CNN on Plight of Afghan Interpreters Terminated for Failing Polygraphs

Abdul Rashid Shirzad: Terminated for failing a polygraph “test” and denied Special Immigrant Visa

In a report presented by foreign correspondent Anna Coren, CNN chronicles the plight of Afghan linguists who served with United States forces but have been denied Special Immigrant Visas. Both interpreters showcased in the video report were fired because they failed pseudoscientific polygraph “tests.”

The following is an excerpt from the written article accompanying the video report:

Abdul Rashid Shirzad…served for five years as a linguist working alongside America’s military elite, translating for US Special Forces.

He showed CNN photographs of his time on missions in the Kejran Valley in Uruzgan province working with the US Navy’s SEAL Team 10. But according to Shirzad, his service has now amounted to a death sentence. The US government rejected his Special Immigrant Visa, and he said that’s made him a target for the Taliban.

“If they catch me they’re going to kill me, kill my kids and my wife too. It’s payback time for them you know,” he said.

The father of three said his contract with the US military was terminated in 2014 after he also failed a polygraph test. He had applied for his visa the year before.

But Shirzad’s letters of recommendation from SEAL commanders, seen by CNN, reflect a translator who went above and beyond duty. They describe him as a “valuable and necessary asset” who “braved enemy fire” and “undoubtedly saved the lives of Americans and Afghans alike.”

Shirzad said he was excited to work with the Americans, and became a lead liaison between US and Afghan Special Forces. One recommendation letter for the visa, from a US commander, described how Shirzad took part in 63 “high-risk direct action combat missions” and was “vital” to the success of his team’s operations. It detailed how he helped the recovery of a team member who was caught in a blast and left with life threatening injuries.

Shirzad said he has no idea what he did wrong and never received an explanation for his termination. His visa rejection letter from the US Embassy stated “lack of faithful and valuable service.”

Sohail Pardis with U.S. Army colonel
(Source: Afghans Left Behind Association, @AllieLeft on Twitter)

The situation for the second interpreter showcased, Sohail Pardis, is more grim. Pardis worked as an interpreter for U.S. military contractor Mission Essential Personnel from 17 May 2011 until 18 August 2012 when, as CNN reports, he was terminated after failing a polygraph “test.” Pardis was subsequently denied a Special Immigrant Visa.

Mission Essential Personnel letter regarding Sohail Pardis’ employment
(Source: Afghans Left Behind Association, @AllieLeft on Twitter)

According to family members, on 12 May 2021, the Taliban stopped Pardis at a checkpoint, dragged him out of his car, and beheaded him. CNN showed a blurred copy of the following photograph, which we believe readers should see unedited:

Sohail Pardis’ corpse
(Source: Afghans Left Behind Association, @AllieLeft on Twitter)

CNN correspondent Anna Coren spoke with Pardis’ friend and fellow Special Immigrant Visa reject Abdulhaq Ayoubi and visited Pardis’ gravesite. The video report may be viewed here.

Numerous other Afghan interpreters who served honorably with U.S. forces have been denied Special Immigrant Visas because of failed polygraph “tests.” (See our article from last week, Afghan Interpreters Denied Special Immigrant Visas Based on Polygraph Results.)

It is unconscionable that Special Immigrant Visas are being denied based on polygraph outcomes. In 2002, the National Academy of Sciences completed a thorough review of the scientific evidence on polygraphs and advised that “[polygraph testing’s] accuracy in distinguishing actual or potential security violators from innocent test takers is insufficient to justify reliance on its use in employee security screening in federal agencies.”

Please write to President Biden and your members of Congress and urge them to reverse this policy. See Special Immigrant Visas Should Not Be Denied Based on Polygraph Results on the Action Alerts forum of the message board for links and suggested wordings.

U.S. Embassy in Yemen Reportedly Forces Local Employees to Submit to Polygraph “Testing”

Embassy of the United States, Sana'a, Yemen
Embassy of the United States, Sana’a, Yemen

The Arabic-language website Nashwan News reports that the U.S. embassy in Sana’a, Yemen is forcing all locally hired staff to undergo polygraph interrogations, and that any who fail to pass will be terminated. The policy has reportedly had a severely negative effect on employee morale, with some submitting their resignations in protest. has e-mailed an inquiry to the embassy’s public affairs section, asking:

  • Is the Nashwan News article essentially correct?
  • Is there anything in the article with which the Embassy takes issue?
  • If indeed local employees are being subjected to polygraph screening, why has such a policy been implemented? Who ordered it?
  • Who is conducting the polygraph examinations?
  • In what language are the polygraph examinations being conducted? Is/are the polygraph operator(s) fluent in Arabic?
  • What questions are employees being required to answer?
  • Is there precedent for this? What other U.S. Embassies have enacted a similar requirement for local employees?

This post will be updated upon receipt of a response. (See update below.)

It should be noted that in 2002, the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, completed a thorough review (10.3 mb PDF) of the scientific evidence on polygraphy and concluded that “[polygraph testing’s] accuracy in distinguishing actual or potential security violators from innocent test takers is insufficient to justify reliance on its use in employee security screening in federal agencies.” There is no documentation that the polygraph has ever caught a spy, terrorist, or saboteur. Al-Qaeda’s Encyclopedia of Jihad notes that “lie detectors are nothing more than a myth to trick the accused” and an article titled “The Myth of the Lie Detector” published in an Iraqi insurgent publication explains how to countermeasure the polygraph. has prepared the following English translation of the full Nashwan News article , which was originally published on Tuesday, 26 March 2013:

U.S. Embassy in Sanaa Demeans Its Yemeni Employees by Forcing Them to Submit to the Lie Detector

After a spate of wrongful terminations to which local guards at U.S. embassy facilities in Sana’a were subjected, a source close to the embassy reported that it has notified all local embassy employees without exception of its intention to subject each employee to lie detector (polygraph) testing after implementing it in a limited fashion with respect to some employees.

In an exclusive statement to Nashwan News, the source clarified that the embassy provided no justification for this measure, which has agitated all employees and made them feel that they are the objects of suspicion and doubt on the part of the embassy, in whose service most of them had spent long years without a hint of doubt with regard to any of them.

The embassy employees found no one who would listen to them after the embassy refused to meet with the Local Staff Association there, which resulted in the decision of all of the employees to dissolve the association in protest against the embassy’s refusal to even permit it to meet with embassy employees.

In protest against these wrongful and demeaning measures, a number of employees submitted their collective resignations because they felt the measures denigrate the dignity of Yemeni employees, who are known for their sensitivity to such abuse, especially as these measures were, for the first time in their professional lives, limited solely to Yemeni employees, and not their American colleagues, and as they feel that those who are subjected to such a device as this are criminals: thieves and spies. The embassy gave them no choice but to submit to the measure despite the fact that the embassy periodically refers employees to the Criminal Investigative Laboratory for a criminal records check.

The source expressed the employees’ hope that the president of the republic would intervene with the embassy to halt these immoral, demeaning measures, protecting their dignity and human rights. Moreover, this measure will result in the termination of everyone who fails to pass the test, and any employee who has a disagreement with his supervisor in the future may be threatened with a polygraph test.

This measure comes in the wake of a recent series of wrongful measures by the embassy against employees. A little over two weeks ago, approximately 50 local guards were wrongfully terminated. Afterwards, there was a clampdown on entry procedures for employees, with daily exaggerated searches before their entering the embassy compound.

It goes without saying that those who utilize this device don’t have faith in its accuracy, as it has a substantial error rate, measuring nothing more than internal bodily reactions and resulting in error merely because of anxiety and confusion, which has been grounds for its exclusion from courts in all countries and its restriction to the criminal and intelligence spheres.

Update: In an e-mail sent on Saturday, 30 March 2013, information officer Vanessa de Bruyn of the U.S. embassy, Sana’a  declined to address’s questions, writing, “Thank you for your email.  Unfortunately, we only deal with local press here at the Embassy.  I advise you to contact the U.S. State Department’s press office and/or Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs for more information.” We have sent our questions to the State Department’s duty press officer and will again update this post upon receiving a response.

Update 2: Nashwan News reports that U.S. ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein, at a press conference convened at the U.S. embassy in Sana’a, declined to respond to a question about Nashwan News’ report that Yemeni employees are being forced to submit to lie detector testing, replying, “We do not discuss our security measures.”

Update 3: In an e-mail sent on Monday, 1 April 2013, U.S. State Department press officer Katherine M. Pfaff responds: “We do not discuss security  measures taken to ensure the security and safety of our American and Locally Employed Staff at our missions overseas.”

Update 4: Diplopundit confirms that local employees at the U.S. embassy in Sana’a have been required to submit to polygraph screening and cites documentation of polygraph screening at other diplomatic facilities. See, “US Embassy Yemen to Polygraph All Local Employees, Is $4.55M Poly-Money Well Spent?