Interview with Maya Hess, Founder of Red T
06 March 2013
Learn about Red T's mission, history, and current activities from its Founder, Maya Hess.
How was Red T founded?
Red T was launched in response to legal cases brought against linguists in U.S. courts post-9/11 and the mounting evidence of tragedies surrounding translators and interpreters (T&Is) in conflict zones. Having provided language and expert witness services in many terrorism trials over many years, I observed firsthand the extreme vulnerability of T&Is in the terrorism arena, especially during a time of heightened national anxiety. Specifically, on 10 February 2005, I listened with disbelief to the guilty verdict of an Arabic linguist on charges of aiding and abetting terrorist activity. In reaction, I decided to write my dissertation about the case and, while researching other unjust T&I-related prosecutions and the situation of linguists in conflict zones, I resolved that the time had come for a paradigm shift in how we are perceived and treated. Red T is the advocacy platform to help accomplish this shift.
What inspired the Red T logo?
In terms of color scheme, the red and white conveys the Red T vision that linguists in conflict zones should be considered humanitarian personnel and granted protected-person status akin to ICRC staff.
Why do translators and interpreters need Red T?
Working in conflict zones, detention camps, and other adversarial environments, T&Is are confronted with varying degrees of distrust, discrimination, and threats from all sides. In theaters of war, host nation linguists are labeled traitors for collaborating with foreign armies and targeted by insurgents. In detention camps, they are prosecuted for crimes they did not commit. And in the United States, an interpreter was held legally responsible for the actions of an attorney and the content of attorney-client conversations. In other words, the simple act of practicing their profession makes T&Is vulnerable to loss of life, limb, and freedom.
What have been some of Red T’s most significant initiatives?
Above all, we raise awareness of the plight of T&Is at risk, be it on social networks, in academic journals, or at universities and conferences. For instance, I have been speaking domestically and abroad about translator prosecutions by U.S. courts to alert the industry and others to the legal vulnerability of our colleagues who do terrorism-related work.
We are also in constant contact with linguists in conflict zones, respond to their queries, and connect them with resources as best as we can. Through these exchanges we gain insight into what’s going on in these settings, and these insights then inform the guidelines we’ve been drafting together with other trade associations. In this connection, I am very excited to talk about Red T’s strategic alliances. We’ve partnered with the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC) and the International Federation of Translators (FIT), and our first joint publication, the Conflict Zone Field Guide for Civilian Translators/Interpreters and Users of Their Services, has been disseminated widely and is being translated into multiple languages. The guide outlines the basic rights, responsibilities, and practices recommended by the three organizations and is intended for T&Is working for the armed forces, journalists, NGOs, and other groups operating in conflict zones as well as those that hire them. Additionally, we have just begun work on a more expansive document, i.e., the first Safety Handbook for Translators & Interpreters.
Last year – along with AIIC and FIT – Red T initiated the Open Letter Project, and we’ve now also been joined by the International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters (IAPTI). As far as I know, for the first time ever, these organizations have come together in solidarity (and on the same letterhead) to raise their voices on behalf of colleagues subject to unjust persecution, prosecution, and imprisonment worldwide, and to address government policies that are detrimental to T&Is.
What are some of Red T’s current activities?
We are continually building our database of T&I-related incidents, which is crucial in exposing injustices and rights violations. It is also foundational in preparing safety publications that take into account all stakeholders.
Another aspect of Red T’s work is a function of my background in criminal justice: I am keen to bring the translator perspective into criminal justice research where it is sorely lacking. By connecting academia with practitioners, our professional practices, ethics, experiences, and concerns will be represented, say, in an empirical study of interrogations that later may serve as the basis for formulating policy. This will chip away at the misperceptions that proliferate in these settings, which in turn will make us safer.
We also answer media inquiries about linguists at risk. There is a significant amount of factually incorrect information floating around, especially when it comes to translator prosecutions in terrorism cases. Red T addresses some of that, and Swiss television, for instance, produced a documentary entitled “Every word a time bomb” based on our research.
In our newest project, which involves information-gathering in the more closed countries that do not publicize T&I abuses, we are conducting a preliminary study on China. Soshio, a company that specializes in the monitoring of multiple Chinese media platforms, is providing pro bono assistance to track such incidents. The searches are targeting linguist prosecutions, imprisonments, etc., and we’re very interested to see if combing through social media chatter will yield relevant data.
Are there opportunities for volunteers?
Yes. To spread the Red T message, we need as many people as possible to do social media outreach. So, please “Like” the Red T Facebook page, share the stories on your personal FB page, invite your friends to engage with Red T, retweet our Twitter posts, and, if you have a blog, blog about Red T.
Another simple but powerful way to contribute is to incorporate the Red T logo on your website, blog, or business card to signal to the world that you are part of the Red T advocacy. Just as the pink ribbon is associated with the fight against breast cancer, our logo will be increasingly associated with protecting our profession. The beauty of a strong visual symbol is that it works in any language and, in time, will no longer require an explanation. Just contact us at [email protected] and we will send you the logo file.
We also would welcome the help of PR writers and need people to be on the lookout for any T&I-related incidents. We’re already receiving a fair amount of alerts but would like to hear from countries in Africa, South America, and Asia.
How are you fundraising?
In our first two years, we did not engage in any fundraising but built Red T solely with the help of our enthusiastic volunteers, dedicated board members, and the pro bono attorneys at Orrick International. However, to be able to go to scale and hire staff to manage all our projects on the level that I envision, we need to raise money. Our first fundraiser will be held February 28 at Eriksen Translations in Brooklyn. It is the New York book launch of Nataly Kelly’s and Jost Zetzsche’s Found in Translation, and all profits from book sales will benefit Red T. People can also go to our website to donate, and since Red T is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, contributions are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. In this context, I also would like to thank your association for sponsoring Red T’s attendance at the GALA 2013 Miami conference, where we will be staffing a partner table and giving a talk about our activities.
How can people learn more about Red T?
Our activities are listed in detail on our website: www.red-t.org. In addition, we have a very active Facebook page where we post stories on T&Is at risk (https://www.facebook.com/TheRedT), and people can follow us on Twitter @TheRedT.