Friday, 14 December 2012
Thanks for telling me it was a good day until I briefed you. [General Petraeus]—You are only interested in your career and provide no support to your staff—no msn [mission] support and you don’t care.
I cannot support a msn that leads to corruption, human right abuses and liars. I am sullied—no more. I didn’t volunteer to support corrupt, money grubbing contractors, nor work for commanders only interested in themselves.
I came to serve honorably and feel dishonored. I trust no Iraqi. I cannot live this way.
All my love to my family, my wife and my precious children. I love you and trust you only. Death before being dishonored any more.
Trust is essential—I don’t know who trust anymore. [sic] Why serve when you cannot accomplish the mission, when you no longer believe in the cause, when your every effort and breath to succeed meets with lies, lack of support, and selfishness?
Reevaluate yourselves, cdrs [commanders]. You are not what you think you are and I know it.
COL Ted Westhusing
Life needs trust. Trust is no more for me here in Iraq.
Two years before Westhusing left for Baghdad, he had finished his doctoral dissertation in philosophy at Emory University in Atlanta. The focus was on honor and the ethics of war. Westhusing wanted to understand arete—the ancient Greek word meaning virtue, skill, and excellence. His quest for understanding the concept was, he believed, a central part of his existence. “Born to be a warrior, I desire these answers not just for philosophical reasons, but for self-knowledge,” he wrote.
Westhusing did not find excellence or virtue in Iraq.
When he was in Iraq, Westhusing worked for one of the most famous generals in the U.S. military, David Petraeus. In January, Petraeus was appointed by President Bush to lead all U.S. forces in Iraq. As the head of counterterrorism and special operations under Petraeus, Westhusing oversaw the single most important task facing the U.S. military in Iraq then and now: training the Iraqi security forces.
"Something he saw [in Iraq] drove him to this,” one Army officer who was close to Westhusing said in an interview. “The sum of what he saw going on drove him” to take his own life. “It’s because he believed in duty, honor, country that he’s dead.”
The officer said that “strength of character was Ted’s defining characteristic. It was unflinching integrity.” That integrity, he said, was also Westhusing’s great flaw. “To be a true flaw, the personality has to have great strength. And that characteristic caused his downfall.”
Westhusing was born in Dallas, one of seven children. He went to grade school in La Porte, near Houston, until the seventh grade, when his family moved to Tulsa. He was an outstanding student. He was the starting point guard on the basketball team at Jenks High School, a National Merit Scholar, and a devout Christian. He was a hard worker. He was so devoted to basketball that he would shoot 100 jump shots each morning before school. His work ethic, grades, and reputation gave him his pick of colleges. He was accepted at Notre Dame and Duke. He chose West Point. Westhusing’s father had served in the Korean War and had later been in the Navy Reserve.
Westhusing got to West Point in 1979, a time of major upheaval. The academy was still going through the aftershocks of a major cheating scandal. There was a tremendous emphasis on ethics and truthfulness. Westhusing loved it. As an underclassman, he was his company’s honor representative on the cadet committee. In 1983, during his senior year, he was selected as the honor captain for the whole school, a position that made him the highest-ranking ethics official within the cadet corps. In that position, Westhusing helped adjudicate all of the honor violations that came before the committee. That year, he graduated third in his class.
From West Point, he went on to serve in the 82nd Airborne Division. He went to Ranger and Airborne schools and did stints in Italy, South Korea, and Honduras. He learned to speak Russian and Italian. And he continued his quest for intellectual excellence. In 2000, he went to Emory for a master’s degree in philosophy. In 2002, he moved to Austin to take a six-week class in classical Greek at the University of Texas. Westhusing and his Greek teacher at UT, Thomas Palaima, worked as consultants on a television documentary about the Trojan horse.
At West Point, Westhusing was comfortable in his teaching job. He had no reason to do anything else. He was at the pinnacle of his profession and doing a job he loved. But in late 2004, he got a call from a former commander in the 82nd Airborne Division asking if he wanted to go to Iraq. Westhusing didn’t hesitate before saying yes. Westhusing’s father, Keith Westhusing, would later tell T. Christian Miller, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, that his son wanted to go to Iraq to “obtain verification.” Going would make him a better soldier, his father is quoted as saying in Miller’s recent book about corruption in Iraq, Blood Money. A stint in Iraq would “lend authenticity to his status, not only as a soldier, but as an instructor at West Point.”
A fellow officer who worked with Westhusing at West Point said in an interview that prior to leaving for Iraq, “Ted never swayed in his belief that the Iraq mission was both just and being performed correctly; he told me personally that he would stay longer than the assigned six months if necessary. Before leaving, he was engaged in intense debate with the senior philosophy professor in the department. Ted believed in the mission, while his counterpart had several questions as to whether Operation Iraqi Freedom met the standards of a just war.”
Westhusing’s wife, Michelle, later told investigators that her husband believed “going to Iraq would make him a better professor when he taught cadets who would likely be going over there. … He thought we were doing a great thing in Iraq.”
The first stop on Westhusing’s deployment was Fort Benning, Georgia. He went through his medical exams, collected his equipment, and worked on his shooting skills. After so much time in the classroom, those skills were not sharp. According to documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, Westhusing scored just 170 on the combat pistol range when he was tested on January 15, 2005. If he had scored just 20 points lower, he would not have qualified.
Nevertheless, Westhusing’s first few weeks in Iraq were, he wrote to a friend, “high adventure.” His formal title was director, counter terrorism/special operations, Civilian Police Assistance Training Team, Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq. He liked working closely with his Iraqi counterparts and seemed to get along well with the contractors from Virginia-based U.S. Investigations Services, a private security company with contracts worth $79 million to help train Iraqi police units that were conducting special operations. (The owners of USIS include the Carlyle Group, the powerful private equity firm whose investors formerly included George H.W. Bush and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III.) In another message to a friend back home, he said that “if you are not of strong character and know right from wrong, you will leave this place devastated in personal esteem and priceless human beings will be harmed.”
Westhusing worked under the supervision of two army generals: Joseph Fil, a major general (two stars) and Petraeus, a lieutenant general (three stars). Petraeus was impressed with Westhusing. By 2005, Petraeus had become a darling of the U.S. media thanks, in part, to his success in helping stabilize and rebuild northern Iraq. Petraeus liked what he saw in Westhusing and promoted him from lieutenant colonel to full colonel. In a March 2005 e-mail, Petraeus told Westhusing that he had “already exceeded the very lofty expectations that all had for you.”
It appears that shortly after writing the note, at about 1 p.m. Baghdad time, Westhusing took the 9 mm Beretta automatic pistol he’d been issued at Fort Benning five months earlier, placed it behind his left ear, and pulled the trigger.
After Westhusing’s death, there was a great deal of speculation. Some family members and friends began wondering if he had been murdered. Westhusing was supposed to leave for the U.S. on July 7. Yet
e killed himself on June 5. Why, they
asked, couldn’t he stick it out for just one more month?
Much of the speculation focused on USIS and the contractors. Did Westhusing have evidence that the contractors wanted to keep quiet?
There were conflicting stories from the contractors about how they discovered Westhusing’s body. One manager said that the first time he went to find Westhusing after lunch on June 5, the door to Westhusing’s room was locked. But on a second visit, he said, he found the door unlocked. Further, one of the first people to find Westhusing in his room, a military contractor, moved Westhusing’s pistol from its original position, claiming he had done so for safety reasons. That person was never checked for gunpowder residue.
Twelve days after Westhusing’s body was found, Army investigators talked with Michelle Westhusing. She told them the suicide note found near her husband’s body matched “almost verbatim” the discussions she had had with him, and that the handwriting matched her husband’s. She said Westhusing had “lost faith in his commanders” and “did not trust the Iraqis as far as he could spit.”
Asked by investigators if she had anything else to add, she replied, “The one thing I really wish is you guys to go to everyone listed in that letter and speak with them. I think Ted gave his life to let everyone know what was going on. They need to get to the bottom of it, and hope all these bad things get cleaned up.”
It appears that Michelle didn’t get her wish.
In September 2005, the Army’s inspector general concluded an investigation into allegations raised in the anonymous letter to Westhusing shortly before his death. It found no basis for any of the issues raised. Although the report is redacted in places, it is clear that the investigation was aimed at determining whether Fil or Petraeus had ignored the corruption and human rights abuses allegedly occurring within the training program for Iraqi security personnel. The report, approved by the Army’s vice chief of staff, four-star Gen. Richard Cody, concluded that “commands and commanders operated in an Iraqi cultural and ethical environment often at odds with Western practices.” It said none of the unit members “accepted institutional corruption or human rights abuses. Unit members, and specifically [redacted name] and [redacted name] took appropriate action where corruption or abuse was reported.”
The context, placement and relative size of the redacted names strongly suggest that they refer to Petraeus and Fil.
Last November, Fil returned to Iraq. He is now the commanding general of the Multinational Division in Baghdad and of the 1st Cavalry Division.
On February 12, Petraeus took command of all U.S. forces in Iraq. He now wears four stars. And as in 2005, Petraeus’s main job in Iraq will be building up beleaguered police and military. He made that point clear in a open letter to U.S. soldiers and civilians serving in Iraq, which he had distributed on the day he took command. His letter declared that, “Shoulder-to-shoulder with our Iraqi comrades, we will conduct a pivotal campaign to improve security for the Iraqi people. Together with our Iraqi partners, we must defeat those who oppose the new Iraq.”