A candid and deeply unsettling account of the author’s work as a government contractor in Iraq charged with interrogating detainees in Baghdad, Fallujah, and Abu Ghraib.
A devout Presbyterian who grew up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, attended Gordon College, a Christian school, and earned a degree at Boston University, Pushcart Prize winner Fair enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1995 out of a desire to protect people. After learning Arabic, he was deployed to the Middle East as a linguist but found Army life monotonous. Torn by conflicting impulses (two psychologists deemed him unstable), he served briefly as a police officer but felt destined to become a minister. In 2003, he signed on as an interrogator with CACI International. The author relates his experiences in a low-key, matter-of-fact manner that nonetheless makes palpable his confusion about his life and goals. His disquiet became intolerable during his interrogations of Iraqi prisoners of war, which involved sleep deprivation, stress positions, isolation, and other forms of officially sanctioned torture. “I shouldn’t be here,” he writes. And: “I’ve done things that cannot be undone.” Feeling guilty and ashamed, Fair realized he had sinned: “There is to be no redemption for me in Iraq.” Eschewing abstract discussions of torture and the war, the author offers a beguiling personal narrative that forces readers to share his pain and uncertainty over his circumstances. “I cannot ask God to accompany me into the interrogation booth,” he writes. Told against the background of his failing heart (he required a transplant), his failing hometown (Bethlehem Steel went bankrupt), and his war-strained marriage, his affecting narrative points up the larger failures of interrogators like himself to prevent abusive acts and of the country to end its endorsement of torture. Fair recounts his drinking and horrible nightmares, friendships with fellow contractors, and encounters with Iraqis suspected of anti-coalition activities. Some sections of the book have been redacted.
A startling debut from a haunted individual who wishes he had left Iraq earlier “with my soul intact.”