A Journey That Ended in Anguish
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.This story is just too sad for words. However, it raises more questions than it provides answers.
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 continue.
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.
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?
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.
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."
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.
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."
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 residue.
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 stubborn."
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.
Why are civilian contractors being used to train Iraqi forces?!?! WTF is up with that?
If we don't need more troops, as Rumsfeld, Cheney and others keep reminding us ad nauseum, then why on earth are our tax dollars paying civilian contractors to do the work that the military are supposed to be doing?
Today, on MTP, Russert was asking Sen. Warner (R-Va) about the closed hearings he held this week in which it was leaked that what the battlefield commanders had reported was that they did not have enough troops and that they had repeatedly asked for more but were turned down flat. Warner weaseled out of a response to Russert's question with claims that he could not confirm nor deny the truthfulness of the leaked information about the substance of the hearings. When asked whether Sen. Warner thought that Rumsfeld and the president had been less than candid in their repeated statements that "if the commanders in Iraq ask for more troops, they will get them", the senator said he believed that Rumsfeld was being truthful.
I nearly threw up. What is unsaid in any of this is the fact that Rumsfeld has made it crystal clear that he doesn't want to hear about the need for more troops, and hence his immediate subordinates, those in charge in Iraq and Afghanistan, have never asked him and have simply been turning back any requests from the battlefield commanders. That was the substance of the hearing and Sen. Warner is being disingenuous and IMO unpatriotic by not letting us know the truth.
Sen. Biden (D-De) made that point clear (thankfully), and reiterated that it has been clear from the start that we didn't have enough going in, enough to secure the peace after Saddam had been overthrown, and didn't have enough to mount a counter-insurgency. He said that now it is too late, that increasing the forces will only reinforce the perception that the US is an occupying force; the very thing that fuels the insurgency.
Iraq is officially a clusterf***. Why Rumsfeld wasn't fired long, long ago is a mystery. He has completely ruined our military. The man is utterly insane, and yet Dipshit keeps him on. I can't wait for the "Rummy, you're doing a heckova job" statement from Dubya.
Fire Rumsfeld, now. This clusterf*** is his clusterf***, even if it is Cheney's war.