To a Dallas Lawyer Decorated With a Purple Heart, Trump's Travel Ban Violates the Soldier's Creed

If you believe President Donald Trump's executive order closing our borders to travelers from seven largely Muslim countries is a good thing for the United States, I probably will not change your mind. Neither will the statistics, educators, researchers, career diplomats and politicians who continue to remind us that visitors from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia haven't killed any Americans on American soil.This story, then, is a long shot. Their words and mine might not be good enough for you. But if you will not take the word of a Purple Heart recipient born and raised in Wise County who has spent more than a decade trying to rescue men who worked closely with the U.S. Army during wartime, then we'll just agree to disagree. Respectfully, of course.Just do not expect Allen Vaught to go quietly."I am very pissed off," he said Monday as we sat as his kitchen table, talking about the old days that were anything but good. The Baron & Budd attorney wore a gray T-shirt that bore the insignia of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. Trump, he said, "is burning down the entire forest to look for Bigfoot."Vaught is a former U.S. Army Reservist and ex-Texas state representative who, during the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom, served as the mayor of Fallujah and was nearly blown up during his tour of duty. He went from being an attorney here to mayor over there within a month in 2003; by 2005 he was medically discharged after two IEDs broke his spine. But we didn't get together to talk about that. We met to talk about Sam.Sam is not his real name. Vaught cannot reveal his real name, because Sam is on the run -- somewhere in the Middle East, bouncing from country to country, staying low.Sam served as one of Vaught's many interpreters during his stint in Iraq, first in Fallujah and then Sadr City. He, like the interpreters, helped Vaught create what were called "area plans" for those two cities in disarray during the early days of the U.S. invasion. They introduced the U.S. Army to tribal leaders, mapped the locations of mosques and police stations and other basic infrastructure, and helped soldiers working with citizens who needed assistance negotiating the fog of war.The hiring process for interpreters was not complicated. Vaught asked them if they spoke English and if they would be willing to work for $5 a week. If they answered yes to both questions, they were hired."The vetting was through the daily interactions," Vaught told me. "These were folks being paid very little money, even by Iraqi standards, risking their lives. It was the most perfected vetting process there is: If they wanted to kill me or my soldiers, they could have easily done so. If they wanted to lead us into an ambush, they could have easily done so. But they didn't."The interpreters, many of whom were well-educated, were threatened at first by countrymen who felt they were aiding an occupying force. Then, some were executed, shot to death. Some quit; those who remained asked for body armor, to which they could not have access. Some were eventually given pistols in a country where everyone carried AK-47s. At the beginning of 2004, Vaught was transferred from Fallujah to violent Sadr City and the old cigarette factory that had once been home to snipers and came to be known as Camp Marlboro. There, one of Vaught's translators was burned alive."It was done that way to send a message to others," Vaught said over coffee Monday. He told the translators they would be OK. "Even though we had no basis for believing that."After his back was shattered Vaught was sent back to Dallas, but he stayed in touch with five translators with whom he'd become especially close, via email and later through Facebook chats. He made it his mission to get them out and bring them to Dallas, and helped them apply for Special Immigrant Visas, available to Iraqis who'd worked with or on behalf of the U.S. government.The vetting is especially rigorous: Interpreters are screened by numerous governmental agencies, and their commanding officers had to write letters of recommendation and submit to interviews. There are then further background checks and medical screenings. The process takes years.In 2007, the first of his interpreters -- Hussein, from Sadr City -- got out, along with his wife, and came to Dallas, where they lived with Vaught and his wife Donna and their then-newborn son Jonathan in their East Dallas home. Donna said Hussein's wife was distraught, knowing she would never see her family again. Hussein, educated at the University of Baghdad, got a job plucking chickens at the Pilgrim's Pride plant in the Cedars.A year later, another interpreter, Huthaifa, and his wife got the OK to come to Dallas. He took a job at a Costco.Both men are now in this country, one in Kansas and another in California, teaching Arabic to members of the U.S. military."One thing I want to point out is the greatness of the people of Dallas," Vaught said. "It's something this entire country should know about. We had people of all political persuasions, conservative and liberal and whatever, help raise money and donate items for both of these families."They were the lucky ones. Two other Iraqi interpreters with whom Vaught had worked were killed by insurgents before they could make the trip to the country they'd served.Sam kept working with the Army through the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom in the fall of 2010. Vaught began working to extricate him, but the process stalled. In December of last year he went to the local Fox affiliate to plead his case, and that seemed to work: Sam got a medical hearing, his final step toward getting his visa. He was expected to arrive as early as next month; locals were already preparing for his arrival.Then, Friday happened. And now Sam, along with hundreds of other Iraqi and Afghan interpreters awaiting visas, is stuck in limbo while a government in chaos works to make an already drawn-out and rigorous vetting procedure even more "extreme," whatever that means. Vaught's terrified they got this close to the finish line, only to find out they will have to start all over."And Sam's probably dead at that point," Vaught said.Donald Trump knows nothing about being a soldier. He took five deferments to avoid fighting in Vietnam, belittled John McCain for being a POW for more than five years in Vietnam, and mocked the Muslim family of a slain soldier. And now, in his ill-conceived haste to -- pardon -- make America safe again, he's torn to shred the Soldier's Creed."I feel that we have betrayed someone I view as an American solider," said Vaught. "And that's not OK. He viewed himself as one of us, and we viewed him as one of us. It's like leaving someone behind. And it makes me mad."Change your mind yet?  Continue reading...

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