Reporting detainee abuse a `moral call'

Whistle-blower testifies at hearing for soldier

August 07, 2004|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Sgt. Joseph M. Darby, the young Army reservist who has been hailed and condemned for blowing the whistle about detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison, testified yesterday that he deliberated for more than a month about whether to go to Army investigators but finally decided it was a "moral call."

Testifying for the first time publicly about the international scandal that his initially anonymous tip touched off, Darby said he was stunned when he discovered the now-notorious photos showing hooded and naked detainees piled in a pyramid and forced to simulate sex acts as grinning U.S. soldiers stood by.

"It violated everything that I personally believed in and everything that I had been taught about the rules of war," Darby, 24, testified by telephone at a pretrial hearing for Pfc. Lynndie R. England, one of seven of Darby's fellow soldiers from the Western Maryland-based 372nd Military Police Company who has been charged in the scandal.

Darby testified as military prosecutors wrapped up a hearing that will determine whether England, 21, who is seven months pregnant by another soldier from the unit, will face a full court-martial on 19 counts of detainee mistreatment and indecent acts.

The hearing is expected to continue today with defense attorneys arguing to the presiding officer, Col. Denise Arn, that they should be able to call additional witnesses. They had initially asked to call Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other top-ranking military officers.

England and her lawyers have said that she and the other accused soldiers were acting at the direction of military intelligence officers, who they say condoned a range of humiliating and abusive tactics at the prison to extract information from detainees as they faced increasing pressure last fall to counter the violent Iraqi insurgency.

Defense attorneys also sought yesterday to portray the 372nd unit more broadly as a bawdy group in which lewd pranks and occasional nudity among soldiers was the norm. The lawyers recalled four members of the unit who had testified earlier this week and asked each whether such activities were common and whether pictures existed.

One of them, Sgt. Robert Jones II, a Baltimore police officer in civilian life, matter-of-factly said that such pranks went on but that they never involved Iraqis, civilians or detainees.

"The members of the 372nd MP Company are very close and comfortable with each other, and sometimes we moon each other," Jones said, testifying again by phone from Fort Lee, Va., where the unit returned this week. "We're sitting around bored, in a stressed-out situation. ... We would joke around sometimes like that."

In his testimony, Darby said his friendships in the unit - and with some of the people who were shown in the prisoner abuse photos - made his decision to report what he had discovered to military officials more difficult.

He testified that he learned about the abuses in the Abu Ghraib cellblock when he asked England's wartime boyfriend, Spc. Charles A. Graner Jr., in early December whether he could download onto his computers some of the many digital pictures he knew Graner had shot while the unit was in Iraq.

When he downloaded the pictures, Darby said, he expected to find a travelogue.

"Initially, I was kind of shocked and kind of bewildered," Darby testified, saying that he was a friend of Graner and had known England since before she went to basic training. "I didn't know what to do."

In the end, he said, "It was basically a moral call."

Darby said he decided on Jan. 13, more than a month after he first looked at the photographs, to turn the photos over to agents with the Army Criminal Investigation Command who were stationed at the prison facility.

Anonymous letter

He said he copied the photos onto a computer disk, typed an anonymous letter and delivered the package to investigators. Darby said that the only person he talked to about the decision was his roommate and that he never confronted Graner or any of the other soldiers seen in the pictures.

The investigator who received the plain manila envelope testified this week that he soon determined that Darby was the tipster and began a broad investigation that later erupted into the public scandal that damaged the image of the United States and led to the arrests of seven reservists.

England is the only one to face court proceedings in the United States. Another, Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits, has pleaded guilty and been sentenced to a year in jail. He was expected to testify yesterday from the prison barracks at Camp LeJeune, N.C., but had not arrived from Germany and was unavailable.

Capt. Donald J. Reese, commander of the 372nd unit, testified yesterday over the telephone that he "felt betrayed by my soldiers" when he learned about the photos and abuse through Army investigators early this year.

"I was shocked they had done what they did," Reese said. "I couldn't believe they took it to that extent."

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