There are many exceptional accounts written about the war in Iraq--so many that, despite their merits, I must admit to experiencing a bit of “war book” fatigue. So, for a story of this stripe to rise above the fray, it has to possess something special that sets it apart. Eric Fair’s Consequence very much does. Chronicling his experiences as an interrogator in prisons, including the infamous Abu Ghraib, Fair’s disarmingly matter-of-fact memoir addresses the moral ambiguity and emotional toll our soldiers’ actions take. Yes, Consequence fuels the debate about enhanced interrogation techniques, but in a human rather than partisan way, and in doing so, holds a mirror to the country’s face and asks: Do you like what you see?
Here, Mr. Fair talks about his response to a soldier who was grappling with his own consequences.
I knew, before I ever sat down behind a keyboard to write about Iraq, that exploring and processing my memories of interrogations at Abu Ghraib and Fallujah would be a chaotic experience. It took me nine years to write this book. As the book took shape, the reality of the damage I’d done to other human beings was impossible to ignore. I did not write this book to qualify my actions or compare my transgressions to others. I did not write with the hope of healing or an expectation of judgment or forgiveness. I am not trying to chart my way back. I wrote this book to tell the truth about what I did in Iraq. Nothing more.
A few days after the book’s official release, I conducted an interview in New York City. I suggested that some of the consequences of my actions, as well as the consequences of our overall interrogation policy, are now unavoidable. But I also suggested that by addressing our failures and changing the way we treat our prisoners of war, we could still affect the narrative moving forward. As I rode the bus back to Pennsylvania that afternoon, a message appeared on my phone. A young army veteran who had served as a contractor in an American prison in Afghanistan had heard my interview. He wasn’t familiar with my personal story, but he was familiar with what I had done. He had seen the same things in Afghanistan and failed to stop them. He was struggling to understand what this meant, and he was struggling to endure his own consequences. He wanted to speak out. He asked me what he should do.
I told him what I would tell anyone who is struggling with memories of war and is tempted to process them before the public. I told him the process would be difficult. Many would doubt his sincerity. Others would question his honesty. Some would accuse him of weakness or narcissism or even sedition. Everyone would dissect his motivations. I wanted to tell him that he should ignore these people, that he shouldn’t care what they think, and that nothing they say matters. But it does, and it hurts. I told him to reconsider, and I told him to be careful.
He persisted. He said he felt it was something he had to do. He had been quiet long enough. He just wanted to be honest, and I understood. And so I encouraged him to find someone he trusts, to take it slow, and to know that he is not alone. There are still so many stories to be told.
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