It is very seldom that I alter or remove a post in response to a complaint from a reader, but in the case of "Happy Birthday Clark Fish", I've made an exception, having heard from Dave Friedel, the brother of the woman Fish was convicted of murdering. With his permission, I am posting his remarks from our correspondence below. I hope Mr. Friedel's comments are taken into consideration by whomever incarcerates him as well, so that they may protect other prisoners from his apparent proclivity to prey on the more vulnerable.
My first post on Fish at Arizona Prison Watch - a straight reprint of Kaj Larsen's original article for the Huffington post - remains, though I will link it to this one so the two perspectives are connected at both ends. I decided to remove my birthday post on Fish from all my sites after reading both Friedel's emails and reviewing Larsen's written and video pieces again. I remain an opponent of both the death penalty and mass incarceration, but am no less troubled by what to do with people who are a danger to others in our community. Regardless of the source of their own disturbance - be it childhood or wartime trauma - they can't be allowed to continue to abuse others as Fish did to his victim leading up to the moment of her death. They certainly should not be celebrated as martyred victims themselves, which is essentially what the post I removed suggested by inviting people to drop Fish a line on his 25th birthday, at which time I believed he was still facing the death penalty. As Mr. Friedel states, Fish has since taken a plea life without parole, offered at his victim's family's urging.
While I found Larsen's story on Fish and other veterans with PTSD accused of violent crimes compelling, Fish is hardly the poster boy I would choose to represent traumatized soldiers - and I apologize to those men and women for seeming to do so. He does not appear to have had a deep-seated objection to perpetrating violence, as so many vets with PTSD do. Fish, rather, is a coward and a bully. His pattern of behavior, as evidenced by numerous 911 calls for domestic disturbances and violence in the months before Elizabeth Friedel was so brutally killed is as troubling as the murder itself.
While traumatized vets are indeed more likely to be convicted of violent crimes than members of the general population, I don't believe those crimes tend to emerge out of a long-standing pattern of abuse and domination of another. Rather, much of what I've read about are assaults or murders involving all-too-accessible lethal weapons when someone reaches a breaking point - representing a divergence from, not continuation of, character that was formed before their own traumatization or victimization.
For those unfamiliar with why the death penalty would be considered by a jury in the first place, there are stipulations about the crime being especially heinous in nature to consider - like torture. There are details to this case that suggest PTSD is now being used as a convenient excuse for such conduct, not identified as an extenuating circumstance where someone has actually taken responsibility for their actions. Perhaps Fish was poorly represented in his trial, but his claim of innocence during the guilt determination phase is now contradicted by his "mitigating circumstance" claim that PTSD caused him to kill his victim. This defense is not presented without his consent. Either Fish is guilty or he is not - if he is not, then his PTSD is irrelevant. If he is, than his entire defense can't really be trusted as sincere.
Whatever kind of man Clark Fish was before he donned a military uniform and learned to justify killing another human being, it is disturbing that he seems to show little remorse (if he is guilty) or even sympathy (if he is not) for the woman whose torment and murder he is being held responsible for. His obsession is with his own survival now; his perception seems to be that he is the only victim here. Fish's legal representation and his representation of himself - particularly the shift in strategy once convicted - has done him and all vets with PTSD a disservice.
We are all victims of both the military industrial complex and the mentality it can breed - some more so than others. Many people have endured far more horrendous, life-altering experiences of violence and trauma than Clark Fish describes - including survivors of childhood sexual abuse - and yet have not chosen to perpetrate systematic violence on others in response. Many go on to help others instead. This is why prevention and early intervention with victims of trauma is so important - to teach them how to manage their pain and rage in a way that does not result in them harming others or compel us to segregate them completely from the rest of human society.
This is one place where both the government and victims' rights organizations fall short. Americans are taught to believe that our own injuries or losses justify even greater violence to those who we believe have or may harm us or a loved one. We are a vindictive people, not at all invested in the kind of justice that heals and restores communities and lives, but rather that which brutalizes on a grand scale by war, mass incarceration, and executions as punishment. In the name of our own "protection" we succumb to a similar mindset as that of our perpetrators.
This is how we have justified things such as the genocide of Native Americans, the demonization and overwhelming oppression of dark-skinned immigrants and descendants of those we have enslaved and colonized, and the persistence of grossly inhumane conditions in American jails and prisons. We are rarely even moved by stories of the innocent victimized by our laws and our Anglo-American Manifest Destinies, we so want to believe that we are just in the eyes of the Creator even as we destroy lives.
I realize I may often confuse my readers with contradictions of opinion and sympathy. That's because I have no clear-cut answers - we tread in many gray areas here where interests and perspectives in total opposition don't automatically invalidate the other. In fact, one of our biggest problems with "justice", it seems, is that we too often adhere to rigid, Old Testament notions of what exactly that might constitute, and too seldom explore the contradictions.
With that, I give you the voice of one survivor of Clark Fish's indoctrination into violence - one which began when guns were toys and wars were games - and his decision to act it out on one more vulnerable than himself. Those of us who challenge the state on the conduct of its more disturbed soldiers - and those of us who do not accept the death penalty as a solution - especially need to hear what Dave Friedel has to say. I imagine he did not extend himself to talk about this issue without experiencing considerable pain in the process, and am grateful that he gave me permission to reprint his words here. I owe both him and his family my apologies and condolences.
|Thu, Jul 29, 2010 at 8:38 PM
To: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
| Peggy Plews
|Fri, Jul 30, 2010 at 9:28 PM
To: Dave Friedel
|Sun, Aug 1, 2010 at 1:08 AM
To: Peggy Plews