[Marxism] Military ethicist kills himself over Iraq abuses

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Nov 27 07:09:10 MST 2005

LA Times, November 27, 2005  	
A Journey That Ended in Anguish
Col. Ted Westhusing, a military ethicist who volunteered to go to Iraq, was 
upset by what he saw. His apparent suicide raises questions.

By T. Christian Miller, Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — One hot, dusty day in June, Col. Ted Westhusing was found dead 
in a trailer at a military base near the Baghdad airport, a single gunshot 
wound to the head.

The Army would conclude that he committed suicide with his service pistol. 
At the time, he was the highest-ranking officer to die in Iraq.

The Army closed its case. But the questions surrounding Westhusing's death 

Westhusing, 44, was no ordinary officer. He was one of the Army's leading 
scholars of military ethics, a full professor at West Point who volunteered 
to serve in Iraq to be able to better teach his students. He had a 
doctorate in philosophy; his dissertation was an extended meditation on the 
meaning of honor.

So it was only natural that Westhusing acted when he learned of possible 
corruption by U.S. contractors in Iraq. A few weeks before he died, 
Westhusing received an anonymous complaint that a private security company 
he oversaw had cheated the U.S. government and committed human rights 
violations. Westhusing confronted the contractor and reported the concerns 
to superiors, who launched an investigation.

In e-mails to his family, Westhusing seemed especially upset by one 
conclusion he had reached: that traditional military values such as duty, 
honor and country had been replaced by profit motives in Iraq, where the 
U.S. had come to rely heavily on contractors for jobs once done by the 

His death stunned all who knew him. Colleagues and commanders wondered 
whether they had missed signs of depression. He had been losing weight and 
not sleeping well. But only a day before his death, Westhusing won praise 
from a senior officer for his progress in training Iraqi police.

His friends and family struggle with the idea that Westhusing could have 
killed himself. He was a loving father and husband and a devout Catholic. 
He was an extraordinary intellect and had mastered ancient Greek and 
Italian. He had less than a month before his return home. It seemed 
impossible that anything could crush the spirit of a man with such a 
powerful sense of right and wrong.

On the Internet and in conversations with one another, Westhusing's family 
and friends have questioned the military investigation.

A note found in his trailer seemed to offer clues. Written in what the Army 
determined was his handwriting, the colonel appeared to be struggling with 
a final question.

How is honor possible in a war like the one in Iraq?

Even at Jenks High School in suburban Tulsa, one of the biggest in 
Oklahoma, Westhusing stood out. He was starting point guard for the 
Trojans, a team that made a strong run for the state basketball 
championship his senior year. He was a National Merit Scholarship finalist. 
He was an officer in a fellowship of Christian athletes.

Joe Holladay, who coached Westhusing before going on to become assistant 
coach of the University of North Carolina Tarheels, recalled Westhusing 
showing up at the gym at 7 a.m. to get in 100 extra practice shots.

"There was never a question of how hard he played or how much effort he put 
into something," Holladay said. "Whatever he did, he did well. He was the 
cream of the crop."

When Westhusing entered West Point in 1979, the tradition-bound institution 
was just emerging from a cheating scandal that had shamed the Army. 
Restoring honor to the nation's preeminent incubator for Army leadership 
was the focus of the day.

Cadets are taught to value duty, honor and country, and are drilled in West 
Point's strict moral code: A cadet will not lie, cheat or steal — or 
tolerate those who do.

Westhusing embraced it. He was selected as honor captain for the entire 
academy his senior year. Col. Tim Trainor, a classmate and currently a West 
Point professor, said Westhusing was strict but sympathetic to cadets' 
problems. He remembered him as "introspective."

Westhusing graduated third in his class in 1983 and became an infantry 
platoon leader. He received special forces training, served in Italy, South 
Korea and Honduras, and eventually became division operations officer for 
the 82nd Airborne, based at Ft. Bragg, N.C.

He loved commanding soldiers. But he remained drawn to intellectual pursuits.

In 2000, Westhusing enrolled in Emory University's doctoral philosophy 
program. The idea was to return to West Point to teach future leaders.

He immediately stood out on the leafy Atlanta campus. Married with 
children, he was surrounded by young, single students. He was a deeply 
faithful Christian in a graduate program of professional skeptics.

Plunged into academia, Westhusing held fast to his military ties. Students 
and professors recalled him jogging up steep hills in combat boots and 
camouflage, his rucksack full, to stay in shape. He wrote a paper 
challenging an essay that questioned the morality of patriotism.

"He was as straight an arrow as you would possibly find," said Aaron 
Fichtelberg, a fellow student and now a professor at the University of 
Delaware. "He seemed unshakable."

In his 352-page dissertation, Westhusing discussed the ethics of war, 
focusing on examples of military honor from Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee 
to the Israeli army. It is a dense, searching and sometimes personal effort 
to define what, exactly, constitutes virtuous conduct in the context of the 
modern U.S. military.

"Born to be a warrior, I desire these answers not just for philosophical 
reasons, but for self-knowledge," he wrote in the opening pages.

As planned, Westhusing returned to teach philosophy and English at West 
Point as a full professor with a guaranteed lifetime assignment. He settled 
into life on campus with his wife, Michelle, and their three young children.

But amid the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, he told friends that he felt 
experience in Iraq would help him in teaching cadets. In the fall of 2004, 
he volunteered for duty.

"He wanted to serve, he wanted to use his skills, maybe he wanted some 
glory," recalled Nick Fotion, his advisor at Emory. "He wanted to go."

In January, Westhusing began work on what the Pentagon considered the most 
important mission in Iraq: training Iraqi forces to take over security 
duties from U.S. troops.

Westhusing's task was to oversee a private security company, Virginia-based 
USIS, which had contracts worth $79 million to train a corps of Iraqi 
police to conduct special operations.

In March, Gen. David Petraeus, commanding officer of the Iraqi training 
mission, praised Westhusing's performance, saying he had exceeded "lofty 

"Thanks much, sir, but we can do much better and will," Westhusing wrote 
back, according to a copy of the Army investigation of his death that was 
obtained by The Times.

In April, his mood seemed to have darkened. He worried over delays in 
training one of the police battalions.

Then, in May, Westhusing received an anonymous four-page letter that 
contained detailed allegations of wrongdoing by USIS.

The writer accused USIS of deliberately shorting the government on the 
number of trainers to increase its profit margin. More seriously, the 
writer detailed two incidents in which USIS contractors allegedly had 
witnessed or participated in the killing of Iraqis.

A USIS contractor accompanied Iraqi police trainees during the assault on 
Fallouja last November and later boasted about the number of insurgents he 
had killed, the letter says. Private security contractors are not allowed 
to conduct offensive operations.

In a second incident, the letter says, a USIS employee saw Iraqi police 
trainees kill two innocent Iraqi civilians, then covered it up. A USIS 
manager "did not want it reported because he thought it would put his 
contract at risk."

Westhusing reported the allegations to his superiors but told one of them, 
Gen. Joseph Fil, that he believed USIS was complying with the terms of its 

U.S. officials investigated and found "no contractual violations," an Army 
spokesman said. Bill Winter, a USIS spokesman, said the investigation 
"found these allegations to be unfounded."

However, several U.S. officials said inquiries on USIS were ongoing. One 
U.S. military official, who, like others, requested anonymity because of 
the sensitivity of the case, said the inquiries had turned up problems, but 
nothing to support the more serious charges of human rights violations.

"As is typical, there may be a wisp of truth in each of the allegations," 
the official said.

The letter shook Westhusing, who felt personally implicated by accusations 
that he was too friendly with USIS management, according to an e-mail in 
the report.

"This is a mess 
 dunno what I will do with this," he wrote home to his 
family May 18.

The colonel began to complain to colleagues about "his dislike of the 
contractors," who, he said, "were paid too much money by the government," 
according to one captain.

"The meetings [with contractors] were never easy and always contentious. 
The contracts were in dispute and always under discussion," an Army Corps 
of Engineers official told investigators.

By June, some of Westhusing's colleagues had begun to worry about his 
health. They later told investigators that he had lost weight and begun 
fidgeting, sometimes staring off into space. He seemed withdrawn, they said.

His family was also becoming worried. He described feeling alone and 
abandoned. He sent home brief, cryptic e-mails, including one that said, 
"[I] didn't think I'd make it last night." He talked of resigning his command.

Westhusing brushed aside entreaties for details, writing that he would say 
more when he returned home. The family responded with an outpouring of 
e-mails expressing love and support.

His wife recalled a phone conversation that chilled her two weeks before 
his death.

"I heard something in his voice," she told investigators, according to a 
transcript of the interview. "In Ted's voice, there was fear. He did not 
like the nighttime and being alone."

Westhusing's father, Keith, said the family did not want to comment for 
this article.

On June 4, Westhusing left his office in the U.S.-controlled Green Zone of 
Baghdad to view a demonstration of Iraqi police preparedness at Camp 
Dublin, the USIS headquarters at the airport. He gave a briefing that 
impressed Petraeus and a visiting scholar. He stayed overnight at the USIS 

That night in his office, a USIS secretary would later tell investigators, 
she watched Westhusing take out his 9-millimeter pistol and "play" with it, 
repeatedly unholstering the weapon.

At a meeting the next morning to discuss construction delays, he seemed 
agitated. He stewed over demands for tighter vetting of police candidates, 
worried that it would slow the mission. He seemed upset over funding 

Uncharacteristically, he lashed out at the contractors in attendance, 
according to the Army Corps official. In three months, the official had 
never seen Westhusing upset.

"He was sick of money-grubbing contractors," the official recounted. 
Westhusing said that "he had not come over to Iraq for this."

The meeting broke up shortly before lunch. About 1 p.m., a USIS manager 
went looking for Westhusing because he was scheduled for a ride back to the 
Green Zone. After getting no answer, the manager returned about 15 minutes 
later. Another USIS employee peeked through a window. He saw Westhusing 
lying on the floor in a pool of blood.

The manager rushed into the trailer and tried to revive Westhusing. The 
manager told investigators that he picked up the pistol at Westhusing's 
feet and tossed it onto the bed.

"I knew people would show up," that manager said later in attempting to 
explain why he had handled the weapon. "With 30 years from military and law 
enforcement training, I did not want the weapon to get bumped and go off."

After a three-month inquiry, investigators declared Westhusing's death a 
suicide. A test showed gunpowder residue on his hands. A shell casing in 
the room bore markings indicating it had been fired from his service revolver.

Then there was the note.

Investigators found it lying on Westhusing's bed. The handwriting matched his.

The first part of the four-page letter lashes out at Petraeus and Fil. Both 
men later told investigators that they had not criticized Westhusing or 
heard negative comments from him. An Army review undertaken after 
Westhusing's death was complimentary of the command climate under the two 
men, a U.S. military official said.

Most of the letter is a wrenching account of a struggle for honor in a 
strange land.

"I cannot support a msn [mission] that leads to corruption, human rights 
abuse and liars. I am sullied," it says. "I came to serve honorably and 
feel dishonored.

"Death before being dishonored any more."

A psychologist reviewed Westhusing's e-mails and interviewed colleagues. 
She concluded that the anonymous letter had been the "most difficult and 
probably most painful stressor."

She said that Westhusing had placed too much pressure on himself to succeed 
and that he was unusually rigid in his thinking. Westhusing struggled with 
the idea that monetary values could outweigh moral ones in war. This, she 
said, was a flaw.

"Despite his intelligence, his ability to grasp the idea that profit is an 
important goal for people working in the private sector was surprisingly 
limited," wrote Lt. Col. Lisa Breitenbach. "He could not shift his mind-set 
from the military notion of completing a mission irrespective of cost, nor 
could he change his belief that doing the right thing because it was the 
right thing to do should be the sole motivator for businesses."

One military officer said he felt Westhusing had trouble reconciling his 
ideals with Iraq's reality. Iraq "isn't a black-and-white place," the 
officer said. "There's a lot of gray."

Fil and Petraeus, Westhusing's commanding officers, declined to comment on 
the investigation, but they praised him. He was "an extremely bright, 
highly competent, completely professional and exceedingly hard-working 
officer. His death was truly tragic and was a tremendous blow," Petraeus said.

Westhusing's family and friends are troubled that he died at Camp Dublin, 
where he was without a bodyguard, surrounded by the same contractors he 
suspected of wrongdoing. They wonder why the manager who discovered 
Westhusing's body and picked up his weapon was not tested for gunpowder 

Mostly, they wonder how Col. Ted Westhusing — father, husband, son and 
expert on doing right — could have found himself in a place so dark that he 
saw no light.

"He's the last person who would commit suicide," said Fichtelberg, his 
graduate school colleague. "He couldn't have done it. He's just too damn 

Westhusing's body was flown back to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. 
Waiting to receive it were his family and a close friend from West Point, a 
lieutenant colonel.

In the military report, the unidentified colonel told investigators that he 
had turned to Michelle, Westhusing's wife, and asked what happened.

She answered:


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