Most Inspiring Person of the Year 2004

 

FINALIST:
Spc. Joseph Darby
Abu Ghraib whistle-blower




"It violated everything I personally believed in and all I'd been taught about the rules of war." -- Sergeant Joseph Darby

In January 2004, Sergeant Joseph Darby, a 24-year-old Army Reservist serving at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, had a crisis of conscience. What he did turned his world-and everyone else's-upside down. Darby is a member of the 372nd Military Police Company, the unit in charge of guarding prisoners at Abu Ghraib. When Darby learned of the abuse taking place against Iraqi prisoners, he was torn between loyalty to his fellow soldiers and horror that they seemed capable of torture.

Alone among the members of the 372nd, Darby brought evidence of the abuse-a CD-ROM containing hundreds of pictures-to his superiors. Those pictures became the basis for worldwide outrage, and the investigation which to date has resulted in the arrest of seven U.S. soldiers. Joe Darby grew up in Jenners, a small mining town in western Pennsylvania. During high school, he helped his family with the bills, working at a local Wendy's; after graduating, he became an auto mechanic. He also married Bernadette, his wife of six years. In 2001, the couple moved to Corriganville, Maryland, close to their families, and then to Cresaptown, Maryland-home to the 372nd. Like many Reservists, Darby enlisted to make a little extra money in exchange for one weekend a month and two weeks a year in training. Instead, Darby has spent most of the last three years on active duty, first in Bosnia, and then Iraq.

Darby's courage in exposing the abuse at Abu Ghraib has been honored by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, U.S. senators, and President Bush. but not everyone thinks he is a hero. Some vets blame Darby for breaking the chain of command and for "ratting out" his fellow soldiers.

In Corriganville, his wife started getting letters calling her husband a traitor; the Darby home was vandalized, and the couple received numerous death threats. They are in protective custody at an undisclosed location, as are some of their family members.

Joseph Darby could have stayed silent, but he took the risk to defend the defenseless. In the words of a resolution passed by both the House and Senate on October 9, 2004: "Specialist Darby deserves the Nation's thanks for speaking up and for standing up for what is right."

Support for Darby has come from one other surprising place. In a statement released through his lawyer, Staff Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick II of the 372nd, who pleaded guilty to charges of abuse at Abu Ghraib, said of Darby: "He did what he thought was right, and it was right."

Nominated by member bird:
The soldier who exposed the prison abuse at Abu Ghraib was the most inspiring person to me. In spite of the tremendous pressure of the army and his fellow soldiers to keep it quiet, he knew it was wrong. He showed moral courage. God bless him.

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