U.S. Navy Arabic Interpreter

Lt. Ramzy Azar


APRIL 23, 2003 · U.S. military doctors are treating many seriously wounded Iraqi civilians. Under the Geneva Convention, Iraqi prisoners of war also receive medical care. Around 100 of the most critically injured are being treated on the U.S.N.S. Comfort in the Persian Gulf. To communicate with their Iraqi charges, the ship's doctors rely on American translators like Lt. Ramzy Azar. An environmental health officer aboard the Comfort, Azar speaks a Lebanese version of Arabic, but he understands most of what the Iraqi prisoners tell him. This is his War Diary.

As I approach a patient, I greet them with a traditional greeting, which is 'Salaam a' Laykum' -- 'Peace be upon you.' And as I do that, I always get the same response, and it is a wonderful response -- 'Alaykum al salaam,' which is 'And also upon you.' It is quite ironic. And they tell me, 'Where are you from?' And I would tell them, you know, 'I'm from Lebanon.' And they look at me and say, 'You know, you and I are brothers.' So, to a certain extent, these patients and myself have a cultural bond.

"To a certain extent, these patients and myself have a cultural bond... it's very difficult not to get personal."

And, as a translator, we're dealing with people that are in pain, that are longing for their family and longing for something that is familiar. So it's very difficult not to get personal. I had to watch myself to make sure that I wasn't too comfortable around them, mainly because it has been a war setting. I've had some requests to exchange phone numbers and exchange addresses, but I've been a little bit hesitant to do that.

What has also kind of stuck in my mind has been when I've been translating for this enemy prisoner of war. And this gentleman was quite tense. And he kept asking whether we were going to kill him. In this man's mind, he had this impression that we brought him on board here to actually execute him.

I reassured him that we were here to make sure that he was healthy. We wanted to heal him as best as we could. And you could just see a relaxed expression on his face, and all of a sudden this gentleman started to cry. I think this speaks highly of the fact that we are humane.

U.S.N.S. Comfort Web Site


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