Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (2014–…): Season 1, Episode 21 - Military Translators - full transcript

Translators who have aided the U.S. Military in Afghanistan and Iraq are in great danger in their home countries, but red tape is making it impossible for many of them to leave.

Are you wondering how healthy the food you are eating is? Check it -
Welcome to "Last Week Tonight."

I'm John Oliver.

Just time for a quick recap of the week,

a week in which we collectively freaked the fuck out

over Ebola, but instead of talking

about all the hysteria and the misreporting,

let's just take a moment to focus on the incredible actions

of health care workers from Doctors Without Borders

in West Africa

to Dallas nurse Nina Pham,

who helped treat the first victim diagnosed

in America and in doing so contracted Ebola herself.

She's in hospital right now, and this week,

she released a statement.

Holy shit.

She caught Ebola while
helping people,

and her first reaction is
to write a thank-you note.

I find that excessively polite,
and I'm British.

Because let me tell you,
if I were in her position,

this would be my statement.


"Fuck this disease
and the fucking fruit bats

"who probably
gave it to us,

"and to whoever is
responsible for whatever

"equipment or safety lapse
that led to my infection,

"I will lose my last breath
to cough Ebola straight

"into your incompetent mouths.

"Hugs and kisses,
John Oliver.

P.S. I hope those kisses
give you double Ebola!"

But let's--

let's not talk about Ebola.

Let's just talk
about last Thursday.

How was yours?

Because the only thing
I can remember from it

is the last 3 seconds of
"How To Get Away With Murder."

Why is your penis on
a dead girl's phone?

The only acceptable
answer to that question

is "That's not my penis."

That's the only OK response,
but I will tell you,

though, who had
the most spectacular

Thursday of anyone
on Earth--Vladimir Putin.

Now it started
pretty normally for him

with the publication
of an interview in which he

accused the U.S.
of blackmail, followed

by a military parade
in Belgrade featuring

Serbian soldiers
in full camouflage.

Although I will say
the only way that

that camouflage is going
to work is if they are going

to war inside
Steven Tyler's closet,

but still--still nothing
out of the ordinary

for Putin yet, other than
that it caused him to

arrive extremely late
to dinner in Milan.

MAN: Mr. Putin arrived fashionably late,

you could say,
for a gala dinner in Milan,

his first formal meeting
with European leaders

since June.

Look at everybody watching
him approach late.

That is a dickish
way to walk in.

That is one step short
of bursting in wearing

mirrored sunglasses
whilst this plays.

Did somebody order
a white Russian?

Now unfortunately--

this made him even later

to a meeting
with Angela Merkel,

which then didn't finish
until 1:30 in the morning,

and all the orange juice
and Pellegrino in the world

is not going to
make that OK.

And Putin still wasn't done.

MAN: He met with Merkel
till 1:30 in the morning.

Then he still had
enough energy to go

to Silvio Berlusconi's villa.

He was at Berlusconi's
villa until 3:30 A.M.,

where they shared a late-night meal that included

white truffles
and tiramisu.

You have got to hand it
to the Vladimir Putin

because the single most
disgustingly decadent

thing a human being can
possibly do is to eat

truffles and tiramisu
with Silvio Berlusconi

in Milan at 3 A.M.

What a Thursday!

What a Thursday!

And finally, finally,
it was also a big week

for McDonald's, makers
of the world's most

affordable heart disease.

It's the restaurant
whose logo represents

the two massive spikes
in blood pressure you'll

experience after eating there,
but they rolled

out a bold new ad
campaign this week called

"Our food.
Your questions."

All right, McDonald's.
Um, what sort

of breakfast hours?

Does McDonald's
even sell real food?

What part of the chicken
is a chicken nugget?

What's in your
chicken nuggets?

The pink slime,
what's up with that?

MAN: How much do you
care about the people

that eat your food?

OK. Interesting technique, and to be fair,

they're not just
collecting questions

from a recording device
that makes you look like

a vagrant getting into
an argument with a poster.

They're also answering
them on their web site

and in a series
of videos featuring a guy

from "MythBusters."

I'm Grant Imahara,
and I've spent years

finding the truth.

Now I'm going
across America to find out

how McDonald's makes
its food.

So ask your questions,
and I'll find the answers.

Yeah. I've got a question.

Why the fuck are
you doing this?

Uh, please round up your
answer to the nearest dollar,

but I'm sorry, I'm sorry.

You were independently
investigating the company

paying you to conduct
an independent investigation.

So you know what?

I've been through
the whole process.

I know exactly what goes into this
all-beef patty.


There's no fillers,
no preservatives,

no additives.

It's all beef, and there's
no pink slime.

That's good.

That's really good.


There's something a little suspicious

about the way they're
celebrating the fact that

their food is made
out of food,

but the questions people
have about McDonald's go

way beyond just their food.

So yesterday, we put our
own McDonald's question board

up here in New York City.

Here are some
of the results.

Hello, McDonald's?

What's up, McDonald's?

What's up, Mickey D's!

How the fuck does
this pay stub

for a single mother who's worked
at a Chicago McDonald's

for 7 years show that her
take-home pay for, what, more

than 40 hours of work
is only $292.52?

Is there somebody
in there? Hello?

Why is my face like this?


Am I a serial killer?

Because I look like I
could very easily be

a serial killer.

Why are there currently
7 lawsuits against

McDonald's and franchise
operators alleging wage theft?

And why do these
allegations include

failure to pay overtime,
forcing off-the-clock work,

and engaging in
a practice of managerial

alteration of time records?

Please tell me
this is cow blood.

It's not!

Stupid Ron, stupid Ron!

Moving on, moving on,
and let me warn you.

Our main story tonight
is going to end with you

getting extremely
angry at a donkey.

That might not make
sense right now,

but it is going to,
so let's begin.


We've all seen
the comic ways

in which it can go wrong.

The Chinese signs
that say things like

"Do drunken driving"

or "Fuck vegetables."

I mean, but to be fair,
yes, that's a silly sign,

but at the same time,
fuck vegetables.

Am I right? Am I right?

Or--or maybe you've seen
the YouTube videos where

people put songs
like "Let It Go"

into Google Translate,
then translate them

back into English
and sing the results.

I've got to say,
that would be an amazing tone

for the "Frozen" sequel--
a bitter woman warbling

about defeat
in a radioactive ice castle.

I'm in! I am in!

Look. Bad translation
can be a lot of fun

when the stakes are low,
but if you're in a war zone,

accurate translation
can be the difference

between life and death,
and over the last decade,

good local interpreters
in Afghanistan and Iraq

have saved countless
American lives.

Let me show you
an Afghani man named Srosh

translating a warning
about some IEDs.

SROSH: He says
that "there is IEDs.

"Someone told me
that there is IEDs

in the street."

OK. Thank you.

OK. You see, that is
a good message

to get exactly right.

You don't want someone
saying, "Oh, to be

"honest, my Pashto's
a little shaky,

"but there's either
an IED or an IKEA

"behind those
rocks somewhere.

"Also, I think he
said something

"about fuck vegetables.

I think."

Ask any veteran,
and they will tell you that

translators risked their
own lives working for us,

and because they did that,
they are permanent

targets for insurgents.

Here's what the translator
you just saw--

Srosh--has been
up to lately.

You're probably
thinking right now,

"Well, we need to
move heaven and earth

"to get that man
and his family and bring

them to safety,"

and the fact that we are not
is what this story is

about because Srosh,
like a shocking number

of interpreters,
has applied for a visa,

but it's stuck
in bureaucratic limbo,

and the crazy thing is
there is absolutely no

good reason for that.

Congress passed bills
in 2008 and 2009

providing thousands
of special immigrant visas

for local nationals who
worked with the U.S. military,

but despite huge demand,
very few were issued.

For instance, through
the Afghanistan bill,

we could have given out
up to 1,500 visas a year.

Guess how many we
gave out in 2011.

It was 3.

The number of visas
for Afghanis who risked their

lives for us should not
be so low that relatively

stupid toddlers
can count up to it

or relatively
intelligent horses.

"1, 2--shouldn't it
be more than this--3."

Now to be fair, things
have improved slightly

recently thanks in part
to pressure from groups

like The List Project
and IRAP,

but it is still not moving
nearly fast enough.

Help us understand just
how difficult it is

for Afghans who worked
with U.S. forces to get

these special visas.

It's next to impossible.

I would say it's akin
to literally

winning the lottery.

Yeah, but it should not
be like a lottery,

where the odds are terrible.

These people risked
their lives for us.

It should be more like
a Little League award ceremony

where everyone's
a winner because they're

all an important part
of the fucking team.


there are--

there are currently
thousands of interpreters

with visa applications pending,

and if you're wondering
whose fault this is,

the State Department has
a surprising answer.

MAN, VOICE-OVER: Jarrett Blanc
is a deputy special

representative for
Afghanistan and Pakistan

at the State Department.

He blames some of the delays
on the applicants themselves.

A lot of those
people are actually--

maybe not quite half
of them are--

control their own
timing essentially.

So they've started
the application,

or perhaps they've gotten through
the first step,

but they need to finish their
own paperwork

before we can take
the next step with them.

Ho ho ho!

That is some first-class
victim blaming.

You are on the edge
of saying, "Well, look.

"Maybe the Taliban
wouldn't be following

"them around if these
translators weren't

"dressed so slutty.

Have you thought
about that?"

But since he brings up
the paperwork, let's just

take a look at it
because applying for

a Special Immigrant Visa is
a 14-step process,

which is a lot.

Bear in mind that even
getting off heroin

only takes 12.

OK. So are you
ready for this shit?

Let's do it because
first, first you've got

your DS-157 form.

This contains all your
basic information.

It also needs to come
with a verification

of employment letter
from an HR director,

as well as a letter
of recommendation

from a direct supervisor.

Now if you can't find
your former supervisor,

which is entirely
possible, don't worry.

You just need a DS-158
supervisor locator form,

although that will only
work if your supervisor

was directly employed
by the military.

If they were
a contractor, which they

probably were, you're
shit out of luck.

You will also need
to submit a proof

of nationality form
and a copy of your

employee badge because no one
has ever lost one of those,

and once you've filled
all of this in,

you simply submit it
for approval and then wait

for anything between
a few months and a few years,

and if you're approved,
then congratulations

because you are
at the petition stage.

For this, you are going
to need your I-360 form,

which is basically the DS-157 form
all over again. *

Oh, and, uh, remember
to bring that to your

interview at the U.S. embassy,
although in Afghanistan--

funny story--they're not
scheduling those

at the moment partly
because the system's

so backed up and partly
because this whole program

is set to expire
at the end of the year

for no fucking reason

At this stage, you as
a translator may feel

a little like this.

But don't, don't because
there is light

at the end of the tunnel.

Well, not light so much
as the DS-260 form!

And this little
beauty contains such

questions as...

To which I'm guess
your answer is,

"Ooh. To be honest,
my main plan was to

"not get killed
by the Taliban.

"I hadn't really worked
out a plan of attack

for my sex life yet."

But don't worry,
don't worry.

Don't worry.

Don't worry because after
all this paperwork,

plus, of course,
a visa interview,

a medical examination,
a security clearance,

and paying out
of pocket for passports,

and your own plane tickets,

you get to come to America

or, as one translator
discovered, not.

And this is
9 months ago.

So what's the problem?

What the fuck?

By now, the ghost
of Franz Kafka is thinking,

"Don't you dare call
this Kafkaesque.

I don't want my name
anywhere near this shit."

Because compared to this,

waking up as
a cockroach is normal!

This whole process
makes no sense,

and I understand the need
for security screenings,

but America has done
this quicker before.

MAN: After the Vietnam War,
the U.S. resettled

140,000 refugees
in just 4 months.

We did it perfectly
at the end of the Vietnam War,

and there is
a sentence you don't often

get to say out loud.

What we did was we
took every one to Guam

and processed them
there in safety.

So why aren't we just
doing that again?

What else are we
gonna do with Guam?

It's Guam.

It's 200 square miles
of palm trees

and storage space.

It's Guam.

And while the U.S.
government may have

doubts about some
of these translators,

the troops who served
alongside them

certainly don't.

Because you
remember Srosh?

Well, the Marines he
served with created

a crowd-funding page
to finance his medical exams,

where you can read
comments such as

"Thanks, brother, for helping
us survive and return

to our families alive,"

and, "Thanks for saving our
ass so many times.

Time to get you state side."

And it is both inspiring
and horrifying that

the life of a man who saved
Americans is in the hands

of the same process
through which we finance

Zach Braff's
shitty movies.

And--and let me--

let me show you--
let me show you

just one more case.

Mohammad, an Afghani
translator who started

his application
in September 2010

and finally made it to America 3
years and 4 months later.

So at least he's here.

There is that,
but this was the atmosphere

in which he had to
do that waiting.

The people who tried
to hurt me, first they

killed my dad,
and at the next stage,

they tried to kill my brothers.

They took my little brother,
which I love him

more than everyone.

Once, they took him,
and they told me to pay

almost $35,000.

That's right.

They kidnapped
his 3-year-old brother,

and he spent his entire
life savings to get him back,

and at that point,
it was already 2 1/2 years

into his application process,
and having gone

through all that,
when Mohammad finally got

his visa, a clerical error
resulted in his name

being officially changed
to FNU Mohammad, which is

an acronym for
First Name Unknown,

meaning that on official
documents, to all intents

and purposes,
his name is now Fnu.

And Fnu is fnot a fnucking fname.

And--and I know we can
do this quicker, not just

because of Guam,
because there is at least one

other documented case of
an evacuee from Iraq who

did get processed faster.

Smoke, the Iraqi donkey,
is in the U.S.

Smoke the donkey wandered
onto a military base

in 2008 and was befriended
by some U.S. Marines.

WOMAN: They have
brought the donkey

to the United States.

Smoke is now an American.

MAN: It was a long process.

I wanted to say we
started this probably

back in September of 2010.

Remember who else
started his application

in September of 2010?


It took Smoke the donkey
8 months to get to America.

It took Mohammad
nearly 3 1/2 years.

See? I told you this
story was gonna end

with you getting fucking
pissed off at a donkey.

Fuck you, Smoke!

You hee-hawing
piece of shit!

I'm sorry. I'm sorry.

I'm sorry. It's not
your fault, Smoke.

You're just emblematic
of a much larger problem,

you hee-hawing
piece of shit.

Now listen.

We have to fix this system,
but before we can

even do that,
we have to extend it.

In Iraq, the visa program
expired at the end

of last month,
which I guess is fine.

It's not like we're gonna
need translators again

there anytime soon,
and in Afghanistan,

they're scheduled to stop
issuing visas altogether

on December 31, meaning
that any translator like

Mohammad will be forced
to find a friend

and invest in a very
good two-pieced pantomime

donkey costume to
have any fucking hope

of getting into
this country.

I'm honored to say that
we are actually joined

by Mohammad this evening.

Ladies and gentlemen,
please welcome Mohammad!

Sit down, buddy.
Sit down.


First--first, thank you
so much for being here

and for everything
you've done, Mohammad.

Uh, Fnu. Sorry. Fnu. It's Fnu.

Ha ha ha!

Which do you prefer--
Mohammad or Fnu?

Which is better?

Well, now it's
Fnu, so I have--

It's Fnu,
it's Fnu, it's Fnu.

Well, Fnu, I have
a few questions for you.

Now we've just seen how crazy
the visa process is.

As a translator,
I'm interested,

what is the Pashto word

for bureaucratic

What is it?

OK. Nice. That's good.

So at least we've all
learned a bit of useful

Pashto this evening
if nothing else.

Look. I want to--
a couple of things

just about your
situation because while

working with
the U.S. military,

you were shot
at twice and survived

an IED explosion.

So I really guess
I first want to ask

why did you choose
to do that job?

I was working
with British forces,

and during that
time, I met

with one American

He recruited me,
and he came to me like,

"Come work with us as
a translator.

We need people to
help us,"

and I was not
by my own.

I was like, "OK. I must talk to my family."

So I went and talked
to my family,

I talked to my dad.

He was glad.

He was really excited.

He was like, "This is
a great opportunity.

"You're gonna be helping
your country,

"and you're supporting
the U.S. troops,

"that they're here
for your country,

to rebuild
your country."

So the next day, I signed
the contract and stand up

for being a translator
to support the U.S. troops

or the coalition forces
and help my country.

Let's talk a little
about your family now

because your mom
and your siblings,

they have left Afghanistan,
is that correct?

Why did they leave?

Because once the Taliban,

they kidnapped
my little brother.

One time, they killed my dad,
and the second time

when they kidnapped
my little brother,

so it was too much.

We didn't want to take
the third-time risk.

I have to pay them.

They left me a note,
a ransom letter that says

I have to pay $35,000.

I paid them their money,
and they released

my da--my brother.

I wish that could have
happened to my dad, too,

I could have bought him, too, but that
didn't happen.

So now they're hiding.

And they're hiding,
and they're involved

in this hail Mary humanitarian
visa application.

Now where this
bureaucracy gets even

crazier is if you had been
an Iraqi interpreter

your family would have
been eligible to come

here under category 5 of the Direct Access

but Afghanistan
does not have a similar

program for no fucking
reason whatsoever.

My family got--they
got hurt because of me.

I lost my dad because
of me, because of my job,

so the process that they have for us is just
a single man.

I worked for them.

"Here. This is
the visa, just you.

Come to the United States,"

Um, I guess I have
one final question.

Is there a word
in Pashto to convey

deep gratitude
for someone's service

but also profound shame

in how they've
been treated?

Not really.

Heh. There isn't really
in English either.

I can't thank you enough for being
here, Mohammad,

and everything.

Mohammad, ladies
and gentlemen.

Thank you.
Thanks so much.

I really, really
appreciate it.

Thank you.

And now this.

I've been in Congress
for 43 years.

I've been in Congress
for 19 years.

33 years I've
been in Congress.

Hey. I've been in
Congress 3 months.

I've been in Congress...
I've been in Congress...

I've been in Congress...
25 years.

I've been in Congress
the last 17 months.

I've been
in Congress now...

...for 18 years.

Here we are. I've been
here for 5 years.

4 1/2.
24 years.

24 years that
I've been here.

I've been in...
Congress for 21 years.

3 years that I know
of that I've been in Congress.


14 years.

4 or 5 months now.

13 years
and about 8 days.

16 months.

MAN: How many years
have you been

in the Congress?

This is my 15th year.

Thank you.

And finally tonight, the Supreme Court,

their latest term began
earlier this month,

and it's going to be
one to watch.

Unfortunately, we won't
actually be able to watch

any of it because
the Supreme Court does not

allow cameras during
oral arguments,

and I'll let
Justice Scalia explain why.

If I really thought
it would educate

the American people,
I would be all for it,

but what most of the American
people would see would be

30-second, 15-second
takeouts from our argument,

and those takeouts would not be
characteristic of what we do.

You know, he might
be right about that.

Television can be very
irresponsible, which is

why you never want
to, for instance, do

an interview in front
of a blue screen

because someone might
then superimpose

a creepy orgy behind you
because that's the sort

of terrible thing
that television can do.

So the point is--
the point is there aren't

any cameras,
but they do release

audio recordings
of their arguments,

so TV does play 15-second clips
of the Supreme Court anyway.

It's just that they have to present it like this.

Suppose a state said...

OK. For a start,
that is a terrible rendering

of Justice Kagan.

You just made her look
like Jonah Hill in a wig,

and also--also,
it was boring,

and that's a problem
because what happens

at the Supreme Court is way
too important not to pay

attention to,
and yet the ban renders

any coverage
basically unwatchable,

but I think we may have
a solution,

and it's learning
a lesson from this.

Think about it.

If someone made you
just listen to the audio

of that, you would punch them
repeatedly in the face,

but the visual
makes it irresistible.

Why? Because a cat's paws
are doing things you

wouldn't expect them to do,
and if it works

for shitty piano music,
it can work

for the Supreme Court,
and that is why this week

we spent an incredible
amount of time

and an almost immoral amount
of resources to produce

an entire Supreme Court

featuring real animals
with fake paws.

Settle down,
settle down, settle down.

Let me show you this
puppy in action.

One of the current
cases in the court

is Holt v. Hobbs.

It's about whether
a prison can require

a Muslim inmate to
trim his beard

for security reasons.

Now you may be thinking,
"John, I do not want to

hear a discussion
about that."


Don't you?

Now let's assume I'm
in a religion that

requires polygamy.

Um, could I say
to the prison,

"Well, OK. I won't
have 3 wives.

Just let me
have 2 wives."

I mean, you're still
violating your religion

it seems to me if he
allows his beard to be

clipped to one inch, isn't it?

Well, it is the state's
burden that is explicit

in the statute.

The only limit they
impose on the hair

on top of your head is
it can't extend

below the middle
of the neck.

The difference between
the hair on top of your

head and the hair
on the front of your head

is not even rational.

Be honest. You now want
to hear the entire

hour-long oral
argument, don't you?

No, no.

But I will give you
just another taste.

As far as searching
the beard is concerned,

why can't the prison just
give the inmate a comb?

You could develop
whatever kind of comb

you want and say,
"Comb your beard."

And if there's anything in
there, if there's a SIM card

in there or a revolver
or anything else

you think...

can be hidden in
a half-inch beard,

a tiny revolver,
it will fall out.

Those dry constitutional
arguments are now

must-see television,
and that is why tonight

as a public service
we are releasing raw video

at this address
of closeups, medium shots,

and wide shots from our
real animals/fake paws

Supreme Court,
and we are inviting

all news networks to use
this footage to make

Supreme Court arguments
more compelling to watch.

We have all 9 justices
for you:

Chief Justice Roberts,
there's Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas,

Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito,
Sotomayor, and Kagan,

who, I will warn you,
would not sit still.

And--and we have almost
everything you need

for full coverage.

You need Justice Alito
taking notes?

Done. Not a problem.

You need Ginsburg
adjusting her glasses?

You got it.

You need Samuel Alito
having a drink of water?

No problem.

You need Roberts yawning?

He'll yawn for you!

You need Alito covering
his ears with his paws

or banging a gavel

or humping Elena Kagan?

We have all of
those things.

Why? Because the Alito dog was fucking amazing!

Plus we have two lawyers
for you to choose from,

also a duck assistant,
and a court stenographer

who's just doing
the best she can to keep up.

The entire toolkit is
here for anyone to do

with as they please,
and if there are not full

reenactments of every
major court case

of the past 4 years
online by next Sunday,

you will never
see us here again.

That's our show.
Thank you so much for watching.

Good night!