Person of the Week: Spc. Joseph Darby

ByPeter Jennings

May 7, 2004 -- Army Spc. Joseph Darby, 24, is the man who sounded the first alarm about the abuse of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison — by people in his own 372nd Military Police Company.

The New Yorker magazine was the first to report that after seeing the pictures we are all so familiar with now, Darby put an anonymous note under the door of his commander. He described the incidents and the photographs he had seen.

Darby is quoted by a criminal investigator as feeling very bad about something he thought was very wrong.

"It was really hard on him," said Margaret Blank, Darby's mother. "He didn't want to go against ... his troops. It cut him in half, but he said he could not stand the atrocities that he had stumbled upon. He said he kept thinking, 'What if that was my mom, my grandmother, my brother or my wife?' "

Darby later came forward and identified himself as the person who had sent the note.

"I told him, 'Your picture is in the paper,' " Blank said. "I said, 'Honey, I'm so proud of you because … you did a good thing and good always triumphs over evil. And the truth will always set you free.' And he said, 'You're right, mom.' "

The photographs have had enormous consequences, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld cited Darby's actions during testimony before Congress today.

"There are many who did their duty professionally," Rumsfeld said. "Spc. Joseph Darby … alerted the authorities that abuse was occurring."

Human rights workers say that such horror can only be exposed if someone has the courage to come forward.

"Torture flourishes in the dark," said Carroll Bogert of the group Human Rights Watch, "and what Darby has done is to shine a light on what was happening in a place that was dark."

Stood Up for His Beliefs

Darby grew up in western Pennsylvania. His family moved around a lot, but when Darby was a teenager they lived in the mining town of Jenners.

Bob Ewing, Darby's 10th-grade history teacher and football coach at North Star High, described Darby as an average player and an average student, but one who knew his own mind.

"In school, if Joe believed in something, Joe stood up for it, and it didn't matter if it was unpopular, or the politically correct thing," Ewing said. "If Joe believed in something, that's what Joe stood up for."

His parents didn't have a lot of money. And after his little brother was born, Joe went to work at a Wendy's to help out.

"He never let anyone know he was down and out," said a neighbor, Gilbert Reffner. "He was out to make a better life for himself."

He thought the Army might lead to a better life — even a college education, which the Army would pay for. Like so many others, he ended up in Iraq.

‘Tell The Truth’

Today, Darby is a hero to some — but not to all. He is married, but his wife's name is being withheld at her request, because in the wake of what her husband has done she fears retaliation.

"Darby told the truth," Human Rights Watch's Bogert said. "Telling the truth doesn't always make you popular. And I think a lot of public opprobrium has come down on his head for the fact that he told the truth. But I think that history will put him in a good light."

Darby's mother has had a hard life. She had cancer. She lost an eye. She has diabetes.

But this week she said that her faith in God has made the difference. That, and a son she is proud of.

"Tell the truth, always remain true to yourself and remain true to your country," Blank said. "And I think he did all three."

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