Left Behind

Scott Pelley On The Plight Of Iraqis Who Helped The U.S.

This segment was originally broadcast on March 11, 2006. It was updated on Aug. 15, 2007.

When U.S. troops invaded Iraq, they had a major handicap - they didn't speak the language. There would have been no progress, and likely more American dead, had it not been for Iraqi citizens who volunteered to serve our armed forces as translators.

Many thousands of Iraqis believed in the cause. They signed on as drivers, construction workers and office workers. But now they and their families are being hunted down by insurgents bent on killing them for collaborating. No wonder many are fleeing Iraq, desperate for asylum. But as they appeal to the U.S., many feel they're being left behind.

As correspondent Scott Pelley reports, they're finding that America, which was so eager for their help in the beginning, is not so eager to save them now.

"I lost everything. I lost my country, I can not stay there, anymore, and I lost all my friends. I can't see them, I lost my family, and I feel like a prisoner," says a man, who 60 Minutes will identify as "Rami."

Rami used to be a translator for U.S. forces; he's now in hiding in Syria, and for the interview with Pelley, he insisted on wearing a disguise to protect his family still in Iraq.

Three years ago, Rami worked side-by-side with American soldiers in a guard tower on a U.S. Base. Then, the insurgents figured out he was working for America. "They called my … at my house and say that 'We're going to kill you if you…because of your involvement with Americans,'" Rami recalls.

At first, Rami says he didn't care. "But, then they said that 'We're going to hurt your family.'" Rami says he went to the American soldiers and asked for protection but says that request was turned down. "So, I felt like I was left alone without any protection," he recalls.

Asked what he did at that point, Rami says, "Well, I had to quit. I felt like I was abandoned.

"He has no life. He's hiding all the time," says Private Joe Seemiller, who was Rami's American partner in the guard tower. When they first met, Seemiller says he didn't know whether he could trust Rami, but says that over time, they became "pretty good friends," not just co-workers.

Asked if he thinks of Rami in the same category as an American soldier, Seemiller says, "Absolutely. He gave up his entire life for this country. And now he's stuck. And there's no one to help him. And we owe him whatever service we can provide to make him safe."

What do we owe him?

Says Seemiller, "Bring him here. Bring him home. He can stay at my apartment. I got a spare bed for him."

No one knows the work of the Iraqi allies better than retired Major General Paul Eaton. He was in charge of training the Iraqi army in 2003 and 2004. "I have no doubt that the translators have saved a great number of American lives," he tells Pelley.

And Eaton believes America owes them the same.

"Do you think it is politically impossible to open the doors to immigration to Iraqis because it's an admission that the war has not gone well?" Pelley asks.

"The war is not going well. Everybody knows it. The president of the United States and our Congress need to admit that a population is at risk. At risk because they have thrown their lot in with us," Eaton says.