Abu Ghraib Prison Abuses Reported By Whistleblower, Joseph Darby
by Davis Fleetwood
Are you obedient?
Before talking about Joseph Darby, the U.S. soldier at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, who reported U.S. abuses of Iraqi prisoners to the Army’s Criminal Investigations Division immortalizing those horrific photos, we should consider the work of Stanley Milgram.
A Yale professor, now deceased, who is most famous for his study measuring the willingness of participants to perform acts as instructed by an authority figure when those acts went against their conscience. With a vanity commonly accepted in the scientific community, this landmark study was called the Milgram experiment.
You remember this from school, yes? Participants were told they were taking part in a study about learning. When a subject got a question wrong, a man in a white lab coat and brandishing a clipboard (played by an actor) would instruct the subject (who was told he was the “teacher” in this experiment on learning) to electrocute the “learner” (also played by an actor). 37 out of 40 “teachers” (subjects of the experiment, obediently delivered what they believed to be electric shocks of up to 450 volts to their unseen (but often heard, screaming victim). Some subjects paused at 135 volts, but when assured that they would not be held responsible, they continued on.
They obeyed the authority figure. The man in the white lab coat.
Joseph Darby, a U.S. Army specialist punching a clock at a low risk prison- that is a prison in Iraq, that, according to the internal US ARMY investigation reports admittedly did not contain any terror suspects, asked a colleague for some photos of Iraq to email home. The college gave him a CD of photos, perhaps forgetting that on that CD, along with Iraq sunsets and tourist attractions, there existed photos depicting US servicemen and women torturing and sexually humiliating Iraqi prisoners.
If Darby were in the 37 out of 40, he would have done nothing. Everything he was trained for, and according to the Milgram study, everything in human nature itself was working against what Darby did next.
On this day in the USA, January 13, 2004 slipped the CD in an envelope with an anonymous note to the Army’s Criminal Investigations Division.
Soon thereafter, as the photos went public, Darby was having lunch in the mess hall, watching Donald Rumsfeld testify before Congress about Abu Ghraib, when Rumsfeld said: “And we should mention that as well, 1st Specialist Joseph Darby, who alerted the appropriate authorities that abuses were occurring.”
Rumsfeld, living in a world where Milgram’s findings were the rule, was well aware that outing Darby equated putting Darby’s life in danger, and keep others from coming forward. In other words, Rumsfeld was just doing his job.
Anonymous no more, Darby’s family was moved into Federal protective housing, a prudent measure given the velocity and frequency of the death threats they were receiving.
Darby was given a JFK Profile in Courage award from Caroline and Ted Kennedy.
But they killed Kennedy.
Scholars, if today’s lesson proves anything, perhaps it is this:
Trying to change the world “one person at a time” is time wasted.
What we need to do is replace the man in the white lab coat.
I’m Davis Fleetwood reminding you that history is based on actual events.