Monday, June 25, 2007

Soldier of Courage: The Story Of One Soldier Who Took A Bullet In More Ways Than One!

Courage is a highly admired virtue. Most often we associate the word with physical prowess or bravery. But there's another form of valor that's much more important because it comes up more often. It's called moral courage -- the willingness to face not physical danger but emotional pain, disapproval, financial insecurity, or uncertainty rather than compromise an ethical principle.

Last Night 60 Minutes' Anderson Cooper broadcast a story about an ordinary Joe who grew up in Appalachia and signed up to be an MP in the Army Reserves. His unit was sent to Abu Ghraib where he worked in the office while others guarded the prisoners. You may not remember the name Joe Darby, but you remember the impact of what he did. Darby turned in the pictures of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib in Iraq – pictures he had discovered purely by accident. Unfortunately for Darby, exposing the truth has changed his life forever, and for the worse.

One day, when Joe Darby wanted scenic pictures to send home, he spotted the unit's camera buff, prison guard Charles Graner. "So I walked up to Graner and I, you know, 'Hey do you have any pictures?' And he said 'Yeah, yeah, hold on.' Reaches into his computer bag and pulls out two CDs and just hands them to me," Darby remembers. He copied Graner's discs and gave him back the originals. Later, when Darby looked at the photos he first saw scenic shots of Iraq, but then he came upon the pictures that launched the scandal. One of the first shots was a photo of a pyramid of naked Iraqis. "I laughed. I looked at it and I laughed. And then the next photo was of Graner and England standing behind them. And I was like, 'Wait a minute. This is the prison. These are prisoners.' And then it kind of sunk in that they were doing this to prisoners. This was people being forced to do this," Darby recalls. But no matter why they were doing it, Darby knew what they were doing was wrong. "I've always had a moral sense of right and wrong. And I knew that you know, friends or not, it had to stop," Darby says.

Darby decided he had to turn in the pictures but he didn't want his friends to know that he had done it. Asked why it was important to him to remain anonymous, Darby says, "I knew a lot of them wouldn't understand and would view me being a stool pigeon or however, a rat, however you want to put it." Several months later, 60 Minutes II broke the story of the pictures. An article in "The New Yorker" revealed Darby's role, though no one in Iraq seemed to notice.

But then, while Darby was having lunch in the mess hall watching Donald Rumsfeld testify before Congress about Abu Ghraib, the defense secretary said, "There are many who did their duty professionally and we should mention that as well. First, Specialist Joseph Darby, who alerted appropriate authorities that abuses were occurring."

Cumberland, Maryland is Joe's hometown...a military town that felt Darby had betrayed his fellow soldiers. And some relatives from both sides of the family have turned against him and his wife. The commander of the local VFW post, Colin Engelbach, told 60 Minutes what people were calling Darby. "He was a rat. He was a traitor. He let his unit down. He let his fellow soldiers down and the U.S. military. Basically he was no good," Engelbach says. Asked if he agrees with that, Engelbach says, "I agree that his actions that he did were no good and borderline traitor, yes." "What he says in his defense is 'Look. I’m an MP. And this is something which was illegal,'" Cooper remarks. "Right. But do you put the enemy above your buddies? I wouldn’t," Engelbach replies.

When Darby arrived at Dover Air Force Base, his wife Bernadette was there to meet him. He thought they would head back home, but the Army had other plans. An officer asked Darby what he wanted to do. "I said, 'Sir, I just want to go home. I've always just wanted to go home.' He said, 'Well son, that's not an option.' He said, 'The Army Reserve has done a security assessment of the area and it's not safe for you there. You can't go home,'" Darby remembers. "'You can probably never go home.'" Bernadette Darby says she heard people calling her husband a traitor, that he was a dead man and that he was walking around with a bull's eye on his head. To keep Joe and Bernadette safe, the military moved them to an Army base with body guards around the clock. "I couldn't go anywhere without security. Nowhere," Darby remembers.

Joe left the Army recently, and he misses it. He and Bernadette miss their hometown as well. They say they'll never move back to Cumberland. Instead they've moved on, but they are still wary. Six of the seven guards involved in the abuse went to prison. Darby testified against Charles Graner. "He just gave me this stone cold evil stare, the entire time I was on the stand. Didn't take his eyes off me once," Darby recalls.

Darby told 60 Minutes he wants to restore his unit's honor. "I want people to understand that I went to Iraq with 200 of the finest servicemen I've ever seen in my life. But those 200, for the rest of their lives, their unit is gonna carry a bad name because of what seven individuals did," Darby says. Gen. George Fay, who investigated Abu Ghraib, called Darby "courageous" for blowing the whistle.

Do you wish that it wasn't you who was given the CDs?" Cooper asked. "No, because if they had been given to somebody else, it might not have been reported," Darby says. "And would that have been so bad, if it had never been reported?" Cooper asks. "Ignorance is bliss they say but, to actually know what they were doing, you can't stand by and let that happen," Darby replies. "There's still a lot of people though that'll say 'Look, you know, so what they did this. You know, Saddam did things that were much worse,'" Cooper remarks. "We're Americans, we're not Saddam," Darby says. "We hold ourselves to a higher standard. Our soldiers hold themselves to a higher standard."

Asked if he'd do it again, Darby says, "Yes. They broke the law and they had to be punished." "And it's that simple?" Cooper asks. "It's that simple," he replied.

Integrity is essential to self-esteem and the admiration of others. It requires us to put our comforts, possessions, friendships, and even jobs at risk in the defense of deeply held principles. It takes moral fortitude to be honest at the risk of ridicule, rejection, or retaliation or when doing so may jeopardize our income or career. It takes boldness to be accountable and own up to mistakes when doing so may get us in trouble. It takes backbone to stand tough when doing so may cost us so much. People with moral courage rarely get medals, but it is the best marker of true character and a virtue others can be proud of.

I think Joe Darby proved that there are still good moral and upright people in the world. Now if the earth would open up and swallow up the people of his hometown who think he's a traitor because he showed courage beyond belief, this world would be a much better place. Of course, that's just my opinion, I could be wrong!