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Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Hero's Welcome 

Via Digby: Joseph Darby is the one soldier who had the conscience and the courage to blow the whistle on his comrades when he learned of the atrocities they were committing at Abu Ghraib. Here, from GQ, is the story of what's happened to Darby and his family since his return to the states:
They shut him up. Fast. You never even saw him. No footage of him coming off the plane, no flags or banners waving, no parade in his honor. He came home from Iraq in May, but there wasn't even a formal announcement. In fact, you're not supposed to know he's here.

He lives in a secret location. It might be just down the street, or it might be halfway to nowhere. Maybe he was sitting at the next table last night, having dinner right beside you. You have no way of knowing: Nobody knows what he looks like. The only picture most of us have seen is the one from 1997, the high school yearbook portrait, with his hair parted in the middle and the impish smile on his face. That was before he lost the hair, before he gained the weight and his chest filled out, before he got married and became a man. But that was the picture that ran in all the papers when the scandal broke. It was the only one that slipped out.

He hasn't done any interviews or made any statements since it happened, hasn't talked publicly about what he saw in Abu Ghraib prison or what made him turn in those pictures on that January night in Iraq. All we know is that he did turn them in and that everything changed because of it. The rest is speculation. He's been under a gag order for three months.

He wouldn't mind talking, actually; he wants you to know the truth. The desire to tell the truth was how he got into this thing in the first place. He was the guy who stood up to evil when everyone else fell silent, the guy who put himself on the line when nobody else would. No wonder they won't let him talk. No wonder he can't say what he knows.

Once Bernadette [Darby, Joe's wife] had packed her bags, they all hurried out to Clay's truck, slamming the doors and speeding off, the tension slowly draining from their shoulders as they went, as they got closer and closer to home, starting to laugh about it somewhere near the Pennsylvania line, joking about the movie they would make out of this and which actor would play each one of them. Everyone in the truck that night was aware that this would be one of the most memorable experiences of their lives. But it still hadn't occurred to anyone that it might also be one of the worst, a shitstorm of celebrity that would last days and weeks and months, that it would wreck old friendships and alienate family, that their neighbors would turn on them and vandalize their house, that the police would refuse to help, that Bernadette would never work another day at her job—or spend another night in the little apartment she was leaving behind.

Each day, she would catch another snippet of the hostility brewing around her. There was the candlelight vigil in Cumberland, Maryland, to show support for the disgraced soldiers, including the ones who did the torturing, about a hundred supporters standing in the pounding rain, as if beating and sodomizing prisoners were some kind of patriotic duty. Or the 200 people who gathered one night in Hyndman, Pennsylvania, waving American flags to honor Sivits, the first soldier tried in the scandal. They posted a sign in Hyndman. It said JEREMY SIVITS, OUR HOMETOWN HERO. And the mayor told reporters that even though Sivits would sometimes do "a little devilish thing," on the whole he was "a wonderful kid."

Where were the signs for Joe? Bernadette had to wonder. Where was his vigil? Where was his happy mayor? Where were his calls of support? Down at the gas station, Clay overheard some guys say that Joe was "walking around with a bull's-eye on his head," just casually, just like, oh, everybody knows Joe's dead. Some of Bernadette's family even let her know that other members of the family were against her now, that they couldn't support a traitor. The more Bernadette heard, the more paranoid she became. How serious was this? Her nerves were so fried from the media onslaught that she couldn't be sure what was serious and what was just talk. Had those cops really ignored Maxine because they were against Joe? And if so, what else would they ignore? . . . .

And then the phone rang.

It was a major from the U.S. Army, and he was coming over. Within a few minutes, everything began to shift around Bernadette, and it was hard to tell what was happening. She found herself in the passenger seat of an unmarked government vehicle, speeding down the highway to some unknown destination, Clay's truck right behind her with Maxine and the kids packed inside, the whole group snatched up by military protective custody without any prior warning or even a clear idea of why. Bernadette called Virginia and said, "We're in protective custody now. I don't know where we're going, but we'll call you when we get there."

So it's tough to know exactly how old the kids in Abu Ghraib really are and how many of them are in there, just like it's tough to know how they're being treated. Seymour Hersh, the man who uncovered the Abu Ghraib scandal in The New Yorker, claims that video exists of young Iraqi boys being sodomized. But Hersh hasn't come forward with the video, and neither has anybody else. Even if he's not right, there's no question that other prisoners were sodomized by U.S. soldiers. There are pictures of at least one Iraqi man being raped with a light stick. You didn't see those pictures on the news though, didn't hear Rumsfeld talk about that. Just like nobody except Janis Karpinski is talking about the three military-intelligence officers who were sent home in January after the sexual assault of two female prisoners. That case is confidential, just like the roughly 5,950 pages of Major General Antonio Taguba's 6,000-page investigation of the Abu Ghraib scandal are "confidential." Just like all the pornography coming out of Abu Ghraib is being kept from you, the videos of Lynndie England fellating an unidentified man, the pictures of soldiers having sex. The members of the United States Congress apparently couldn't tell who the man was when they watched the highlight reel on a loop in a dark room on Capitol Hill one afternoon in May, an event that one Congressman calls "Bizarro World," with representatives coming and going while hundreds of pictures and videos rolled by, people like Nancy Pelosi sitting in front of a screen of depravity, with a military minder occasionally interjecting, "This one's from Tier 1A."

That wasn't on 60 Minutes II, either.

Just try calling your senator and asking him about that. Ask him what he saw. Any children? Pornography? Sexual abuse? Richard Durbin: No comment. Lindsey Graham: Can neither confirm nor deny. Joseph Lieberman: No response. Sam Brownback: No response. Carl Levin: No comment. Joseph Biden: No comment. Ron Wyden: Can neither confirm nor deny. Tim Johnson: Can neither confirm nor deny. Jon Corzine: No comment. Chuck Schumer: No response. Barbara Boxer: No comment. John Warner: No comment. Lincoln Chafee: No comment. Dianne Feinstein: No comment.

It's an election year, by the way.

And so, what Bernadette didn't know when the military escort came to get her—what she couldn't possibly imagine—was that she didn't need any help. All she needed was the truth. Because the irony of all this is that the people in Somerset County who turned their backs on Joe, well, those people would probably feel very different if they knew the rest of the story. That it really wasn't about softening prisoners, gathering intelligence, or trying to win the war. That it wasn't even about losing control in the heat of the moment. It was about getting up in the middle of the night and going somewhere you weren't supposed to go, then beating and raping people there. It was premeditated violent crime. And as long as that stays hidden, so will Bernadette and Joe, outcasts in their own community, two more victims of Abu Ghraib.

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