By Debie Thomas

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Eric Fair, Consequence: A Memoir (New York, Henry Holt & Company, 2016), 240pp.

Eric Fair’s Consequence offers a brave and chilling account of the author’s work as a government contractor in Iraq, charged with interrogating detainees in Baghdad, Fallujah, and Abu Ghraib. A devout Christian who grew up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (hailing from “a long line of Presbyterians who valued their faith and marched off to war”), Fair signs on as an interrogator in 2003, mere months before the infamous photographs of torture at Abu Ghraib prison scandalized the world. In a compelling, matter-of-fact voice that neither makes excuses nor softens the horror, Fair relates his experiences using violence, sleep deprivation, stress positions, and isolation to extract information from Iraqi prisoners of war.

As his actions — technically legal at the time — sear his conscience, Fair describes the emotional and physical toll his time in the interrogation booth takes: unspeakable nightmares, alcoholism, suicidal ideation, and the near destruction of his marriage. Perhaps most compellingly, Consequence describes Fair’s struggle to hang onto his Christian faith in the face of crippling guilt, and the soul-hardening effects of profound and prolonged trauma. For Fair, there is no easy redemption. No atonement. “I cannot ask God to accompany me into the interrogation booth,” he writes. “In Scripture, God often works in prisons, but he is never on the side of the jailer.”

As powerful as the story is the prose style Fair uses for this astonishingly honest narrative. His sentences — clipped and staccato almost to a fault — mimic the detachment he himself feels. It’s as if the telling itself enacts the trauma one more time — we approach the suffering Fair describes, but only in small, measured doses that fend off as often as they draw in.

The memoir ends with Fair still hearing the voices of those he tortured. “It is nearly impossible to silence them,” he writes. “As I know it should be.” For those of us in danger of forgetting one of America’s darkest and most costly sins in recent memory, Consequence offers an essential and painful corrective.

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