Pelco employee translates for President Bush
CLOVIS, Calif.--As Pelco's international marketing liaison, Rushan Abbas stays pretty close to home, traveling only once a year or so to attend a show. However, as a translator with national security clearance, Abbas has visited Prague, the White House, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in just the past year.
Abbas was born in East Turkistan, a formerly independent nation populated largely by people of the Uyghur ethnicity now governed by China and known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, located north of Tibet and west of Mongolia. She was living here in the United States as a student in 1989 when the first President George Bush granted Chinese students asylum following the events in Tiananmen Square. She is now one of few speakers of the Uyghur language in the United States, and one of very few who possesses security clearance. When the United States overthrew the Taliban government in Afghanistan after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, Abbas was tapped to help the military interrogate prisoners who were rounded up and brought to the U.S. military base in Cuba, as Xinjiang borders Afghanistan and some ethnic Uyghurs were captured.
"I didn't want to be in the middle of it," Abbas said, "but [the U.S. military] told me I was the only qualified person who could get security clearance." Her then-husband reminded her, she said, that when she became an American citizen, she took an oath to serve the country, "and I guess this was my chance. So I lived there for nine months."
Her job was very difficult, she said, as she had to often translate both the words and emotion of the American interrogators. "But a lot of people were just in the wrong place at the wrong time," when they were captured by American soldiers, "so it was really important to have someone who speaks the native language and who understands the culture." She feels she helped the military to identify the detainees, "and I think my service was very valuable. I'm really grateful for the opportunity."
At the same time, it was a difficult period in her life. She had three young children at home in California.
Abbas continues to go to Guantanamo, sometimes with very little notice beforehand, but she has been pulled into other roles as well. Shortly before the Democracy and Security International Conference on June 5, attended by President Bush, Abbas was contacted by the U.S. government to serve as a translator for three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee Rebiya Kadeer, whom Abbas actually knows from when she was a child in Xinjiang. Later, on July 3, she traveled to the White House to translate during a 45-minute meeting between Kadeer and the First Lady, Laura Bush.
"I've known her since I was a little girl," Abbas said, "and being able to travel with her and translate for her with the President and First Lady has been a great honor."