Monday, October 3, 2016

There But for the Grace - Part I

There but for the grace of . . . .

Well, that's the tricky part if, like me, you don't believe in god.  But deity or not, the truth is that we're all on a ledge.  And any one of us.

A philosophy professor, a onetime advisor of mine when I was an undergraduate, gave me the most comforting parenting advice I've ever received.  She told me, in an offhand way and apropos of I-have-no-idea-what at this remove.  (It was years before I had children; so it surely wasn't given as actual advice.)
There's little you can do to your children that years of intensive therapy once they're grown can't help them overcome.
Since that day many decades ago she became an AUSA and I became a criminal defense lawyer.  I imagine we've both discovered through our work that she was wrong.  I certainly have.

The things that parents do to their children can/will/do lead them -- well, some don't even manage to get to be grown ups, let alone have a chance at years of intensive therapy.  And even when they survive, as they mostly do, the damage that can be inflicted is . . . .  But of course there's more to how we turn out than what our parents did.  Even for the best of parents there can be -- 

Once again, there's that
There but for the grace of . . . 
Because any one of us, it seems, under the right circumstances.

* * *
Eric Fair was one of the decent guys.  He grew up in Bethlehem, Pa., a steel town on the way down, the child of good, decent, supportive, church-going but don't-rub-your-nose-in-it folks.  Apparently a serious, hard-working kid.  Wanted to be a cop for all the right reasons.  Might have made a really good pastor, and repeatedly looked into going to and eventually did attend Princeton Theological Seminary.

But along the way, after serious heart problems forced him off the police force, he ended up in Iraq, with CACI, a private contractor.  Not just in Iraq.  At Abu Ghraib.  At Fallujah.  As an interrogator. Who - well, he apparently never waterboarded anyone.  He didn't work at the hard site at Abu Ghraib (though he toured it). But stress positions, isolation, exposure, sleep deprivation.  Lies and more lies. He smashed an old man's head into a wall.  He didn't report any of it.  He was active and he was complicit.

And the nightmares.  The blood.  How often he had his wife, Karin, smuggle alcohol into the packages she sent him from back in the states.  The anger, the rages when he was back home.  
I'd stopped drinking for a time, but I'm an alcoholic now.  I don't sleep.  I yell a lot.  Mostly at Karin. But at other people, too.  I have no job, and no interest in finding one.  I rarely attend church.  when I do, I'm hungover.  AT night I think aobut dying.  I wonder how much longer my heart will last.  I wonder whether I'll know the time has come or whether I'll just shut off. 
And then he told.  And told. It began with op-eds.  Then he spoke to army investigators.  Then the Department of Justice.  
My lawyers are happy.  They say the meeting went well.  They say I did well.  I was honest and engaging. . . .
I am not prosecuted.  No one from CACI is prosecuted.  Nothing we did in Iraq was illegal.  We tortured people the right way, followed the right procedures, and used the approved techniques. There are no legal consequences.
. . .
I start drinking more.
The quotes are from Consequence: A Memoir.   It's part of his effort at redemption, though he doesn't quite say that.  What he does is quote Maimonides:
For example, a person is not forgiven until he pays back his fellow man what he owes him and appeases him.  He must placate him and approach him again and again until he is forgiven.
Consequence is brutal.  It is hard.  Written in short, sharp sentences.  For all that it is Eric Fair's story, his confession, it is also condemnation of what we did over there, and too often (as he shows writing about his brief stint as a cop) over here.  About incompetence.  About how easy it was - even for a good man - to do evil things.  And how hard it is to claw the way back.

Some things, Eric Fair reminds us again and again, cannot be undone.

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