Joel Mowbray

Though born in Lebanon, the safety and health compliance officer exudes more patriotism than most Americans. He loves his adopted country and wants nothing more than to serve it. When he was asked to translate Arabic communications in terror-related cases, he did so without hesitation.

And when he realized that his employer was shockingly ill-equipped to translate inmates’ Arabic correspondence—BOP houses well over 100 prisoners with “specific ties” to international Islamic terrorist organizations—he acted just as swiftly. He assumed—incorrectly, as it turns out—that the BOP cared as much as he did about dealing with the threat posed by Islamic radicalism inside the federal prisons.

Until Mansour’s whistleblowing found an audience on Capitol Hill last spring, the BOP had not hired even a single full-time Arabic translator. The agency had instead relied on an informal list of 17 BOP employees who claimed to have Arabic proficiency—it was the honor system, as they were never tested—and then retaliated against Mansour by dropping his name from the list.

Transparently in response to Mansour going public, BOP last year hired three Arabic translators (for the entire country), which is more fig leaf than substantive response given that many more translators are necessary to address the agency’s needs. BOP seems to have no interest in actually addressing its problems, though, as it could easily hire Mansour as an additional translator. But the agency did not even interview the native Arabic speaker when he applied for the position—a slot only created because he went public.

Here’s what BOP has done. After eight straight years of “outstanding” or “superior” performance evaluations, Mansour received only a “satisfactory” rating in 2004. He has repeatedly requested a transfer, almost any transfer. BOP has refused. Mansour was willing to take a demotion and over a $10,000 cut in salary. He even offered to pay his own moving expenses. BOP inexplicably has refused.

While BOP’s motivations could probably be chalked up as nothing more than the product of stubborn pride in refusing to admit its own mistakes, the potential consequences for Mansour are anything but typical. He could die. Anyone who reads a newspaper knows that that is hardly hyperbolic.

Before it refuses yet another transfer request from Mansour, the BOP must ask itself a simple question: how much is its pride really worth?

Joel Mowbray

Joel Mowbray, who got his start with, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.

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