People of the Year: Joseph Darby

Dec. 28, 2004 — -- U.S. Army Spc. Joseph Darby is the soldier who first sounded the alarm and revealed the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison by members of his 372nd Military Police Company, based in Cumberland, Md.

Perhaps it was Darby's mother who put it best.

"I said, 'Your picture is on the paper,' and I said, 'Honey, I'm so proud of you because you did the good thing and good always triumphs over evil, and the truth will always set you free.' "

Darby, 25, slid an anonymous note under the door of his commanding officer, describing the terrible acts committed by his fellow soldiers. Soon the story was everywhere. Photo after photo made its way into public view, documenting humiliating and abusive treatment of prisoners by American forces.

America's reputation in the eyes of the world took a staggering hit. The abuses Darby uncovered led to numerous investigations and hearings on Capitol Hill.

"Shamefully, we now learn that Saddam's torture chambers reopened under new management -- U.S. management," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.

The investigations so far have placed the blame on a few rogue soldiers and their immediate supervisors.

Darby has since returned home, Abu Ghraib prison has been overhauled and by all accounts the abuse there has stopped. As a result of the scandal, new scrutiny has been focused on America's treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

"Joseph Darby is the epitome of a soldier of conscience," said Elisa Massimino of the advocacy group Human Rights First. "He is really the reason why any of us know the name Abu Ghraib right now."

Darby, who grew up in a small mining town in western Pennsylvania, joined the Army in hopes of a better life. His actions didn't surprise Bob Ewing, his high school football coach.

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

ABC News' Elizabeth Vargas filed this report for "World News Tonight."