[Vision2020] A Different Kind of 'Hero'

Tom Hansen thansen at moscow.com
Tue Sep 12 12:00:29 PDT 2006

>From the September 18, 2006 edition of the Army Times -


A different kind of 'hero'

Some soldiers might think Joe Darby hurt the Army, but the Abu Ghraib
whistleblower says 'it had to be done'

By Kelly Kennedy
Army Times Staff writer

Joe Darby laughed - it came out as a bitter puff of disbelief - when asked
about new Defense Department rules outlawing acts of detainee abuse during

Darby was just another Army specialist until January 2004, when he leaked
photos of fellow soldiers tormenting detainees at Abu Ghraib prison.

"The soldiers involved at Abu Ghraib were not interrogating inmates," he
told Army Times in a telephone interview. "These guys were doing nothing but
occupying themselves in very sick ways. It was never about interrogations."

Darby blew the whistle and set off an international scandal. The photos he
provided first appeared on "60 Minutes" in April 2004.

Much of the world was outraged by the abuses inside the prison walls. 

At the same time, many soldiers were angry with Darby for taking what he
knew outside the confines of the military establishment. 

The scandal was a setback for the war effort, a black eye for the Army.
Seven soldiers were court-martialed; six were sent to prison. President Bush
continues to refer to it as one of the worst black eyes in the Iraq war.

On Sept. 6, the Defense Department issued a new human intelligence field
manual with detailed rules of interrogation procedures (See story, Page 19).

For Darby, now 27, the new rules are "too little, too late." The 372nd
Military Police Company soldier got out of the Army last month, but his life
will never be free of the decision he made while at Abu Ghraib. 

He says his decision earned him enemies who wish him harm. 

He can never go home.

He refuses to reveal where he now lives. 

He is so worried about his family's safety that he won't discuss how many
children he has - if any.

Until recently, Darby has refused requests to discuss his decision to go
public with the Abu Ghraib abuses and his experiences since then.

This is what he has to say: Despite the hardships he has endured and the
turmoil the Army went through, he would do it again.

"I didn't know it was going to be this big and hurt the Army," he said, "but
it had to be done."

In January 2004, Darby asked Spec. Charles Graner for copies of some photos
as mementos, and Graner gave him a CD. While sorting through photos on his
computer, Darby hit one that stopped him.

"It was the pyramid of Iraqis, but I didn't realize it was Iraqis," he said.
"Soldiers do some pretty messed-up things for entertainment, so I thought it
was the MPs. I laughed at it and moved on the next picture. That's when I
realized they were prisoners."

Graner was sentenced to 10 years in military prison for aggravated assault,
maltreatment and conspiracy. Darby said he knew the deeds captured in the
pictures were wrong, and he knew he had to do something.

Albert Pierce, chair of military ethics at the National Defense University,
said Darby had to make that decision because of a "leadership vacuum" that
developed at the prison. 

Pierce said that although some soldiers have expressed animosity toward
Darby, they should place him on a pedestal. 

"We need to honor and celebrate those soldiers who try to do something to
stop things like this as an example of positive leadership," he said. "I
think Joseph Darby is one of the ... heroes of Abu Ghraib."

Hero, he said, is the proper word because so much stood between Darby and
taking action: He had trained with these soldiers. They were from the same
National Guard unit in Cresaptown, Md., and therefore from the same
hometown. Even people who don't necessarily like each other can become
close-knit in a war zone.

Add to that the cultural ideals of not "ratting out" or "squealing" on
friends, and Pierce said the odds grow higher that no one will say anything.

"Soldiers can usually figure out the right thing to do," Pierce said, "but
how do we overcome those inhibitors?" 

Darby said he stewed over the decision for three weeks, but in the end, he
knew what he had to do. 

"Everybody gets ethics training in the Army," Darby said. "We know the
proper way was to go through the chain of command, but I had to go outside
my chain."

And, he said, he feared for his life.

"I was afraid of Graner and the rest of his unit," Darby said. "I knew when
I turned them in that they were going to prison."

An anonymous tip

Darby copied the disc, wrote an anonymous letter, stuck both in a manila
folder and slipped the package to the Criminal Investigation Division.

Within half an hour, CID investigators had him in their office. Darby
identified the seven soldiers in the photos for investigators. But while he
was there, another investigator brought in three of the soldiers he had just
turned in. The investigators shielded Darby's identity, then they wrapped
him in rugs and blankets and sneaked him out of the office. 

For the next three weeks, he said, he hid in his closet when he slept
because the soldiers he had turned in continued their duties at Abu Ghraib.
He said he breathed a sigh of relief when the soldiers he had identified
were finally arrested. 

Then, during a TV interview broadcast while Darby was eating in a dining
hall with 400 other soldiers, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld named him as
the whistleblower.

Darby spoke about the case for the first time in an interview with GQ -
after a government gag order was lifted - and described hearing his
anonymity slip away on national television.

"I actually got a letter from the SecDef after the [TV] interview," Darby
said. "[Rumsfeld] said he didn't do it maliciously, and that what I did was
the right thing to do. I don't know how to take the letter other than that I
got one."

The group of military police had been together in Hilla, Iraq, Darby said,
where day-to-day life was more stressful than it was at Abu Ghraib. Driving
through the streets, he said they faced the risk of improvised explosive
devices and Iraqis who weren't safely locked in a cell. In Hilla, they also
had access to alcohol, which they obtained on their daily drives.

At Abu Ghraib, Darby said, it was much harder to get alcohol, and although
the environment was stressful because of the daily mortar attacks, the
soldiers were sheltered from IEDs. Lawyers at the Abu Ghraib soldiers'
trials presented stress as a factor behind soldiers behaving badly.

"Everybody handles stress in different ways," Darby said. "I kind of blocked
things out. When we had to work with dead bodies, I thought, 'It's just a
body.' It didn't bother me at the time."

Today, dreams of those days, of the dead bodies, haunt him - if the insomnia
doesn't prevent sleep. 

"It's not like we were in a non-stress environment," Darby said, "but it
doesn't justify what they did. It was just the wrong seven people in the
wrong place."

The photos Darby released to the CID made international headlines soon
after, sparking thousands of blog entries that assailed "the whistleblower"
for making his Army look bad. That title bothered Darby.

"I was an MP," he explained. "My job is to enforce the military law. They
were breaking the law, so I was just doing my job."

But when Darby heard Rumsfeld mention his name on TV as the whistleblower,
he was prepared for the worst from the other soldiers in the dining hall.

But they surprised him.

"I got a lot of slaps on the back, 'good jobs,' and handshakes," he said. "I
only got grief from people who were close to Graner's group."

News hits home

The reaction back home in Corriganville, Md., hit a little harder.

"My wife was very proud, but then the media storm hit," he said. "The media
stalked her at home - she couldn't leave the house. 

"And the only people talking to the media were the ones who were being

Darby's friends and neighbors were also friends and neighbors of the
soldiers facing prison. His family received death threats and letters, he

The people speaking to the media were so harsh, Darby said, that he was
surprised when he heard personally from the many people back home who
supported his decision. Web sites such as http://thanksjoedarby.com popped
up, with people praising Darby for getting rid of the bad seeds in his Army.

"I've always loved being in the Army, and I've loved being a soldier," he
said. "I want people to understand my unit has gotten a very bad rap. It was
still one of the finest I served with - with the best individuals. No one
knew this [was] going on."

As he prepared to return to the states, the military did a security
assessment of his hometown to see whether it would be safe for Darby and his

"They told us there were only a few people making threats, but that it would
only take one," Darby said. "They said I shouldn't go home - ever."

As he began testifying at the courts-martial for the Abu Ghraib soldiers, he
relocated his family. The Army allowed him to extend his contract for two
years while he tried to readjust to life after Abu Ghraib. He now works as a
government contractor.

Since he left, he has not spoken with Graner, Harmon, Lynndie England or any
of the others he served with at Abu Ghraib - except for Staff Sgt. Ivan
Frederick, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the night shift, who
appeared in the photos. In 2004, Frederick was sentenced to eight years in
prison on related charges and busted to private.

"At his trial, Frederick apologized for what I had to go through," Darby
said. "He said I did the right thing."


Seeya round town, Moscow.

Tom Hansen
Vandalville, Idaho

"Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion but the tranquil
and steady dedication of a lifetime." 

--Adlai E. Stevenson, Jr.

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