Eric Fair always wanted to protect and serve. He dreamed of being a police officer, or maybe a Presbyterian minister. Instead he ended up running an interrogation booth in Abu Ghraib.
“Consequence” tells the story of how, through a series of life choices that often seemed sensible at the time, Fair found himself conducting “enhanced interrogations” at Abu Ghraib, Camp Fallujah, and Camp Victory. His goal after college was to join the police, but he was told he needed military experience first, so he joined the Army instead, where he was first sent to the DLI to learn Arabic, and then, leaving all his Arabic behind, to Fort Campbell to serve with the 101 Airborne. He spent most of his Army service cooling his heels in Kentucky or fighting slightly ludicrous mock-wars in training exercises in the bayous of Louisiana. It was only at the end, after he’d already forgotten most of his Arabic, that he was finally sent to Egypt to do what he was trained to. The main thing he got out of that was a viral infection that, he discovered several years later, had probably triggered the heart failure he started experiencing while still a young man and a rookie cop.
Unable to work a beat any longer and unwilling to spend the rest of his life working a desk job, he uses his background to get a job in intelligence and goes over to Iraq first as a contractor with CACI, a private company that, according to its website, “provides information solutions and services in support of national security missions and government transformation for Intelligence, Defense, and Federal Civilian customers. CACI is a member of the Fortune 1000 Largest Companies, the Russell 2000 Index, and the S&P SmallCap600 Index. CACI’s sustained commitment to ethics and integrity defines its corporate culture and drives its success. With approximately 19,000 employees worldwide, CACI provides dynamic career opportunities for military veterans and industry professionals to support the nation’s most critical missions,” and then, having gotten invaluable experience with CACI, as an interrogator with the NSA.
Fair’s depiction of CACI’s activities are not nearly so positive as their website makes out. He describes total logistical chaos, with contractors dumped in Iraq without so much as body armor or a clear description of what they’re supposed to do. Most of them have little Arabic and less training or experience conducting interrogations, but they’re supposed to process hundreds of prisoners as rapidly as possible and “produce results.” American soldiers are dying every day and at least some of the prisoners are responsible for that and for various atrocities committed against other Iraqis. Asking nicely isn’t producing results, so the interrogators move on to other methods. The NSA is slightly more organized, but even more brutal: Fair spends his time there fighting off panic attacks and wanting “God to wait outside,” since he’s sure that God can’t possibly be with him here.
What is perhaps most alarming about Fair’s story is that he and most of the other interrogators are aware that what they are doing is not okay right from the get-go, but they do it anyway. Most of them are motivated by a mixture of not wanting to look like quitters and failures, and genuine moral motives: one of the incidents that haunts Fair the most is when he sees someone who is in fact guilty of heinous crimes being held in a stress position for so long that he wets himself and mewls incoherently from pain. The man probably “deserves” this, but Fair knows it’s a sin anyway.
“Consequence” is a disturbing read, although for anyone used to reading about, say, KGB/FSB interrogation techniques, most of what Fair details is comparatively light stuff, and the things that are really bad are blacked out, as if the text is a classified document that’s been released to the public. Even so, Fair is aware, as, I hope, were most Americans when the news of Abu Ghraib and other “enhanced interrogation” centers came out, that a line was crossed. Torture is, shall we say, not a binary but a spectrum, and just how far out onto the spectrum is it acceptable to go, when lives, including the lives of your fellow soldiers, are on the line? According to Fair, not actually very far at all.
This is mainly Fair’s own story, and extremely worth reading as such, but it also hints at a number of serious questions that the American government and the American public don’t seem willing to consider. For instance, the prioritizing of the lives of American military personnel over that of foreign civilians. Most Americans do not want to see American casualties, and rightly so, but this low tolerance for casualties means tactics such as high-altitude bombing, drone strikes, and “enhanced interrogation” of suspected terrorists and enemy combatants, all of which leads to more civilian casualties and more anti-American sentiments. At the same time, having such a large, well-trained military means people will want to use it, involving American troops in unpopular, poorly defined operations in far-away countries that may not have much strategic value. But once you get involved in a mess like Iraq or Afghanistan, you can’t just pull out without making the situation even worse than before.
“Consequence” ends with Fair attempting to pull his life back together after spiraling into alcoholism, violent outbursts, and suicidal depression, not to mention advanced heart failure. We can only hope that he manages, and that he finds the redemption that he is seeking.