A day after reading a very disheartening Religious News Service story about how nearly two-thirds of Americans support torture, I was given fresh hope when I listened to NPR’s incomparable Terry Gross speaking with an American former interogator who worked in Iraq’s infamous Abu Ghraib prison.
Eric Fair worked for a private contractor employed by the US military as an interrogator in Iraq. A former soldier, his knowledge of Arabic qualified him for the work, though he admits there were times when he was reliant on translators to understand what the prisoners were saying. He has just published Consequence: A Memoir, which has been well reviewed by the New York Times.
In the interview, Fair sounds like a man who has been psychically and morally injured by torturing others, and he is very clear that how whatever linguistically disguises we may give it, like enhanced interrogation, torture is torture. While he is willing to give his fellow interrogators credit for sincerely believing that their work may have saved American lives, that motive for him, loking back, is not sufficiently exculpatory (setting aside the important point that torture does not work). He writes:
I refuse to suggest that torture is successful on any level. And I’m not sure that it matters; it shouldn’t matter to anyone in this country. I’m not sure why we’ve gotten to this point where we start to talk about the effectiveness of torture, as if that makes any difference whatsoever.
Torture is wrong. Americans, all Americans, should know better. That’s what makes us attractive; what makes us attractive is the way we do things, it’s the example that we set. What makes us attractive is not how tough we are or how good we are at extracting information, and anyone who thinks that way I think fails to understand what this country is about. So I’ve left that discussion about whether or not torture is effective or not behind. It simply doesn’t matter.
At a time when a Reuters and Ipsos poll finds 63 per cent of Americans (and 82% of Republicans) believing that toture is jsutified if it can “obtain information about terrorism activities”, Fair’s voice is honest and important. I’ll review his book here in the near future.