone who rebels against him (kharij `alyhi) or is not in his Tehrik to be a rebel (baghi).” In classical Islamic political parlance, dissenters (khawarij) and rebels (bughat) who renounce the authority of the legitimate imam are subject to jihad and liable to be killed."
The commentary further adds: "Thus, Mahsud’s announcement amounted to declaring himself to be the great imam with political authority over all Muslims, so `Atiyya and al-Libi found it necessary to point out to him that there is a difference “between the [minor] position of leader of jihad and that of great imam,” a distinction with which Mahsud should familiarize himself."
This makes things much clearer.
The translated document ends with a very weak statement: "We hope that you will take the necessary action to correct your actions and avoid these grave mistakes; otherwise we have to take decisive actions from our end."
In fact, as the commentary makes clear, the threat was much more explicit: "“unless we see from you serious and immediate practical and clear steps towards reforming [your ways] and dissociating yourself from these vile mistakes [that violate Islamic Law], we shall be forced to take public and firm legal steps from our side."
How did the CTC manage to produce two different translations of the same document and then publish the poorest quality one as a resource? Unbelievable!


Charles Cameron (hipbone) said...

The explanation for the discrepancy between translations can be found at page 10, footnote 3 of the CTC commentary:

The quality of the English translation provided to the CTC is not adequate throughout. When the translation was deemed inadequate, quotations cited in this report have either been amended or translated anew by Nelly Lahoud.

I posted a similar comment about a different paragraph at Zenpundit.

Nick Fielding said...

Thanks for that, although it does not explain why such a prestigious institution was unable to procure decent translations. As it is, they are worse than useless. Why make such a song and dance about publishing the documents when they can hardly be understood?