No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

I've suggested before that the folks who blew the whistle about the abuses in Iraq deserve a medal.

Well, instead of medals, what at least one of them is getting is death threats — threats serious enough for the Army to place Joe Darby and his wife in a secure undisclosed location. I've take the liberty of quoting more than I usually do; I hope author Wil S. Hylton and GQ magazine will forgive me. (That said, you really should read the whole article.):

They shut him up. Fast. You never even saw him. No footage of him coming off the plane, no flags or banners waving, no parade in his honor. He came home from Iraq in May, but there wasn't even a formal announcement. In fact, you're not supposed to know he's here.

He lives in a secret location. It might be just down the street, or it might be halfway to nowhere. Maybe he was sitting at the next table last night, having dinner right beside you. You have no way of knowing: Nobody knows what he looks like. …

… He's been under a gag order for three months.

First the media drove Darby's wife out of her home. Then danger from the neighbors drove her into hiding.

Meanwhile, why can't Darby talk to the press? One reason may be that he knows just how bad the horrors were at Abu Ghraib — and as yet no one has gone on the record to confirm them…

… Back at Maxine and Clay's house, it didn't take long for the storm to catch up with Bernadette [Joe Darby's wife]. Any fantasy she had entertained about escape to the hills was dashed at 7 A.M., when her cell phone started ringing and wouldn't stop for the rest of the day. …

By noon, the house was surrounded by TV trucks and cameramen setting up lights and microphones. As soon as Maxine stepped in front of the first camera, she could feel the quicksand at her ankles. Every time she finished with one reporter, two more would arrive, then four more after that. How many times could she say the same thing? Afternoon fell and evening came and the reporters just kept coming, through sunset and into the night, newspapers and magazines and TV stations from New York and Washington, D.C., all the major dailies and the weeklies, too. Upstairs in the bedroom, Clay and Bernadette gazed out the window in awe, watching the line of reporters inch forward, single file, toward Maxine. Diane Sawyer's people called. Katie Couric's, too.

As the week wore on, it barely slowed down. In some ways it even got worse. No one slept, and the phones rang all night, and as the articles began to appear, the family realized that some journalists don't care what they say or how they make you feel. There was the writer from The Washington Post who asked a bunch of questions about Joe, then wrote an article about Maxine instead, about how small-town she was and how she'd never left Pennsylvania, which wasn't even true, and how her house was a mess, which was only true that week, and only for the obvious reasons, and nobody's business anyway. Then there was the team from ABC, calling so often it became like a joke. At one point, Clay counted fifteen calls from ABC in the span of a single dinner. But the worst was the guy from the New York Post who parked his white Mustang across the street, banging on the door every thirty minutes and demanding an interview with Bernadette. “I know she's in there,” he would say. “I'm not leaving until she comes out.” Sure enough, he didn't. He sat there for hours, watching every move they made and rushing to the door whenever anyone opened it. Well into the night, he was still there, and when Virginia came by to pick up her son Billy, Maxine brought him out with a blanket over his head, but the Post guy sprang out of his car, rushing toward them, and Billy started screaming and crying and Maxine shouted for help from the police officers who were standing across the street, but they just stared at her, then looked away. “It's a public street,” they said.

That was the real hell of it. The media blitz was bad, but at least it was in their faces. You could see it coming and knew what to expect, which was a total disregard for privacy. It was bad but predictable. By contrast, the rest of the community, from the cops to the checkout clerk at the grocery, had become a terrifying mystery. There was no way of knowing where anyone stood, how they felt, or what they might do. Forget about the families of Joe's unit. Bernadette knew they would hate her, but there were only so many of them. It was everyone else she was worried about. There were thousands of people in this stretch of valley, and she had lived here for most of her life. She knew some of them wouldn't support Joe. They wouldn't feel any sympathy for the Iraqis in those pictures, and they would consider Joe a traitor for blowing the whistle. Bernadette could see that coming. But the question was, how many were there? And which ones would they be?

Each day, she would catch another snippet of the hostility brewing around her. There was the candlelight vigil in Cumberland, Maryland, to show support for the disgraced soldiers, including the ones who did the torturing, about a hundred supporters standing in the pounding rain, as if beating and sodomizing prisoners were some kind of patriotic duty. Or the 200 people who gathered one night in Hyndman, Pennsylvania, waving American flags to honor Sivits, the first soldier tried in the scandal. They posted a sign in Hyndman. It said JEREMY SIVITS, OUR HOMETOWN HERO. And the mayor told reporters that even though Sivits would sometimes do “a little devilish thing,” on the whole he was “a wonderful kid.”

Where were the signs for Joe? Bernadette had to wonder. Where was his vigil? Where was his happy mayor? Where were his calls of support? Down at the gas station, Clay overheard some guys say that Joe was “walking around with a bull's-eye on his head,” just casually, just like, oh, everybody knows Joe's dead. Some of Bernadette's family even let her know that other members of the family were against her now, that they couldn't support a traitor. The more Bernadette heard, the more paranoid she became. How serious was this? Her nerves were so fried from the media onslaught that she couldn't be sure what was serious and what was just talk. Had those cops really ignored Maxine because they were against Joe? And if so, what else would they ignore?

…one thing Bernadette didn't know—because almost nobody knows it, because almost everybody who does know has either been lying or keeping it a secret—is the rest of the story, what really happened at Abu Ghraib. Oh, you hear allusions to the fact that certain things haven't been told, like Rumsfeld saying in May that the whole story is “a good deal more terrible” than what you've seen. But you don't hear Rumsfeld saying any more than that, or explaining what “more terrible” means.

You don't hear anybody explaining, for example, how Private Lynndie England, the woman in so many of those pictures, the one smiling and laughing and giving the thumbs-up, wasn't even supposed to be in the cellblock, how she didn't have any police authority and shouldn't have been dealing with inmates in the first place. You don't hear much of anything about her job, because the truth is, her job was something else entirely. Lynndie England was an administration clerk; not an MP like Joe but the equivalent of a secretary. “She was assigned to an MP unit,” says Blake Ellis, a paralegal with England's defense team, “but she wasn't an MP. She did not have any police authority. She was not supposed to be walking tiers or working with inmates.”

Then there's Sivits. Guess what? Not an MP, either. No business being in a cellblock, no business interacting with detainees. This is a prison with 300 military police on duty, and they've got a mechanic up at one in the morning taking pictures while they terrorize prisoners.

Sound kosher?

All this in a prison, by the way, that was overcrowded by about 350 percent. According to Major David DiNenna, who served under Karpinski in Abu Ghraib, “Towards the end, we had over 7,000 prisoners. We were only supposed to run 2,000.” Karpinski says the same thing.

Or how about this: children. Little kids. In the prison. …

… it's tough to know exactly how old the kids in Abu Ghraib really are and how many of them are in there, just like it's tough to know how they're being treated. Seymour Hersh, the man who uncovered the Abu Ghraib scandal in The New Yorker, claims that video exists of young Iraqi boys being sodomized. But Hersh hasn't come forward with the video, and neither has anybody else. Even if he's not right, there's no question that other prisoners were sodomized by U.S. soldiers. There are pictures of at least one Iraqi man being raped with a light stick. You didn't see those pictures on the news though, didn't hear Rumsfeld talk about that. Just like nobody except Janis Karpinski is talking about the three military-intelligence officers who were sent home in January after the sexual assault of two female prisoners. That case is confidential, just like the roughly 5,950 pages of Major General Antonio Taguba's 6,000-page investigation of the Abu Ghraib scandal are “confidential.” Just like all the pornography coming out of Abu Ghraib is being kept from you, the videos of Lynndie England fellating an unidentified man, the pictures of soldiers having sex. The members of the United States Congress apparently couldn't tell who the man was when they watched the highlight reel on a loop in a dark room on Capitol Hill one afternoon in May, an event that one Congressman calls “Bizarro World,” with representatives coming and going while hundreds of pictures and videos rolled by, people like Nancy Pelosi sitting in front of a screen of depravity, with a military minder occasionally interjecting, “This one's from Tier 1A.”

That wasn't on 60 Minutes II, either.

Just try calling your senator and asking him about that. Ask him what he saw. Any children? Pornography? Sexual abuse? Richard Durbin: No comment. Lindsey Graham: Can neither confirm nor deny. Joseph Lieberman: No response. Sam Brownback: No response. Carl Levin: No comment. Joseph Biden: No comment. Ron Wyden: Can neither confirm nor deny. Tim Johnson: Can neither confirm nor deny. Jon Corzine: No comment. Chuck Schumer: No response. Barbara Boxer: No comment. John Warner: No comment. Lincoln Chafee: No comment. Dianne Feinstein: No comment.

It's an election year, by the way.

And so, what Bernadette didn't know when the military escort came to get her—what she couldn't possibly imagine—was that she didn't need any help. All she needed was the truth. Because the irony of all this is that the people in Somerset County who turned their backs on Joe, well, those people would probably feel very different if they knew the rest of the story. That it really wasn't about softening prisoners, gathering intelligence, or trying to win the war. That it wasn't even about losing control in the heat of the moment. It was about getting up in the middle of the night and going somewhere you weren't supposed to go, then beating and raping people there. It was premeditated violent crime. And as long as that stays hidden, so will Bernadette and Joe, outcasts in their own community, two more victims of Abu Ghraib.

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