- A German TV show found that the White House's translation
of the "confession" video was not only inaccurate, but even "manipulative".
On 20 December 2001, German TV channel "Das Erste" broadcast
its analysis of the White House's translation of the OBL video that George
Bush has called a "confession of guilt". On the show "Monitor",
two independent translators and an expert on oriental studies found the
White House's translation not only to be inaccurate, but "manipulative".
- Arabist Dr. Abdel El M. Husseini, one of the translators,
states, "I have carefully examined the Pentagon's translation. This
translation is very problematic. At the most important places where it
is held to prove the guilt of Bin Laden, it is not identical with the
- Whereas the White House would have us believe that OBL
admits that "We calculated in advance the number of casualties from
the enemy.", translator Dr. Murad Alami finds that: "'In advance'
is not said. The translation is wrong. At least when we look at the original
Arabic, and there are no misunderstandings to allow us to read it into
- At another point, the White House translation reads:
"We had notification since the previous Thursday that the event would
take place that day." Dr. Murad Alami: "'Previous' is never
said. The subsequent statement that this event would take place on that
day cannot be heard in the original Arabic version."
- The White House's version also included the sentence
"we asked each of them to go to America", but Alami says the
original formulation is in the passive along the lines of "they were
required to go". He also say that the sentence afterwards - "they
didn't know anything about the operation" - cannot be understood.
- Prof. Gernot Rotter, professor of Islamic and Arabic
Studies at the Asia-Africa Institute at the University of Hamburg sums
it up: "The American translators who listened to the tapes and transcribed
them apparently wrote a lot of things in that they wanted to hear but
that cannot be heard on the tape no matter how many times you listen to
- Meanwhile the US press has not picked up on this story
at all, reporting instead that a new translation has revealed that OBL
even mentions the names of some of those involved. But the item is all
over the German press, from Germany's Channel One ("Das Erste"
- the ones who broke the story, equivalent to NBC or the BBC) to ZDF (Channel
Two) to Der Spiegel (the equivalent of TIME or the Economist - visit http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/0,1518,174025,00.html
if you can read German). More surprisingly, as I write the following site
appears on Lycos in German: http://www.netzeitung.de/servlets/page?section=1109&item=172422
- but nothing under lycos.com in English.
- Instead, we read in the Washington Post of Friday, December
21, 2001 (the day after the German TV show was broadcast) that a new translation
done in the US "also indicates bin Laden had even more knowledge
of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon than
was apparent in the original Defense Department translation.... Although
the expanded version does not change the substance of what was released,
it provides added details and color to what has been disclosed."
- I'll say. Aren't there any reporters in the US who speak
German (or Arabic, for that matter)? An article in USA Today of 20 December
2001 sheds some light on why the original translation might not be accurate:
"the first translation was rushed in 12 hours, in a room in the Pentagon".
So why didn't the new US translation find the same discrepancies as the
German translators did? Read the article in USA Today against the grain:
"Michael, who is originally Lebanese, translated the tape with Kassem
Wahba, an Egyptian. Both men had difficulties with the Saudi dialect bin
Laden and his guest use in the tape, Michael said." Why can a Saudi
translator not be found in a multicultural country like the US, especially
with the close business relations between the US and Saudi Arabia? Bush
Sr. probably knows any number of them himself.
- Of course, if we ever hear about the German analysis
in the US press, the reactions will be that some will never believe that
OBL is behind the attacks no matter what you tell them. But actually, Americans
are just as stubborn in refusing to face facts. One moderator on Fox News
complained to his interviewee that the European media were focusing too
much on civilian casualties in Afghanistan. (I wondered which European
languages this moderator could speak; a few weeks later, he happened to
say on his show that he had had "three years of German". This,
he claimed, would allow him to "do the show in German.") His
interviewee responded that, yes, the Taliban were very savvy manipulators
of the media. So there we have it: Europeans get their information straight
from the Taliban Ministry of Propaganda.
- Craig Morris is a translator living in Europe. He can
be reached at <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org@t-online.de.
- The original broadcast of the German show can be viewed
in German at:
- Monitor - RealVideos