Abu Ghraib Whistle-Blower Speaks Out

Aug. 16, 2006 — -- The pictures of naked men cowering before guard dogs or arranged in a pig pile in front of two smiling American guards shocked the world.

It also made Abu Ghraib prison synonymous with American wrongdoing in Iraq.

If not for one American soldier, we may never have seen them.

"The first one that opened was the -- the pyramid of people. And it didn't strike me that it was Iraqis at first," former Army Reserve Spc. Joe Darby said.

"It was more like something you'd see a fraternity do at a college. It was amusing at first, and I laughed and then as I went further into the pictures, I realized exactly what, what these pictures were. After I'd looked at all the pictures. … I realized I had a decision to make."

In January 2004, Darby gave a CD loaded with incriminating photos to the Army Criminal Investigation Division.

The photos exposed abhorrent treatment of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. Army prison guards.

Soon, revelations of beatings, torture, and the sexual humiliation of prisoners at the hands of Army guards became public knowledge.

A Difficult Decision

Darby spent three weeks agonizing over that decision, fearful that turning in the photos would enrage the soldier most responsible: Charles Graner.

From prior conversations, Darby knew he was a man with a very dark side.

"He was talking about his wife cheating on him. He remembered one time when he was sitting across from the house with a rifle and waiting for them to come out, and they just never came out," Darby said.

"That's what I feared for. I feared Graner for the simple fact because I knew that he had the capability to do something -- do harm."

For that reason, Darby asked Army investigators to protect his identity -- a task they nearly botched just hours after he came forward.

"The very night that I turned them in, I did a sworn statement and they preemptively went out and collected the people involved," he said.

"And they were actually in the room next to me when I had to leave, and that was the only way out of the room. They covered me with blankets to get me out of the room. … Covered, covered my entire body, head to toe, with blankets and -- and got me out of the room and out the back door."

Darby said Graner and others knew that the person who had turned them in was in their ranks but did not know who the person was.

"For the month and a half. … Four [weeks] to six weeks before they were charged. … They were still on the installation. They still had their weapons. They just weren't working in prison," Darby said.

Personal and Professional Fallout

Because he feared retribution, Darby said he slept with a loaded weapon under his pillow.

"When I wasn't at work and I was out on the compound, I made sure I stuck close to a few friends who … I had told about the incident and … were … helping to watch out for me," Darby said.

He said there were times that he feared Graner and his co-horts suspected that he had turned them in.

"There was a moment when Charles Graner, about three days after questioning, walked into the operations section and he looked around and he set his weapon down on the table and you could tell he hadn't slept in a while and he hadn't shaved," Darby said.

"And he looked around the room and looked at me, and he says, 'You just don't know who you can trust anymore, Darb, do you?' And I thought he knew. But then he moved on and he came out of the room, you know, we started talking and I realized he didn't know."

The New Yorker's Seymour Hersh originally broke the story and included Darby's name in the article. Even so, Darby said he retained his anonymity because "no one on base read that magazine." Everyone would learn of his involvement soon enough, however, thanks to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Darby and his platoon were watching a congressional hearing on the mess hall TV when Rumsfeld inadvertently blew the whistle-blower's cover.

"There are many who did their duty professionally. First Spc. Joseph Darby, who alerted the proper authorities that abuses were occurring," Rumsfeld said.

"And I was actually less than 10 feet from the TV when Donald Rumsfeld mentioned my name. And the two soldiers I was sitting with, you know, said, 'We need to leave,'" Darby said. "But it was less than three hours before e-mails and phone calls home, everyone in the unit knew who I was, that I had done it."

Darby said 90 percent of the soldiers he interacted with said he had done a good thing.

Others sad he was a traitor.

In his hometown, the ratio swung the other way. Darby said that only about 10 percent of people supported him.

"It was about 90 percent didn't agree with what I did, including some of my family, and 10 percent supported me, but very few would do it openly," he said.

Threats against his wife and mother drove him and his family from their home in Jenners, Pa.

He lives in exile now, weary from the ordeal, but remains steadfast in his knowledge of right and wrong.

He said he would do it all again.

"It had to be done," he said.