I had visions of the snarling Jack Nickolson spewing out his classic, “You can’t handle the truth,” to hard-driving, well-meaning prosecuting attorney Tom Cruise, as I listened to disk after truth-telling disk recording a tale that literally turned my stomach. I wasn’t sure if I could “handle it” –even on so remote a level. But I listened as a kind of atonement for living my easy life, and my no-risk “support” of our servicemen and auxiliary personnel who endured unspeakable life changing traumas.
I listened as the process of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) unfolded layer by layer inviting the audience to become witness to the evolution of a human being. I listened to the crisp, clipped, truncated, staccato-like word-bullets that were transferred from page to disk projecting “just the facts,” – (read by the author) because the feelings, the raw emotions ̶ had to be snuffed out and dismissed.
Eric Fair was a civilian interrogator at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq and in Fallujah. He wound up there having been rejected by the military because of a heart condition, and rejected, also, by the Seminary School at Princeton for reasons not quite clear. The contrast between his inner being and the type of “work-person” seemingly required for his job is the grisly tale of this book.
Having enlisted in the Army in 1995, he fortuitously discovered an Arab Language program which eventually gave him the rare expertise that was in such demand in Iraq. His Presbyterian/Military family background growing up in depressed-era Bethlehem, Pennsylvania gave impetus to his semi-conflicted, unfulfilled dream of becoming either a Police Officer or a Pastor.
This is a glorified “confessional” from a deeply religious individual who was a participant in one of the most dehumanizing torture events in the history of our country, and an indictment of the “system” that not only allowed it to take place, but encouraged it, and refused to apologize for it, rationalizing it merely as justification during warfare.
In 2004, Fair was an employee of CACI, a private contractor supplying interrogation services at the prison. He describes the prison atmosphere as chaotic and disorganized with insufficient personnel and supplies. But, nonetheless, Fair participated in and witnessed sub-human physical abuse to prisoners and in many cases innocent detainees ̶ acts that he describes so graphically as to literally have a physical effect on me, as a listener. These techniques were executed in a robotic state of numbness as the procedures were standard for the job.
In 2007, Fair optioned to confess in detail, each of the acts for which his ever pressing sense of guilt was causing nightmares, sleepless nights, shortness of temper, and a myriad of signs that he was in a state of severe emotional distress. He “spilled the beans” to a lawyer from the Department of Justice and two agents from the Army’s Criminal Justice Investigation Command, documenting his account with pictures, letters, names, locations, descriptions of techniques. Instead of having his instincts validated, he was told, “We torture people the right way, using the right procedures and approved techniques.” He was not prosecuted.
The nightmares got worse, his began to drink excessively, his marriage was severely affected, his heart condition worsened to the point where he required and received a transplant, he had suicidal ideation, and in the middle of all this, having been informed that his best friend in Iraq was killed by a suicide bomber, he chose to accept another job in Iraq for a year with the National Security Agency. The money was good.
Fair brings the listener into what he came to believe as “torture chambers," and also into the life of testosterone and camaraderie as we join him in the snug-buddy core of his daily life. Interviewed by NPR and several other outlets since the launching of the book (April 2016) he makes no bones about his eternal struggle with living with guilt. It leaves the listener with a sense that it is a personal responsibility to “handle this truth” and to not dismiss the existential issues that are so foundational in this expose.
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