Not So Lost in Translation

NOT SO LOST IN TRANSLATION….Did Der Spiegel, in its interview with prime minister Nouri al-Maliki published this weekend, correctly translate his endorsement of Barack Obama’s timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq? We now know it did, but CJR reporter Clint Hendler spoke with Spiegel editor Mathias Müller von Blumencron recently and learned just how ridiculous it was for Centcom to try and cast doubt on Maliki’s words in the first place:

During the interview, Der Spiegel spoke in English, and after listening to each question repeated in Arabic, and hearing Maliki’s responses in Arabic, finally heard its answer in English via Maliki’s translator.

….There’s something else that journalists calling Der Spiegel would have learned. “We have a policy at Der Spiegel when we do a question and answer session to provide a transcript to our counterparts in case they want to have a minor thing changed,” says Müller von Blumencron, who says Zand verified that Maliki’s aides received the publication-ready advance copy. They had no response, and presumably no complaints, before its release.

The interview was conducted in English, Maliki’s Arabic answers were then translated into English by Maliki’s own translator, and the completed transcript was later provided to Maliki for his approval before publication. Hopefully this will be the last word on whether or not Maliki really meant what he said.

UPDATE: Lt. Cmdr. Bill Speaks, a media officer with CENTCOM, emails to say that the military had nothing to do with pressuring the Iraqi government to disown Maliki’s statement:

In response to your post on the debate over the Iraqi PM’s interview with Der Spiegel, I would like, as a spokesman for CENTCOM, make something clear. There was no attempt by CENTCOM to insert ourselves into the press operations of the Iraqi government over this, and the statement by Iraqi spokesman Dr. Ali al Dabbagh was not, as has been reported, released by, or “through,” this office.

The MNF-I press office did, a few hours after Dr. al Dabbagh released his statement in Arabic to Iraqi and pan-Arab media, provide an English translation to Western media. This is a standard practice for MNF-I’s press office, as the Iraqi government does not have the same capacity for such translations. But while we assist our Iraqi counterparts in reaching a wider audience, no one at MNF-I — and certainly not CENTCOM — has any influence in the content of their messages.