My bio: My name is Matt Zeller and I am a US Army Afghan War veteran, a fellow at the Truman National Security Project, and author of Watches Without Time (Just World Books, 2012). I am trying to save my Afghan interpreter, Janis', life. We served together in Ghazni, Afghanistan in 2008. He saved my life in a firefight. Afghan and Iraqi interpreters are promised that if they give the United States military one year of "faithful and valuable service", they and their immediate families will receive Special Immigrant Visas to come to the United States. The state department issued him his visa on 8 SEP 2013, only to revoke it for no reason on 21 SEP 2013. The US government took years to review his information and after all that time they felt that he was good to go for a visa. And yet, suddenly, in the last two weeks, a magic piece of information caused a revocation of his visa.

[EDIT] My interpreter Janis is online right now if you would like to ask him some questions I will relay them and his answers.

[EDIT] Ok folks I am heading out now. Thanks for all your support. I will let you know if there is any movement on Janis' visa. Please contact your members of Congress -- only through YOUR action can we fix this.

[EDIT] By popular demand I'll continue to answer your questions as you send them in. So feel free to post and I'll do my best to answer them within a day.

Here's how you can help apply pressure in the right places.

Please sign my petitions for Janis:

http://www.change.org/petitions/please-help-janis-shinwari-who-saved-my-life-in-afghanistan

https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/immediately-issue-janis-shinwari-afghan-interpreter-who-saved-my-life-and-his-family-visas-move-us/wK4QcX6Z

https://www.causes.com/campaigns/34840-save-my-afghan-interpreter-and-get-him-to-safety-in-the-us?new_post_id=824899

Proof: https://twitter.com/mattczeller/status/383647876871487488/photo/1

Comments: 129 • Responses: 58  • Date: 

su548 karma

Just wanted to say how crazy I find it we say we can trust these folks with the lives of military personal (by accepting their translations as correct) but cannot trust them to be our neighbors.

Anyway, keep fighting the good fight.

dmb1248217 karma

Many thanks!

dmb1248217 karma

I've got Janis live via facebook chat. He says feel free to ask him anything as well.

HDThoreauaway11 karma

Please let him know we're all pulling for him!

dmb1248218 karma

He says "Thank you. When I come to America I will thank everyone who helped me and my family."

uberlad6 karma

[deleted]

dmb1248214 karma

He says "being honest is the best policy in the life"

uberlad12 karma

[deleted]

dmb1248237 karma

Be the change you wish to see in the world.

In Afghanistan, I decided one of the best ways we could "win the war" (which in my definition, meant helping build a generation of Afghans who wouldn't support Al Qaeda and the Taliban) was to hand out pens and pencils to kids.

George Kennan once wrote in his famous long telegram that "Communism has sowed the seeds of its own destruction." I argue the same is true with the perverted ideology espoused by the Taliban -- but only if we can prevent today's children from becoming tomorrow's terrorists. Terrorism is the tool of the desperate. We must acknowledge that we cannot capture and kill our way to victory for it only takes one idiot with dedication to insight terror through violence. But, we can win if we are able to influence a generation of children to reject the ideology of their fathers.

Pens are key to such a strategy. The Afghan government provides all of its children with free primary education. The government does not, however, provide the children with writing implements. If a child's family does not own a writing implement -- if their parents too poor to afford basic school supplies -- their parents will not send them to school; to do so would be a major disgrace for the family. These pen-less children end up farming and herding animals rather than receiving an education -- until their father likely dies.

The average life expectancy of an Afghan parent is 47. The average Afghan family has 12 children. When an Afghan father dies, the responsibility for care of his children passes to his closest living relative -- usually one of his brothers. That brother likely has a large family of his own to feed -- which he can barely do. Thus, the brother often opts to send his nephews to madrasas where they receive meals and basic religious education via rote memorization of the Koran. Sadly, most madrasas in Afghanistan are run by the Taliban or their clerical allies and are often funded by the Wahhabi school of Islam that dominates Saudi Arabia, and is also the brand of Islam adhered to by Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Even parents who live to see their children grow to adults often send children to madrasa because they cannot afford to keep them in their household; sometimes parents simply cannot feed all their offspring, and madrasas take care of this basic need. Madrasas also provide their students with basic school supplies like pens.

Thus, pens are vital to winning this war; they keep kids in government-run schools, which in turn increases the number of literate people, improves the economy, and most importantly, decreases the Taliban's recruiting pool. During my tour of duty in Afghanistan, I ordered my soldiers to always carry a box of pens on our patrols. We ended up handing out over 250,000 pens during our time with the Afghan people. We realized that we can only win this war by preventing today's children from becoming tomorrow's terrorists -- and to do that, we need to teach them to read.

Daggersapper11 karma

I remember a meeting, when you were running for office, at the Steelworkers Union building in Elmira (I was the bald guy from Sikorsky) where one of the questions from the crowd was, "How do we win in Afghanistan?" Your answer was to pull a pen out of your suit jacket, hold it up, show it to the crowd and say, "Education." Then went on to explain. It was one of the best, most thoughtful responses to that question I have ever heard. Please run again.

dmb1248214 karma

Thanks. That means a lot. I am seriously giving it some thought for 2016.

37buckstoclvlnd11 karma

Besides signing the petitions, what can we do to help?

dmb1248210 karma

At this point, Congressional pressure on the State Department, The Director of National Intelligence, and the President is the best thing you can help me with Janis' case.

It comes down to you. The most important thing you can do now is call your Congressman. Tell them to extend the Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa program in the continuing resolution keeping the government from shutting down. Then call takes less than a minute, and is really easy. Then, call BOTH of your Senators and tell them the exact same thing. Seriously, you have two. Call BOTH of them. Ask them all to call or send letters to Sec. Kerry, DNI Clapper, and the President demanding his visa be reissued/reinstated and that he and his family (wife and two kids) be put on the next flight to the US.

We also need your help as thousands of allies like Janis are being let down by the United States.

Right now, most members of Congress have no idea that we are about to break our promise to keep these guys safe. Outside of the efforts of my new nonprofit, No One Left Behind, and the Iraq Refugee Assistance Project, nobody has been trying to make the elected officials who decide their fate aware that we are about to break the deal we made with them when they decided to help soldiers like me and my brothers and sisters in arms. I've been trying, but I need your help.

If you want to do more, consider making a donation to my new non-profit No One Left Behind or to the Iraq Refugee Assistance Project. A donation to No One Left Behind will be used to support our activities to conduct advocacy to Congress to fix these laws. After the politics is out of the way, we will try and provide safety for allies waiting for their visas and help them find jobs to support their families when they arrive to the United States.

I cannot emphasize enough how much impact a donation to the Iraq Refugee Assistance Project has. They literally guide these allies through the byzantine process that we are trying to fix, and have been an incredible resource on behalf of those of us trying to make sure we keep our promise to keep their families safe.

37buckstoclvlnd7 karma

Just called my Congressman's office, and managed to get someone on the phone at 4:15 ET on a Friday. She promised to pass it along to the right LA.

defenestrate9 karma

[deleted]

dmb124826 karma

Many thanks. Please spread the word. Every point of attention and advocacy helps.

Here is the link to the NPR story for those interested: http://www.npr.org/2013/09/25/225858836/u-s-soldier-crusading-for-afghan-interpreter-who-saved-his-life

dmb124827 karma

Ok folks I am heading out now. Thanks for all your support. I will let you know if there is any movement on Janis' visa. Please contact your members of Congress -- only through YOUR action can we fix this. Its been a real honor to do this. Till next time. -Cheers, Matt

[EDIT] So by popular demand, I'll continue to answer your questions, so keep sending them!

WiretapX6 karma

Have you heard from any 'official' channels that your front page visit to Reddit yesterday got noticed? Has this begun to gain traction as a news story? If not, someone should reach out to you and run a story on this. Thank you for your service, we owe more than we can fathom to people like yourself.

dmb124828 karma

I've heard from all my friends who use reddit and I saw it for myself (as I lurk, but seldom post).

The Guardian also told me it was the number one viewed article on their site yesterday.

There has been a ton of coverage. CBS ran a TV story nationally this morning: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50155942n&tag=api

Thanks for your support.

black_seahorse2 karma

You should post more, Matt.

-your favorite E-5

dmb124825 karma

Thanks brother. Reddit is an amazing place. Cannot wait for Rome Sweet Rome.

37buckstoclvlnd5 karma

Thank you and Janis for your service. Can you explain how he saved your life?

dmb1248217 karma

The New Yorker gave an amazing account recently.

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2013/09/has-america-abandoned-an-afghan-interpreter.html

Basically, I was pinned down under intense enemy fire, about an hour into the worst firefight of my life. Janis arrived as part of the QRF (quick reaction force) dispatched to us. He jumped into my foxhole and shot two Taliban fighters who had sneaked up behind me. Had he not been their, they would have killed me -- he literally had my back.

predictablystochasti5 karma

Hi Matt, fellow vet here. Thanks for taking the time to do this AMA and thanks for looking out for out brother and sister interpreters who've done so much to help our cause. I'm intimately familiar with the Special Immigrant Visa process which helped my unit bring one of our interpreters home from Iraq. He resettled in the South and loves it here in the States.

Do you have a sense for just what the problems are with the process in terms of the bureaucracy? Can you go into some detail for how we as citizens can get the bureaucracy to be more responsive?

dmb124823 karma

Thanks for your service! Its an honor to do an AMA. I'm so glad you were able to help get your terp (that's military slang for interpreter) to the US.

The following is what I've learned regarding the process (currently takes years) an Afghan visa applicant must go through to get a US visa:

  1. The Afghan must submit an paperwork application that includes letters of support from the US units they served. Preference is given to applicants demonstrating credible and active threats on their and their families' lives -- best documented via a US military memorandum for the record listing the threats to the interpreter/their family over the years-present.

  2. The Afghan must submit to a medical exam at the US Embassy.

  3. The Afghan and their family must undergo an interview with a consular affairs officer at the US Embassy. At this point, the Afghan's application is sent off for security adjudication, which allegedly takes place both in and outside of the US. The FBI, DHS, and State Department each participate in this process. CIA and DOD may also participate. I'm convinced that the current SIV program, while well intentioned, cannot succeed as designed. The whole program currently lacks a leader and functions as an ad hoc amalgam of various US government organizations that each have to approve a visa before the State Department can issue it. Seldom do these organizations operate in coordination with one another. For example, for Janis to receive his visa organizations such as the FBI, DHS, and State Department all had to individually approve his visa application during their security background investigation using their own individual opaque databases, of him and his family. Hypothetically, the FBI could complete their review in six months, but their "blessing" of his application is only good for three months. Where as, DHS could take up to a year to clear his visa for approval. Thus, by the time Janis receives his DHS approval the FBI must redo their entire investigation because their blessing has expired months prior. Each organization refuses to comment about the process. Thus, from the outside it’s difficult to identify where the program needs fixing. But, based on my extremely limited interaction, I'd argue that the program needs a specific senior government official who is accountable directly to the Congress and the President to lead it and vastly more transparency. If a member of Congress cannot get a better answer than "the visa is undergoing administrative processing and thus we don't know when it will be complete," what hope does the average concerned citizen or Afghan applicant have? The security review, also known as Administrative Processing or Administrative Review is the largest single point of failure in the process. It is where most applications languish. Moreover, in my experience it appears that one can only succeed in expediting a visa through the security review by getting individual members of Congress involved (writing letters and making phone calls), pleading for friends in the US gov't to pull strings, and starting a national media campaign -- which I admit is likely completely impossible to replicate, but moreover, is NOT the way things should work.

As to how fellow citizens can get the bureaucracy to be more responsive:

The only way I've found is to contact your members of Congress (House Rep and both Senators) and demand they take action (be it a call or letter to the State Department requesting they issue a specific visa). More importantly, Congress needs to hear from WE THE PEOPLE right now if we have ANY chance of saving the Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa Program from expiring on Monday. Yes, it goes away forever in 3 days, unless we act now.

It comes down to you. The most important thing you can do now is call your Congressman. Tell them to extend the Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa program either by putting it in the continuing resolution keeping the government from shutting down or creating a special bill to save it. The call takes less than a minute, and is really easy. Then, call BOTH of your Senators and tell them the exact same thing. Seriously, you have two. Call BOTH of them.

wish_i_was_the_moon5 karma

I've been following this story and it honestly makes me very sad. A friend of my family was killed in Afghanistan by an IED while on a journalistic assignment. I hope Janis gets out, and soon. He sounds like quite the guy, give him my regards.

This "anonymous tip" has suspicious written all over it. Does the US legally have to keep him out until they've reviewed the case further?

dmb124824 karma

First, I am so sorry for your loss. I lost friends too. Nothing I can say will ever begin to be enough, but please know you have my deepest condolences and prayers.

I too hope he'll be here soon -- tomorrow ideally (though next to impossible that it'll actually happen).

He says "Hello and thanks I hope to be with you in America very soon"

Yes, he cannot legally come until they re-issue his visa (which means reviewing the case and fixing whatever caused this in the first place). According to the state department: "The Department has broad authority, under Section 221(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, to revoke visas based on information that comes to light at any time indicating that a visa holder may be inadmissible to the United States or otherwise ineligible for a visa. More broadly, every visa decision is a national security decision. Our visa procedures and processes are designed to address national security concerns at every stage of the visa application process."

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/09/24/afghan-interpreter-in-danger-having-us-visa-revoked-fears-taliban-revenge/

XSrcing4 karma

Have you been in contact with Brandon Webb and Jack Murphy from SOFREP.com? They have picked up on this and are not happy. They seem to have friends in high places. Also plenty of enemies.

dmb124823 karma

No, but feel free to have them contact me @mattczeller on twitter or on my facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Matt-Zeller/110104992354017

mariox194 karma

There was an episode of "This American Life," called "Taking Names," about a man named Kirk Johnson who has been trying to save thousands of Iraqis who aided us during our invasion and its aftermath. He's trying to expedite their immigration to the United States. Every one of these people is in mortal danger. Every one of them put his or her life at risk to help the U.S. during the invasion. And every one of them is getting the shaft from our government. The podcast is a real eye opener.

I wish you and your Afghan friend the best of luck. As an American it pains me to say this, but the lesson is that no one should help us when we invade their country. We cannot be trusted, and we will leave you to hang, literally—or, more likely, to be be shot dead and left in the street.

dmb124827 karma

Many thanks. Kirk Johnson has done amazing work on this. The "This American Life" episode is amazing and profoundly sad. Kirk's book "To Be a Friend Is Fatal: The Fight to Save the Iraqis America Left Behind" is a must read.

mariox193 karma

I just signed your petition. Again, best of luck.

dmb124824 karma

Many many thanks.

Blutroyale-_-4 karma

that was a lot of signing up of stuff, but i signed it - as a former army medic, i wish you the best of luck

dmb124826 karma

Many many thanks!

josandal3 karma

  • What level of intervention do you feel would be necessary at this point for things to be resolved favorably in this particular case?

  • Do you have a more general notion as to just how broken this interpreter visa system is and what it would take for it to be untangled?

  • Horse sized duck or 100 duck sized horses?

  • Remember that time a suitcase was found our back yard/how did that make you feel? (The real Zeller will understand..)

dmb124825 karma

Great questions.

  1. At this point, Congressional pressure on the State Department, The Director of National Intelligence, and the President is the best thing you can help me with.

    It comes down to you. The most important thing you can do now is call your Congressman. Tell them to extend the Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa program in the continuing resolution keeping the government from shutting down. Then call takes less than a minute, and is really easy. Then, call BOTH of your Senators and tell them the exact same thing. Seriously, you have two. Call BOTH of them.

A call will take five minutes, please call your Congressman and both of your Senators. Do it now. If nobody picks up, leave a voicemail. It really makes a difference. Ask them to send letters to Sec. Kerry, DNI Clapper, and the President demanding his visa be reissued/reinstated and that he and his family (wife and two kids) be put on the next flight to the US.

We also need your help as thousands of allies like Janis are being let down by the United States.

Right now, most members of Congress have no idea that we are about to break our promise to keep these guys safe. Outside of the efforts of my new nonprofit, No One Left Behind, and the Iraq Refugee Assistance Project, nobody has been trying to make the elected officials who decide their fate aware that we are about to break the deal we made with them when they decided to help soldiers like me and my brothers and sisters in arms. I've been trying, but I need your help.

If you want to do more, consider making a donation to my new non-profit No One Left Behind or to the Iraq Refugee Assistance Project. A donation to No One Left Behind will be used to support our activities to conduct advocacy to Congress to fix these laws. After the politics is out of the way, we will try and provide safety for allies waiting for their visas and help them find jobs to support their families when they arrive to the United States.

I cannot emphasize enough how much impact a donation to the Iraq Refugee Assistance Project has. They literally guide these allies through the byzantine process that we are trying to fix, and have been an incredible resource on behalf of those of us trying to make sure we keep our promise to keep their families safe.

The system just doesn't work. Janis' case sat in processing for two years before they issued him his visa -- and we only got them to do that after intense media coverage and congressional pressure (my Senators and House rep all wrote letters and called the State Department). And it shouldn't have to take all that to make the system work!

Here is how the system currently works: The Visa Application Process:

The following is what I've learned regarding the process an Afghan visa applicant must go through to get a US visa:

A. The Afghan must submit an paperwork application that includes letters of support from the US units they served. Preference is given to applicants demonstrating credible and active threats on their and their families' lives -- best documented via a US military memorandum for the record listing the threats to the interpreter/their family over the years-present.

B. The Afghan must submit to a medical exam at the US Embassy.

C. The Afghan and their family must undergo an interview with a consular affairs officer at the US Embassy.

At this point, the Afghan's application is sent off for security adjudication, which allegedly takes place both in and outside of the US. The FBI, DHS, and State Department each participate in this process. CIA and DOD may also participate. I'm convinced that the current SIV program, while well intentioned, cannot succeed as designed. The whole program currently lacks a leader and functions as an ad hoc amalgam of various US government organizations that each have to approve a visa before the State Department can issue it. Seldom do these organizations operate in coordination with one another. For example, for Janis to receive his visa organizations such as the FBI, DHS, and State Department all had to individually approve his visa application during their security background investigation using their own individual opaque databases, of him and his family. Hypothetically, the FBI could complete their review in six months, but their "blessing" of his application is only good for three months. Where as, DHS could take up to a year to clear his visa for approval. Thus, by the time Janis receives his DHS approval the FBI must redo their entire investigation because their blessing has expired months prior. Each organization refuses to comment about the process. Thus, from the outside it’s difficult to identify where the program needs fixing. But, based on my extremely limited interaction, I'd argue that the program needs a specific senior government official who is accountable directly to the Congress and the President to lead it and vastly more transparency. If a member of Congress cannot get a better answer than "the visa is undergoing administrative processing and thus we don't know when it will be complete," what hope does the average concerned citizen or Afghan applicant have?

The security review, also known as Administrative Processing or Administrative Review is the largest single point of failure in the process. It is where most applications languish. Moreover, in my experience it appears that one can only succeed in expediting a visa through the security review by getting individual members of Congress involved (writing letters and making phone calls), pleading for friends in the US gov't to pull strings, and starting a national media campaign -- which I admit is likely completely impossible to replicate, but moreover, is NOT the way things should work.

For the system to get fixed, a few things need to happen.

A. Congress needs to appoint a senior US official to oversee the program -- currently its headless. The State Department, Department of Homeland Security, FBI, Department of Defense, etc. all play a role at some point, but no one official coordinates it.

B. More visas need to be allocated to Afghans. The Afghan surge occurred after Congress created the program. The 8,750 visas reflects pre-surge estimates of the number of Afghans who could be eligible. As we surged troops, we hired a ton more interpreters. Now, the system is overwhelmed with qualified applicants and not enough slots.

C. The President should publicly call for fixing the programs and put his full authority behind it. Seriously, two words "Fix This" would work wonders.

D. Congress MUST extend the Iraqi program before Monday (30 September). If not, it goes away forever with no guarantee of ever coming back (with 78% of allocated visas never issued).

100 Duck Sized Horses -- they can swarm and stampede. Numbers beats size.

That freaking suitcase...don't get me started...

Daggersapper3 karma

Matt, it is such crap, what they are doing to these folks who have given good service. This is the part where I mumble something about history and those doomed to repeat it. I may be looking too hard, but I see similarities between us leaving these guys out to burn, and us pretty much abandoning the Mujahideen after the Soviets left, pretty much opening up the country for the Taliban. This needs to get fixed now. Thank you for trying to show the world that not all Americans are uncaring dolts, who throw you away as soon as we are done with you.

dmb124823 karma

Thanks for your support. Yes, sadly, it seems like we've been down this road too many times.

shocks3652 karma

Thanks for drawing attention to this issue. Janis' story is incredible. Have you heard from him in recent days? And are there a lot of other interpreters in this situation?

dmb124825 karma

Thanks for your support. He's an amazing man.

I'm talking to him via facebook right now. He says "Salam" (it means hello/peace). We talk several times a day. There are thousands of interpreters in his situation both in Afghanistan and Iraq.

99thpercentile2 karma

Thank you both for your service.

How many of these visas have been issued? Janis has 9 years of stove and then bureaucratic red tape held out up. How often does this happen to those who choose to assist America?

dmb124825 karma

Thanks for your support.

Congress created the Special Immigrant Visa programs for Iraqi and Afghan employees of the U.S. military nearly five years ago, as part of the 2008 and 2009 National Defense Authorization Acts, respectively, with the aim of providing life-saving protection for those whose lives are directly threatened as a result of their service with American forces.

Congress allocated 25,000 visas for Iraq and 8,750 for Afghanistan.

Yet as of today, the State Department has issued only 22% and 12% of the allocated Iraqi and Afghan Visas, respectively.

And absent action from Congress, the Iraqi program is due to expire on September 30th, leaving thousands of our allies at the mercy of the very insurgents they protected us against.

Sadly, Janis' case is not uncommon. Many interpreters have had their visas revoked at the 11th hour for no apparent reason. The State Department, as a matter of policy, refuses to ever tell a visa applicant why their visa was either revoked or denied in the first place. State can literally deny a person's visa for misspelling a name on a form. The whole system seems to be designed to reject applicants, rather than save lives -- the very reason the programs exist in the first place.

Jombee2 karma

Matt -- I'm an Upstate New Yorker who's been a fan of yours for a long time. When the hell are you going to run for office again?

dmb124827 karma

2016? I have a 16-month old daughter who I'm hopelessly in love with. The thought of taking time away from her right now to run is just impossible. But, once she's a little older, count me in. I'm not done fighting, especially for my NY home.

c_stokedizzle2 karma

Hey I was actually in Ghazni too, a couple years after you. It's still not good there and it's depressing to see the lack of progress. We also had some awesome interpreters, like Janis, that went out armed with us and made a difference. What office did you run for? I was unable to read through all the comments.

I dont really like making that many accounts and giving out my email but I signed your petitions lol.

dmb124822 karma

Many thanks!

Ahhh Ghazni...yeah. I was on FOB Vulcan.

I ran for the House of Representatives (from NY's old 29th district, now its NY-23). -Cheers, Matt

Jgiggs1 karma

Does this change your views on the American Government/Military?

dmb124823 karma

Not the military -- the US military has nothing to do with the processing, issuing, denial, or revocation of any visas. If anything, the US military pushes as hard as it can to save as many of these interpreters as possible. Most successful cases usually have some service member driving it behind the scenes. And, interpreters can't even submit an application without at least some proof of favorable service to the US military (i.e. a letter of recommendation).

As for the government, it just disappoints me. There is clearly a serious disconnect between the people who want these visas to go through and the people making the decisions. It almost seems as if the system as it currently exists is designed to find a way to say no. But, again, Governments are made up of people -- and people come in an infinite number of ways. Some are great. Some are good. Some are bad. What I've experienced is many behind the scenes in government are tireless, dedicated public servants trying their very best to do the right thing. They too run up against an at times entrenched/immovable bureaucracy that fights one's best efforts at many turns.

Also, this is a very limited example of Government, dealing with one program and beyond that, one interpreter's applications to get the visa he has clearly earned. I wouldn't begin to use this as a critique or evaluation of the US Government as a whole. But, to answer your question definitively, no, this doesn't change my views. If anything, it reinforces my belief that dedicated and motivated citizens can truly accomplish anything with the right effort -- people just need to act. And while I probably lack the necessary patience (i.e. I want this resolved now, yesterday, last week), the fact that folks inside the government are working tirelessly to fix this problem is a testament to the fact that our government actually DOES listen and respond to the concerns of its citizens. If I had just been ignored or told to go away, then and only then would my belief in the American government change. I've had the exact opposite experience. I've lost count of the number of members of Congress and their staff who have put in countless hours trying to resolve this -- and that goes for the State Department as well. They're working their asses off trying to fix this -- and I cannot thank them all enough for their efforts.

TheBaconator19901 karma

Man, I heard about your story in NPR. It was pretty fucking sad that not just your interpreter, but so many are just left behind. And I wholly agree with you, if an individual in the US Army can't keep it's word, what does that say about the Army as a whole? I just wish for the best for you, Janis, Janis' family, and all interpreters that have helped out the US military forces.

dmb124825 karma

Exactly my concern. How are future people we work with supposed to trust us if we can't make good on our promises? Actions speak louder than words.

kundo1 karma

What is your favorite kind of cake or pie?

dmb124823 karma

Red velvet cake.

Pecan pie (with bourbon included). Fan-freaking-tastic.

37buckstoclvlnd1 karma

Why did you decide to join the Army?

dmb124824 karma

My mom's side of the family got kicked out of Scotland after the "45" (battle of 1745). We're Lovats of Fraser (from Inverness, Scotland). Eventually, the family settled in the "Colonies." Soon, they told us we could fight the English again and many signed up. My great-something-or-another grandfather (7 generations back?) was a Colonel in the Continental Army, serving under George Washington.

In my closet I have my grandfather's World War II Navy uniform (he went island hopping with the Marines taking/rebuilding air fields), my great-grandfather's World War I Army uniform (he was a Cavalry officer in the trenches in France), and my great-great-great-great-grandfather's Civil War Union Army uniform (that he wore at Gettysburg).

Service, for me, is a civic and familial obligation.

My Grandfather joined the Navy on December 8, 1941 (the day after Pearl Harbor). 9/11 was my generation's equivalent event. I enlisted into the Army shortly after the attacks. I felt I hadn't earned ANY OF THIS and that if I didn't serve when my nation needed me most, I'd never be able to look at my future children (I now have a daughter) and know I did all I could to provide them with a safer future -- just as every generation of my family has since we arrived here sometime in the mid-1700's.

Cheesebunz1 karma

Has he lived there all his life? and why is it that it took him 9 years of service when i thought i heard it was around 2 to receive this visa.

dmb124825 karma

He lived there from 1978-1996 (his family had to flee to Pakistan when the Taliban took over). They came back after 2002.

The Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program didn't exist until 2009. He has served as an interpreter to the US military since 2006. He applied in 2011 only when it became clear that the US would soon leave Afghanistan and that he could no longer trust that Afghanistan would be safe for him after we leave.

And more importantly, it shouldn't take TWO YEARS for the Government to issue these visas. By the way, TWO YEARS is quick. Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer's terp (who Dakota says deserves the award as much as he does) had to wait three years to get his US visa -- and then, he still only got it after GEN Dunford (Commanding General of all International Forces in Afghanistan, aka COMISAF) personally intervened.

37buckstoclvlnd1 karma

Is there any way he and his family can get Pilgrim Visas to go to Mecca? At least that would get them out of the country.

dmb124823 karma

Interesting idea, I'll have to look into that. Do you have any insights? How long would a Pilgrim Visa last? If its just for a few days or weeks, its not what they need. They need a permanent home outside of Afghanistan and away from Taliban reprisal.

37buckstoclvlnd1 karma

Unfortunately, I have no expertise on the issue - never been to Saudi Arabia myself. But maybe even if it's a temporary thing, they could still use a short-term visa to get somewhere they could claim asylum, though. Or a university in another country (like Asia or the gulf) could invite him and his family as "guest speakers," and then they could claim asylum there?

dmb124822 karma

I'll certainly look into it. Many thanks for the suggestion.

Huplescat221 karma

Are you any relation to the basketball Zellers? Maybe Tyler could give you a hand with this. After all, he has met the President and even shot some hoops with him. In any case, it wouldn’t hurt to get in touch with the big guy.

dmb124823 karma

I don't think so...but right now I wish I was. Zeller (my dad's last name/family) is like Smith in Germany -- its a very common last name.

Yo, Tyler and Cody -- hit a potentially long lost relative up and help me out!

iTzLaG1 karma

So Matt you said I could ask you anything if so, You Like Hamburgers?

dmb124823 karma

OMG yes. I am an In-n-Out addict. Double-meat, animal style all the way...God, now I'm craving like three.

Delta19-1101 karma

We should keep our word to those who help us. If you had a brother or son there you would want him to have everything he needs to succeed. What happens next time if we don't keep our word?--Iraq Veteran

Scouts Out!

dmb124825 karma

Exactly brother. Amen. Thanks for your service.

stephmo1 karma

[deleted]

dmb124825 karma

Janis has very few options. Honestly, if he doesn't get his US visa reinstated along with near instant travel to the US, he will likely die. The Taliban are hunting him - I've seen the kill list with his name on it.

He could apply for UN Refugee status, but only three countries (that I know of) take Afghan refugees -- The US (the process takes on average 7 years), Canada, and Australia.

But to apply for UN Refugee status, he'd have to move to Pakistan (closest UN Refugee Office) and live their till he got approved (which isn't a guarantee). We're trying to see if his time (2011-2012, it was a joint US, UK, Aussie unit) serving with the UK and Australian armies will make him eligible for their visa programs.

AnonAlexander1 karma

Given that the Taliban frequents US news, do you think there should be stricter regulations on the freedom of the press?

dmb124829 karma

No at all. The moment we rescind/censor our rights is the minute they win.

orangesodaman1 karma

Why doesn't Afghanistan build a water park? I'm sure they'd all have a lot of fun.

dmb124827 karma

The Special Forces compound down the road from our FOB built a water slide and a pool using HESCO barriers....does that count?

Touristupdatenola1 karma

Once the US & Allies evacuate Afghanistan, how soon will the country return to full-on civil war?

dmb124823 karma

That is a very tough question to answer. The following are my personal views and do not reflect those of the US government or military.

I think you'll see some return of Taliban rule at the local level in the South and Southeastern parts of the country. I think Herat (in the West) and Mazar-e-Sharif (in the North) will remain relatively safe and stable due to the fact that they're already defacto ruled by very powerful "former" warlords (who also just happen to be officials within the Afghan government).

The center of the country (where most of the Hazara live) will likely remain under the control of local Hazara officials and the rest of Afghanistan will concern themselves with other areas.

Which brings us to Kabul and the East...and the answer there is it all depends on the Afghan Army and Police. The Afghan Army can fight and kick the crap out of the Taliban when they want to -- I've seen it happen. A Taliban unit once attacked one of our Afghan Army units (I served as an Embedded Combat Adviser to the Afghan Army and Afghan Police, living with them, training them, and going out on missions with them for a year). The Afghan Army unit was out on their own (i.e. no Americans, no American air support, etc.). They overwhelmingly won the fight. They brought back the dead bodies of the Taliban fighters and all their weapons. Their unit commander, and Afghan Lieutenant Colonel, then held an impromptu press conference with the dead bodies laid before him and said "This is what happens when you fuck with my unit. If you're stupid enough to fight us, you will die."

If that attitude prevails and the Afghan Army and Police choose to stand and fight the Taliban on their own AND remain loyal to a central government in Kabul, then Afghanistan has a chance to muddle on with some weird scenario where the Taliban exert local level control in the rural South and Southeast, while the central government controls the major cities throughout the country.

BUT, if the Afghan Army fragments or quits, then I think it'll only be a matter of time before a civil war akin to the early 1990's erupts around Kabul (probably starting in places like Ghazni, Wardak, and Logar). If the old Northern Alliance warlords decide to start rearming and recalling their militias (many who are now integrated into the Afghan Army), that too could pose a serious problem. But, if the Afghan government and the former warlords trust their Army to function as designed and fight the Taliban, than the country has a real shot -- with one key caveat -- Afghanistan MUST continue to get some type of logistical support from the United States and the international community (i.e. gasoline for their vehicles, bullets, munitions, equipment, etc.). Afghanistan is too poor to afford these necessary items on their own. We will need to maintain some type of significant logistical support for many many years.

Also, please note -- the United States is NOT leaving Afghanistan entirely in 2014 (at least under the current plan). All we're doing is withdrawing our "combat" troops (i.e. the infantry units that primarily fight and win our nation's wars). Many Special Forces and Embedded Combat Advisers will remain -- we signed an agreement with Afghanistan to continue to train their security forces until 2024. In addition, all the support troops (medics, supply, cooks, transport, air support, helicopters, etc.) necessary to sustain the Special Forces and Embedded Combat Advisers will also remain. The American military footprint in Afghanistan will still number in the thousands. The problem with telling folks that all the "combat" troops are coming home is that it gives the impression that we're pulling everyone out. We're not. Moreover, the Taliban do not make a distinction between a soldier from the 101st Airborne Division and a medic or cook or truck driver. If someone is wearing a US military uniform, the Taliban consider them a "combat" threat and respond accordingly. We the people need to be prepared for the fact that (unless we change the current plan and truly pull EVERYONE out in 2014) we will still sadly suffer casualties for many years to come.

PhyriaPC1 karma

I truly hope he makes it to the US, I wish I could help in some way. This needs a lot more attention. Best of luck.

dmb124822 karma

Many thanks. So do I. I just hope this helps to fix the overall system as well.

Foreign_Terrain1 karma

I know you already said that you're heading out but could you try to somehow keep us updated?

dmb124822 karma

Of course. As soon as I have news I'll blast it out to the interwebs.

holy_woah1 karma

[deleted]

dmb124823 karma

Well the Afghan scenes in the The Kite Runner take place in 1970's and then in late 90's/early 2000's (Taliban rule) Afghanistan -- neither of which I experienced. That being said, kids do play kite battles and the people are some of the nicest, most welcoming folks I've ever met.

Janis and our other interpreters described life under the Taliban in a very similar way as the book does -- i.e. extremely brutal and merciless.

holy_woah1 karma

[deleted]

dmb124823 karma

My pleasure! Thanks for asking. If you have more I'd be happy to answer them. Have you read The Kite Runner? If so, what did you think?

slampeak0 karma

Why do you think Janis' visa got revoked?

Side note: this makes me really angry.

dmb124827 karma

It's fairly common for the Taliban to read the US news. I can't help but think that they learned of our successful efforts to secure Janis his visa via the extensive coverage our efforts generated. They used to call our base in Afghanistan and claim all sorts of lies about our interpreters in an attempt to get us to fire them. The Taliban are almost certainly the source of the anonymous tip and now they have more time to hunt him and his family down and kill them.

If NCTC and the State Department were to go and check the validity of the source of whatever information prompted this revocation, I am certain it will turn up as not credible at all.

Again, the US government took years to review his information and after all that time they felt that he was good to go for a visa. And yet, suddenly, in the last two weeks, a magic piece of information that causes a revocation of his visa has just now come to light? I don't buy it. This development does not pass the logical plausibility test. If he was a bad guy, he would have killed me in the firefight and not two Taliban fighters.

Moreover, its not like someone can just sign up to be an interpreter to the US military and walk on to one of our bases and start translating. He had to go through an extensive background investigation just to get the job -- it included biometrics data (his iris and fingerprints being gathered and ran against databases), countless hours of investigation into him, his activities, and his associates.

This makes me angry beyond words.

After the State Department issued him his visas, he did what anyone in his situation would do – what I would do too – he sold his house, his possessions, and quit his job because he was told he was on his way to his new life in America. Now, he literally has nothing but the promise our nation made to bring him and his family to the US for his near decade of faithful, honorable, and heroic service to the US military. Apparently, the US government feels its perfectly routine and justified to break that promise.

It would have been one thing to just outright deny him a visa three weeks ago -- at least then he'd still have a job, a home, and his things (he sold everything because they are only allowed to bring one suitcase each). Now, he has nothing.

harriettubman-1 karma

Why can't you get him to Mexico and walk across the border?

dmb124823 karma

Mexico does NOT grant visas to Afghan refugees. Moreover, as I'm currently sitting in Arizona, on the US/Mexico border, I can tell you it is really freaking hard to cross it and make it into the US. Also, Janis would be breaking the law and illegally immigrating into the US -- and he's too honorable to do that. He wants to come here the right way, the legal way.

And hypothetically lets say he did do this crazy scheme, if he were caught he'd be deported back to Afghanistan with NO hope of ever being allowed back into the US. I know what everyone watches on the news and folks think its just this huge porous border, but in reality, there's a massive fence that runs most of the border. Thousands of Border Patrol agents roam the majority of the border (I know because anytime I'm in this part of Arizona for work I have to drive through one of their check points almost daily). Too many people have the impression that thousands of illegal immigrants just flood into the US daily. In reality, many are caught and instantly driven back to Mexico. Janis would almost certainly be caught and deported. He doesn't speak Spanish. He doesn't look Latino. He and his family would stick out like no other. This is simply not plausible and again, too dishonorable for him to even consider.

Salacious--1 karma

First, no one on reddit would dare say the "narwhal bacons at midnight" thing without wearing a fedora. Come on, man. Learn the rules.

Second:

How do you feel about immigration policy in general? Should we be welcoming of almost anyone who wants to come, or should it be limited?

dmb124825 karma

Fedora is currently at the cleaners. :-p

Our entire immigration policy is obviously broken, but especially when it comes to Afghan and Iraqi interpreters. Congress created the Special Immigrant Visa programs for Iraqi and Afghan employees of the U.S. military nearly five years ago, as part of the 2008 and 2009 National Defense Authorization Acts, respectively, with the aim of providing life-saving protection for those whose lives are directly threatened as a result of their service with American forces. Yet as of today, the State Department has issued only 22% and 12% of the allocated Iraqi and Afghan Visas, respectively. And absent action from Congress, the Iraqi program is due to expire on September 30th, leaving thousands of our allies at the mercy of the very insurgents they protected us against.

Its imperative that people who worked in the field with our military get the visas they deserve and have quite frankly earned.

As for immigration from other countries, I'm not an expert on any of this, so I couldn't begin to speculate on Mexican immigration (legal and illegal) for example. What I will say is, most of us in this country at one point came from an immigrant. Our motto used to be "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..." and that's served us very well most of our nation's existence.

orbitalia-2 karma

My question to you is why do you think the US invaded Afghanistan?

dmb124825 karma

Because the Taliban harbored Al Qaeda who attacked us on 9/11

mattskins-2 karma

Matt, what does Janis want to do in the U.S besides be safe? Teach arabic? Sell hummus?

dmb124825 karma

He wants to work. He's said he wants to instantly find a job.

More importantly, as a father, he wants to provide a safe life for his children. And as a dad, I get that. As parents, isn't it our job to provide better than we had?

Janis was born in 1978. The Soviets invaded in 1979. All he has ever known is horrible war. First it was the Soviets, then the Afghan civil war, and then the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

I once asked him why he was helping us. He didn't say "to come to America." He said "because I want a better Afghanistan, a safer Afghanistan, for my children."

mattskins-1 karma

Nice, let Janis know that I think he should open a middle eastern restaurant. I bet he would be super successful because of his story, and I bet he makes mean hummus and kabobs.

I would definitely try his food if he opened a restaurant. Janis's Hummus Factory

dmb124826 karma

He makes an amazing meal, let me tell you. We ate basically every meal together, but my favorite were when he went to the local bazaar and came back and made Kabuli Palau (basically goat, rice, raisins, carrots all cooked up in a pressure cooker) with warm, fresh na'an bread, piping hot chai, salat (a salad that's like pico de gallo), and an Afghan pomegranate for desert. Now I'm craving that...

DasWraithist4 karma

I don't know if they eat hummus in Afghanistan, but I know they don't speak Arabic...

dmb124823 karma

They speak Dari and Pashto. Dari is a cousin of Farsi (spoken in Iran), so its got some similarities with Arabic. For example, to say thank you in Arabic is "Shukran" (transliterated). To say thank you in Dari is "Ta Shakur" (transliterated).

Pashto on the other hand is a language unto itself that I could barely begin learn. I know two phrases - "Manana" (Thank You) and "Nanawatai" (I seek asylum).

7hammers-2 karma

Do you believe your own government is corruption free, and if not get frustrated that you are dodging bullets for what many believe is a few elite 1%ers? Do you think it will be worth going into Syria?

dmb124825 karma

I think all governments have some degree of corruption. But its not the institutions that are corrupt, its some of the people who occupy them/hold their offices.

I don't dodge bullets for any one group of Americans. I dodge them for all Americans. And to be quite honest, in a firefight, thinking about 300,000,000+ people is the last thing on your mind. You're thinking about taking care of the guy or gal on the right and left of you.

Regarding Syria: No. As someone who has experienced war first hand, I hate it. I never want anyone to ever have to go through it. My heart goes out to the Syrian people. Bashar Assad is a monster and deserves to burn for eternity for what he's done. But I'm glad that we helped achieve a diplomatic solution to destroying their Chemical Weapons stockpile. Now I just hope the Syrians can figure out a peaceful resolution to their civil war that also gets rid of Assad and his cohorts. But, I'm not a Syria expert, so this is just my personal opinion -- I'll grant that my desired endstate is likely impossible.

Glitchless-4 karma

What are the chances of a US Military Coup against it's government?

dmb124829 karma

Zero. Everyone in the military swears an oath of allegiance to the Constitution of the United States -- not a particular President or body of government, but to the very covenant that founded our country. To coup would be to break that oath and defile the very document we serve to protect and defend.

ThePurpleHammer-5 karma

Is there a huge culture of racism and hate within the US Army? From what ive read about US atrocities where familes of Iraqis and Afghanis were murdered, the culprits got orders from "higher up" and maybe this culture of hatred persists throughout.

dmb124825 karma

No. Those shameful and intolerable acts committed by US troops are the results of simply having a few bad people. Unfortunately, those bad people deface the entire military.

The US military was THE FIRST institution in the US Government to integrate. The first.

I've never encountered a culture of racism and/or hate in my 11 years of wearing the uniform. And if I ever do, as an Officer, I'll immediately stop it and get rid of any and all who perpetuate it. That bullshit has no place in our Army or our society. The color of one's skin does not matter, but rather the content of one's character. And in a firefight, you don't give a damn about one's race, only their ability to do their job and return fire.

Those atrocities are awful awful acts and my hearts go out to all the families forever destroyed by the acts of these murderers. But please, do NOT judge the rest of the military for the acts of a few. And I've NEVER encountered any "higher up" that would ever order the murder of civilians. And if I do, I'll go after them as well and do whatever I can to get them removed from the military and punished for their crimes.

Lack_of_Knowledge-5 karma

What do you wipe your butt with?

dmb124825 karma

Double ply quilted when possible or whatever sandpaper the Army uses.

youmadbrozz-9 karma

Lol, you want more muslim in the US?

dmb124825 karma

First, I find the very premise of your question insulting. One's religion should not be a determining factor to legally immigrate to this country. Have you not read the First Amendment to our Constitution? Its pretty clear on freedom of religion.

But in case you haven't, here it is:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

ITS THE FIRST THING GUARANTEED!

I welcome any Iraqi or Afghan interpreter who is qualified for a US Visa. I'll even work to help get them here, get settled, and be as prosperous as possible. If you've actually spent ANY time with a Muslim, you'd know just how wonderful, kind, and peaceful they are. Sadly, too many Americans think of Muslims as the people made out to be villains in movies and TV shows. Al Qaeda and the Taliban are to Islam what the KKK is to Christianity -- i.e. not representative at all.

TooDamnHighGuy-9 karma

For no reason

Followed by:

in the last two weeks, a magic piece of information caused a revocation of his visa.

So, there is a reason. You just don't believe the reason is true. Or you believe the reason is a lie. Either way, you seem to be avoiding sharing that reason.

This is the internet. I don't trust you. Tell me the reason that was given. Tell me why you don't believe it is true. And tell me the real reason that you believe his visa was revoked.

I'm a reasonable person. If it all adds up - you'll have my support. But so far, you are not on a good track.

dmb124826 karma

It's fairly common for the Taliban to read the US news. I can't help but think that they learned of our successful efforts to secure Janis his visa via the extensive coverage our efforts generated. They used to call our base in Afghanistan and claim all sorts of lies about our interpreters in an attempt to get us to fire them. The Taliban are almost certainly the source of the anonymous tip and now they have more time to hunt him and his family down and kill them.

If NCTC and the State Department were to go and check the validity of the source of whatever information prompted this revocation, I am certain it will turn up as not credible at all.

dmb124824 karma

Moreover, Janis served as the personal interpreter to an entire delegation of US Senators. Do you really think they'd let him even near them if they thought he was a threat?

https://twitter.com/mattczeller/status/383661474922504192/photo/1

TooDamnHighGuy0 karma

I think that I was a bit short with you and in my comments this morning. I apologize, if it is before 10 am, I am generally not a very nice person to be around.

That being said, from all accounts this does appear to be a tragedy. Hopefully the media pressure can rectify the situation. And I wish him and you all of the best.

dmb124821 karma

No worries. Thanks for your support.