Thursday, August 19, 2004

An American Hero? or An American Traitor

Have you ever heard of Joe Darby. Of course you haven't. If you were his parent you would be proud of him. He stared evil in the face and decided he had to do something about it. What he did was to change this country forever. He made us confront the fact that in war bad shit happens, and sometimes Americans are the bad guys. Joe Darby is why you know the word Abu Gharaib.

He never wanted to see them. They almost literally fell into his lap. It was early January 2004, and his unit had been at Abu Ghraib for three months, when one of his unit members, a guy named Charles Graner, handed him a couple of CDs to duplicate. So Joe went down to the Internet café near the sleeping quarters and started duping the discs. Graner hadn't given him any warning about special files or secret folders, and Joe was sitting there scrolling through the images, mindlessly, when bam!, the first hideous photo came up. Then another. Then another. Then another.

"He said, 'What the heck is this?' " remembers Janis Karpinski, the Brigadier General who ran Abu Ghraib. "It was very innocent. He was absolutely shocked by this."

He was also unsure what to do about it. He took the discs back to Graner and told him what he'd found, but Graner just said, "Don't worry, I'll take care of it," adding, "The Christian in me says it's wrong, but the corrections officer in me says, 'I love to make a grown man piss himself.'"

Then the discs disappeared. Days went by and nothing happened, and Joe kept thinking about it. Well, how could he forget? Graner's comment was bad, but the pictures were a whole lot worse, some of the same images that the world has now seen on 60 Minutes II and in newspapers and magazines, pictures of hooded figures, naked prisoners piled up, and detainees being terrorized by dogs. It was enough to unsettle him at the most elemental level, not only as a military policeman but also as a man. Maybe in another time, in another situation, with pressure from the rest of his unit to keep quiet, Joe could have found a way to move on. But the way it unfolded, finding it alone and then looking at the rest of the unit each day, wondering which ones knew and which were guilty, he couldn't keep it to himself. He decided to take the next step.

Late one night, he slipped a copy of the disc under the door of the army's Criminal Investigation Division. It was an act of conscience unobstructed, one of the most dangerous things in the world.