Professionalism/Joe Darby, Samuel Provance, and Abu Ghraib
Abu Ghraib Prison was an American detention center located outside of Baghdad, Iraq. It held over 15,000 prisoners and due to poor record keeping may have housed even more. These prisoners were categorized as common criminals, security detainees, and a few “high-value” leaders in the insurgency. Of these prisoners, the Taguba Report stated that over 60% were civilian security detainees that should have been released quickly once classified as non-threatening, but this process was extremely inefficient. In addition, the military police which guarded the prison was undermanned and undertrained in correct protocols for handling prisoners.
Through October to December of 2003, “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” occurred at Abu Ghraib according to the Taguba Report. The torture enacted by the military police involved sodomizing detainees, terrorizing and threatening them with military dogs, physically abuse and emotional abuse through sexual humiliation that was extremely disrespectful to their culture.
Pictures of this abuse was leaked to the media outlets in 2004 and the horrors of Abu Ghraib were exposed in articles in the New Yorker, TV news specials, and even led to the creation of multiple documentaries (Standard Operating Procedure, The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib).
Sergeant Joseph Darby was a military police officer (MP) who worked at Abu Ghraib prison in 2003-2004. He was the first person to report the abuse of prisoners and inhumane activities that were taking place within the walls of the infamous prison. Some of the people he reported were from areas near his hometown in rural Maryland, and had known him since basic training. His actions sparked the Criminal Investigation Division's (CID) investigation of the crimes that were committed at Abu Ghraib. After coming home from Iraq, Darby is celebrated nationally and respected within the military community, but his actions were not well received by the people in his hometown.
A Startling Discovery
After working at Abu Ghraib prison for several months, Darby wanted to send some photos to his wife, Bernadette. He asked his friend, prison guard Charles Graner, who enjoyed photography, if he had any pictures of the area. Graner replied that he did, and he handed Darby two discs. When Darby put the discs in his computer, he was shocked at the content of the photos. He found deeply disturbing images of the torturous acts that were taking place during the night shift at Abu Ghraib.
As an MP, Darby did not have regular interaction with the detainees at Abu Ghraib. Upon seeing the horrifying pictures from Graner, he noticed that many of the US military personnel who appeared to be carrying out the torture were also MPs, and some of them were in his battalion. This means that they should not have been in contact with detainees at all, much less tormenting and humiliating them. Darby knew what he had to do.
Darby knew that he had to report what he had seen. In an interview, he said "I've always had a moral sense of right and wrong, and I knew... friend or not, it had to stop." Because the people he was turning in were his friends, he wanted to remain anonymous. He created a disc of the photos and submitted them to a CID officer in person, and the officer promised to protect Darby's anonymity.
Although Darby’s identity was kept secret until the suspects were removed from duty at the prison, it was leaked to the media shortly afterward. When his name was reported, Darby was very worried for his personal safety. He was surprised to discover that his decision was respected within the military because he handled the situation appropriately. Despite the acceptance from the Army, he was estranged by the residents of his hometown of Cumberland, Maryland. He even received threats to his life and the lives of his family members because he was seen as a traitor for reporting members of his own battalion. Upon returning to the United States, Darby was relocated to an unknown Army base for his own protection. He was honorably discharged from the Army, and he and his family were protected by armed military guards at all times for over six months. Despite everything that Darby and his family have had to endure as a result of reporting the abuse at Abu Ghraib, Darby maintains that if given the option, he would report the abuse again. He knew that illegal activities were taking place in the prison, and it was his duty as an MP to report such activities.
Army Sergeant Samuel Provance was a military intelliegence analyst assigned to Abu Ghraib in September 2003. Though Provance did not turn in his close friends as Darby did, his actions shed light on the hostility a whistleblower endures. During the Criminal Investigation Division's investigation, he was the sole active duty soldier to freely cooperate concerning the question of detainee abuse. He received written orders to no longer discuss the circumstances of Abu Ghraib. However, he directly disobeyed these orders and gave interviews with several medias. Because of this break of silence, Provance was demoted, his security clearance suspended, and he was threatened with a possible ten years in military prison if he demanded a court martial.
As a whistleblower, he did not focus on the evidence surrounding the abuse or the military police that carried such abominable actions out. Unlike Darby and Rumsfeld, he did not blame these actions on “a few bad apples.”. Throughout investigations, inquiries, and interviews, the military police mentioned following orders and encouragement from military intelligence officers. High ranking officials visited the compound during the time the abuse took place and Provance argued that they had to have been aware of some type of misconduct. Provance expressed the idea of a cover-up. The military police were certainly in the wrong, but high ranking officers, contractors, and an overall systematic failure of protocol were responsible for knowingly allowing or ordering the abuse at Abu Ghraib. The military intelligence officers’ roles were repressed, not only in the available photographs, but in those sentenced. Lieutenant Colonel Jordan was the highest ranking officer to be put on trial. Eventually of the original 12 counts, he was convicted of only one and issued a reprimand. Retired Army Colonel Janis Karpinski agreed with Provance indicating higher officials and their issued memorandums as the area where true responsibility rested and stated, "That is what we have been saying from the very beginning, that, wait a minute, why are you inside pointing the finger at me, why are you pointing the fingers at the soldiers here? There's a bigger story here."
In an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, Provance explained, “You know, there were so many different moving pieces and very important and very powerful people monitoring what was going on. I mean, most people think that what happened at Abu Ghraib was just a handful of soldiers, you know, out in the middle of nowhere, some remote outpost, when in reality it was the premier hub of human intelligence, you know, being watched by the highest powers that be. I mean, even before I had gotten there, Donald Rumsfeld had visited there, Paul Wolfowitz, other representatives for other people in our government, as well as our own, you know, Army powers that be, such as General Ricardo Sanchez and General Fast. And there was brass all over the place on the prison itself. I mean, there was more first sergeants and commanders than you could shake a stick at.
You know, that’s why I know—and even what was going on, I mean, even the cooks knew thing that were going on. Even the mechanics knew the things that were going on. And that’s why, even to this day, I’m just completely amazed that there’s been nobody else that, you know, has had their conscience bother them to come forward and say, look, you know, this is what was really going on, and that, you know, it wasn’t just these MPs and that these MPs were really doing what they were told.”
When entrenched in a culture that adheres to deep sense of camaraderie, coupled with the consequences of his exposure, why was Samuel Provance the only officer to come forward with information? One of the ethical guideposts that he used and remembered came from a Holocaust survivor, “Thou shalt not be a victim. Thou shalt not be a perpetrator. Above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.” To this statement, he responded, “After what had happened at Abu Ghraib, I was haunted by this thought. I felt I owed a duty to those who were suffering abuse, and just as much to my fellow soldiers who were trapped, suffering and degraded by the implementation of these new policies. That duty was to speak, no matter the consequences that I might suffer. I decided to do so.” Yet, even though regarded as a courageous hero for standing up to injustice by Congressmen, citizens, and organizations , he has suffered as a whistleblower. He lost his wife, his job, and the Army, which he still believes in and claims “Well, on a personal level, obviously, I would say it’s not worth it, you know, but this is bigger than me.”
Whistleblower's Professionalism in the Military
These are two cases of two men who recognized their ethical responsibility to step forward. They placed the gain of strangers above themselves and their fellow American soldiers. Yet, the societal reactions to their actions varied. Joe Darby was shunned by his hometown for turning in his friends, but respected and protected by the military. Provance was viewed as a traitor to the Army and his career stunted. Both men are heroes in the overall public eye, but their lives were transformed by their choice to reveal the truth. And while these two situations occurred in the midst of a military environment, other cases in this wiki book including Peter Buxtun and the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, Mark Klein and Room 641A, and Frederic Whitehurst and the FBI involve different work-constructed cultures. Because anonymity was not maintained for Darby or Provance, they had to suffer higher consequences than they would have otherwise. This gives rise to the question of whether or not it is possible to be an anonymous whistleblower, and if guaranteed anonymity would increase the number of people who are willing to speak out in the face of wrongdoing. While both of these men are regarded by the general American public as heroes for trying to end the torture at Abu Ghraib, their lives have certainly undergone permanent changes as a result of their actions. No matter what the situation or professional environment, there is always a price associated with blowing the proverbial whistle, and no one knows that better than Joseph Darby and Samuel Provance.
- , The New Yorker, 2004.
- , Taguba Report.
- 60 Minutes, 2007.
- , Congressional Hearing, 2006.
- BBC News, 2009.
- CNN, 2009.
- Democracy Now!, 2008.
- Harpers, 2007.