[Marxism] Military ethicist kills himself over Iraq abuses
lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Nov 27 07:09:10 MST 2005
LA Times, November 27, 2005
THE CONFLICT IN IRAQ
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honor and country had been replaced by profit motives in Iraq, where the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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
In the military report, the unidentified colonel told investigators that he
had turned to Michelle, Westhusing's wife, and asked what happened.
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