What happens when a whistle-blower blows the whistle on himself? Eric Fair confessed in a February Washington Post opinion piece to abusing a prisoner while serving as a civilian interrogator in Iraq in 2004. Fair told NEWSWEEK he had hoped the mea culpa would encourage other interrogators to talk openly about torture. Instead, it ruined friendships and prompted death threats. "I didn't anticipate how palpable the hatred would be," the 35-year-old former GI said from his home in Bethlehem, Pa. Readers accused him of undermining troop morale, even of engaging in treason. Some suggested he appease his own guilty conscience by committing suicide (Fair said in the op-ed that images of the prisoner's standing naked all night in his cell disturbed his sleep). A few offered to pull the trigger.
Still, for every hostile letter writer, two expressed support—including interrogators who said they wished they could tell their own stories. "For people who want to continue working for the Pentagon or for contractors, speaking up is a career ender," he said. One handwritten letter stood out. It encouraged Fair to continue talking publicly about Iraq and about the abuse of prisoners. The letter was signed by former president Bill Clinton.
The ordeal cemented Fair's decision to change course and attend seminary school beginning this fall. Will his confession prevent him from being ordained as a Presbyterian pastor? "There are going to be issues that will come up about my behavior in Iraq," Fair said. But he can always teach theology. Or write more articles.