Blowing The Whistle: Abu Ghraib and Joe Darby

by Sophie Mullen

Under Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, Abu Ghraib prison – situated in central Iraq – gained international recognition through reports of overcrowding and torture. After the collapse of Hussein’s regime, the U.S. military was placed in overseeing the detention facility. However, U.S. actions demonstrated major breaches of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.  The severest abuses occurred as part of then-Secretary Rumsfeld’s initiative to increase ‘actionable intelligence’ among Iraqi prisoners. The allegations were verified by “detailed witness statements” (Hersh, 2004) and the discovery of “extremely graphic photographic evidence” (ibid), which CBS’ 60 Minutes broadcasted in a special report in 2004.

Joe Darby, a reserve soldier for the U.S. forces, exposed the violations ongoing at Abu Ghraib prison in January 2004. The photographs were handed to him on a CD by Charles Graner – after seeing the images, it took him 3 weeks to hand the photos in. Shortly after, the soldiers accused were removed from the base. As Mestrovic suggests, “had it not been for those photographs, the abuse at Abu Ghraib most likely would not have been noticed by the world as quickly as it was, and abuse would not have been suspected at other sites from [Guantanamo] to Afghanistan” (Mestrovic, 2006:8). Interestingly, Darby was promised anonymity, based on his concern that he would be labelled a traitor, or murdered by his colleagues. In an interview with the BBC, Darby said, “he was sitting in a crowded Iraqi canteen with hundreds of soldiers and Donald Rumsfeld came on the television to thank [him] by name for handing in the photographs” (Bryan, 2007). Darby is adamant that this was not a mistake, based on the understanding that statements are often scripted and it would be unlikely that the Secretary of Defence “had no idea about the star witness for a criminal case being anonymous” (ibid). It is likely Rumsfeld did this with intent as a response to Darby threatening ‘State secrets’. However, the effect of whistleblowing led others to come forward and, five months later, the Taguba report and the Torture Memos were leaked to the press. These leaks exposed Rumsfeld’s initiative, alongside other members of the Bush administration, to increase actionable intelligence.

In response to Darby’s whistle-blowing and the documents that were leaked as a result of his actions, the U.S. held numerous congressional hearings and investigations into allegations of abuse. The Kern- Fay-Jones and Schlesinger panel reports were published in August 2004. Both reports said the soldiers involved and their local commanders were liable for the prisoner abuses, “but each pointed a finger of criticism higher up” (BBC, 2004). The Fay report indicated that “23 military intelligence personnel and four civilian contractors joined in or encouraged the abuse” (ibid). Yet, the Schlesinger report criticised the soldiers “brutality and purposeless sadism” (ibid). The Schlesinger report reinforced the Bush administration’s notion that the abuses at Abu Ghraib was an isolated incident, which did not represent the U.S. objectives in Iraq. As a result, eleven soldiers were convicted – however, most sentences were minor. Charles Graner served the most severe conviction; six-and-a-half years of his ten-year sentence.

Many organisations concluded that enhanced interrogation techniques constituted as torture (Amnesty International, 2008; Human Rights Watch, 2011; International Committee of the Red Cross, 2007; Open Society Justice Initiative, 2013; Physicians for Human Rights, 2008). Furthermore, “several human rights groups have compiled a 2500-page criminal complaint against Bush for violating the Convention Against Torture which they plan to file with the courts if Bush ever travels outside of the United States” (Chwastiak, 2015).

In 2011, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released the report, ‘Getting Away with Torture: The Bush Administration and Mistreatment of Detainees’ which suggests “there is no longer any doubt as to whether the [Bush] administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account” (Human Rights Watch, 2011). The report examines who is really responsible for the torture and ill-treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib – and whilst several ‘perpetrators’ were prosecuted, HRW focuses on senior officials—”former President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, CIA Director George Tenet” and numerous others within the administration (ibid).

Without real accountability for the crimes committed at Abu Ghraib, “those who commit abuses in the name of counterterrorism will point to the U.S. mistreatment of detainees to deflect criticism of their own conduct” (ibid). The U.S. has a prominent and dominating government – so when they openly defy laws prohibiting torture, it creates “a bedrock principle of human rights, it virtually invites others to do the same” (ibid). As HRW concluded, “The U.S. government’s much-needed credibility as a proponent of human rights was damaged by the torture revelations and continues to be damaged by the complete impunity for the policymakers implicated in criminal offenses” (ibid). Without the whistle-blowers detailing the events at Abu Ghraib and the subsequent reports leaked after, human rights abuse would likely have gone on for longer. Yet, because of the actions of one brave individual – in this case, reserve soldier Joe Darby – the human rights abuses of the U.S. Army and the Bush Administration came to light. This subsequently led to increased scrutiny from both within the U.S. and from the international community as a whole.



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