Spotlight on dark consequences of U.S. foreign policy
YWCA Bethlehem’s Great Decisions Foreign Policy Lecture series featured a preview event with “Consequence: A Conversation About Interrogation and the Iraq War” at Kirkland Village Oct. 11. Bethlehem-based author and army veteran Eric Fair was interviewed about his experiences as a contract interrogator by Brian Mello, associate professor of political science at Muhlenberg College.
“Eric’s experiences are his and not mine. But the war in Eric’s memoirs is ours,” said Mello as he introduced Eric Fair, author of “Consequence: A Memoir” published in 2016.
Fair grew up in Bethlehem, went to college in Boston and chose law enforcement as a career. Upon graduation, he enlisted in the army in 1995 and studied to be an Arabic linguist. After five years, with a new skill that apparently was no longer needed, Fair left the army and became a police back in his hometown. A heart condition diagnosis cost Fair his job in 2003. “At this point, the war in Iraq was beginning to ramp up,” he said, “There was a desperate need for contractors.” With his knowledge of Arabic, Fair found employment with CACI. As a supporter of the invasion at the time, he felt an obligation to serve over in Iraq.
Fair arrived at Abu Ghraib in January 2004, shortly before the previously taken photographs of abused inmates hit the news. He admitted, “I participated in those abuses, we were calling them ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ at the time, EITs. I certainly since, have called them ‘torture.’”
The EITs included sleep deprivation, stress positions, diet manipulation, exposure and isolation. Fair said that contrary to the belief held by many, information gathered in this manner was unreliable. He had received actionable intelligence with a slap to a teenaged detainee’s face. The prisoner and his older brothers had been suspected of being part of an improvised explosive device (IED) cell. The boy provided them “with a treasure trove of information,” Fair said, adding, “I’ll regret it for the rest of my life. In the big picture, it accomplished nothing.”
He quit five months later, after working Abu Ghraib and other detention sites.
Fair returned to Iraq in 2005 while working for the National Security Agency (NSA). This time, according to Fair, he hoped he could “redeem the experience, since my first experience there was so horrible. I was desperate to find a way to make war work well.” It got worse, so he left the NSA in 2006.
One of the problems he identified was that of confusion over authority. Within its own ranks, there is a definite chain of command in the military, but they are all subject to a civilian commander-in-chief. Many in uniform, regardless of rank, looked to the civilian contractors for leadership. “No one knew at Abu Ghraib who was really in charge,” said Fair.
Fair is now of the opinion that once enemy combatants have been captured and subdued, they should be shipped away from combat zones and the guards’ role should be as “caretaker.” Torture not only debases the victim, but debases the tormenter and the country that enables it as well.
When asked about what the word ‘consequence’ from the book title means to him, Fair replied, “It’s a very Presbyterian book, I was raised with the idea that actions have a consequence.” As a young boy at church confession, he realized there were others, including adults who were Bethlehem Steel executives, reading aloud the words of contrition. He said, “I learned early on that you confess as community.”
Fair was also influenced by a discussion he had with a South African Ph.D candidate at Princeton Seminary about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after Apartheid ended. He was told by his friend, “Forgiveness requires consequence,” he said.
The YWCA partners with the private, non-partisan Foreign Policy Association (FPA) in New York City, which selected eight topics for their 44th annual Great Decisions Foreign Policy Lectures Series. 2018’s weekly lectures are scheduled Feb. 7 through March 28.
For registration information: go.activecalendar.com/ywcabethlehem/ or call 610-867-4669, ext. 103.