There are other sorts of memories we cannot erase: of farmers being killed when it was obvious they were not armed; of civilians being shot.

When interpreters witnessed these things sometimes it caused great stress. These are bad memories that some of us cannot erase from our minds.

I remember a colleague coming back into the base after being with members of the British army. He was crying. When I asked him what happened he said, ‘They just shoot two of the farmers. They were working in their field, with a shovel under their hand, and you could clearly see that they had no weapon, and they just shoot them for no reason.’

Another interpreter who was working with US special forces shares his story:

‘One day we went on a special mission with the US special forces in Logar province. Usually the special mission was in the early morning around 2am or 3am before the morning prayers when everyone is at sleep. We parked our vehicle far from the target house and had to go by feet to the target very carefully, without making sounds, so that even the local dogs wouldn’t wake. We got to the house and the house was quickly surrounded by the special forces. I was in the front gate with two US special forces. Some of the special forces were already on the roof, some on the walls, ready to attack. When we loudly knocked on the gate, then broke the gate, I heard a few harsh gun shots and then heard crying of the women and children.  When we got to the house a young boy was dead in front of the door with blood all over. The sound of the helicopters was so prominent it added to the situation. We quickly searched the house, couldn’t find the target, and we left.

The next day I realized that the killed person was a boy studying in year 12. When he heard the knocking on the door he come out of the room and as there were no electricity in that province he turned on the mobile phone light to find his way and he was shot dead by a special forces soldier. The family and villagers protested and wanted answers. The Governor of Logar province came to the protesters and promised he would investigate and the relatives buried their boy.

That situation is a sad and horrible memory for me in my life. And most of the times war, military operations, and even Australian war crimes report, remind me of that boy and make me feel very sad. I have not forgotten that boy. I will never forget him.

When these things happened, sometimes we interpreters wanted to stop, but you couldn’t simply leave the camp to go home. You would have to be picked up by helicopters to the main camp and then fly to Kabul. And unless there was a replacement interpreter, then you had to stay in your present role. Especially when we were in a very dangerous province as no one wanted to replace you. Sometimes it was dangerous to speak out about what we saw:

‘There was one interpreter from Paktia province who was killed in Sangeen district. Every single interpreter remembers him. When the coalition forces did something wrong in Sangeen district he got in a big argument with them. I wasn’t in that camp. But I heard the stories from other interpreters. When he spoke back to the Coalition forces they were telling him that he was just an interpreter and he should do interpretations and nothing else. But he was saying, ‘Of course I am interpreter, but I also have to teach you what you’re doing wrong, because this is my country.’

The next day he went on a patrol with those same troops but he never come back. His body was found by Afghan National Army troops in the Helmand River. The rest of the interpreters refused to go on patrol for a week.’

He is always remembered.

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