FORT BRAGG, N.C. – The soldier who was the first to report his colleagues were abusing Iraqi inmates at Abu Ghraib prison testified Friday that he agonized for a month about disclosing what he had seen, but decided he could not let the abuse go on.
“It violated everything I personally believed in and all I’d been taught about the rules of war,” Sgt. Joseph Darby testified during a pretrial hearing for Pfc. Lynndie England. “It was more of a moral call.”
Darby turned over two compact discs of photos, including some that showed England leading a naked prisoner by a leash and smiling as she points at the genitals of a hooded detainee. Darby had known the 21-year-old reservist since basic training with the Maryland-based 372nd Military Police Company and wrestled with the decision to come forward.
“These people were my friends,” Darby testified by phone from an undisclosed location. “It’s a hard call to have to make the decision to put your friends in prison.”
The Article 32 hearing at Fort Bragg is to determine whether England should face a court-martial on 13 counts of abusing detainees and six counts stemming from possession of sexually explicit photos. If convicted, she could get up to 38 years in prison.
Friday’s fourth day of testimony painted a picture of a prison in disarray, where it was often unclear whether guards or military intelligence officers were in charge and where barely trained reservists were often left to make decisions alone.
Darby testified that he received the now-notorious photos in early December on computer discs from Cpl. Charles Graner, with whom England was having a sexual affair. There had been a prison uprising while Darby was on leave, and he had asked Graner if he had any photos.
When he looked at the photos, Darby was “bewildered” by what he saw – prisoners chained together in sexual poses, piled on the floor naked and forced to form a nude human pyramid.
Finally, on Jan. 13, Darby decided to make copies of the CDs and write an anonymous letter to military investigators. Graner was scheduled to return to the prison the next day from another assignment, and Darby said he was “concerned about the abuse starting again.”
England has said the guards were told to “soften up” prisoners for interrogators. But Darby said England was a clerical worker who did not even belong in that part of the prison and that guards had no role in interrogations.
When asked by defense attorney Rick Hernandez to speculate why Graner and the others would do these things, Darby replied: “I don’t know if they were bored, sir, or doing things they couldn’t do at home. But I knew there was no good reason for it.”
Hernandez asked Darby whether he would have followed an order to put a naked prisoner into the prison’s “hole” as punishment, as was a common practice at Abu Ghraib. Darby said he would not have.
“Every soldier had the obligation to follow lawful orders – and not follow unlawful orders,” he said.
Darby, who is from Cresaptown, Md., where the 372nd is based, acknowledged that he had seen at least one image of detainee abuse as far back as October, when Graner showed him a still from a video camera of a hooded detainee handcuffed to the bars of his cell.
Graner and England are among seven 372nd members who have been charged with abuse. Graner also faces adultery charges for having sex with England, who her lawyers say is seven months pregnant with his child.