When news of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison broke, Army Spc. Joseph Darby's family said they were proud the soldier revealed photos documenting the mistreatment. But they never expected their own friends and neighbors would turn on them for what they considered a brave disclosure.
In a note to his commander, Darby, 24, described the incidents and photographs he had seen, depicting the abuse by people in his own unit, the 372nd Military Police Company.
"We did not receive the response I thought we would. People were, they were mean, saying he was a walking dead man, he was walking around with a bull's-eye on his head. It was scary," Bernadette Darby, Joseph Darby's wife, said today on ABC News' Good Morning America.
Bernadette Darby said she was most surprised by the reactions of some of the people who knew their family.
"I received a reality check from the people in my community where Joe and I lived," she said. "I mean, I was an EMT, I was a firefighter … I helped these people every day and then this happened and it was like everybody turned, you know, and I was very surprised."
Darby's family is sharing their story with GQ magazine and Good Morning America because they want Americans to understand what their family has gone through since news of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal first broke.
While Bernadette Darby said she is still pleased by her husband's decision to hand over the photos, she says it hasn't been easy on her family or her husband, who is still in protective military custody at an undisclosed location.
Even Darby's sister-in-law, Maxine Carroll, felt the disapproval of some individuals in her community. She said her home was even vandalized by people who disagreed with Joseph Darby's actions.
"They thought it was funny to write 'Iraq' on the fence," Carroll said.
Carroll said she's still satisfied with Darby's decision to come forward.
"We're over there to set a standard and to show them there's a better way of life, and we're going to teach you how to do it, and this is how we're teaching it? No," Carroll said.
Bernadette Darby said she was very worried about her husband's feelings before she finally got a chance to see him after the scandal broke. She said she knew her husband must have gone through a major mental struggle before coming forward.
"Joe's the type of person to take what's going on around him and be like, 'Well, how would I feel if it was my wife? How would I feel if that was my brother?' He could not live with himself knowing that that was happening, and he did not do anything about it," she said.
When she saw her husband for the first time after news of the prison abuse rocked the nation, Bernadette Darby said she couldn't stop holding him.
"I just said, 'I love you,' and I hugged him," she said. "That was the one thing I kept saying, 'I just want to hug you,' because when he's sick I take care of him, but I couldn't take care of him this time and I just wanted to make sure he was OK."
Joseph Darby turned over two compact discs of photos, including one that showed Pfc. Lynndie England holding a leash attached to a nude detainee and another in which England smiled and pointed at the genitals of a hooded detainee.
Darby, who has known England since basic training with their Maryland-based Army Reserve unit, testified by telephone at England's pre-trial hearing in early August. Darby testified he received the photos of England in early December 2003, from Spc. Charles Graner, with whom England was having an affair.
Graner and England are among seven reservists from the 372nd Military Police Company who have been charged with detainee abuse this year. One, Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits, has already pleaded guilty and been sentenced to a year in prison. Graner also faces adultery charges for the affair with his fellow soldier. England's lawyers say she is now seven months pregnant with Graner's baby.
Wil S. Hylton, the GQ magazine reporter who chronicled the Darby family's struggle over the past year for the September issue, says no one will ever know what Darby's disclosure might have prevented, but it's possible that the young soldier may have saved lives by revealing his comrades' actions.
"It wasn't purely theoretical," said Hylton. "I mean, he may have saved people's lives, you know. He certainly saved a lot of people's dignity."