"The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner." (Psalms 118:22)

Colonel Theodore (Ted) Westhusing was a full professor at West Point, a PhD in philosophy who taught military ethics. He volunteered to serve in Iraq and was assigned to oversee the contracts of a private security company, United States Investigations Services out of Virginia (a branch of the Carlyle Group, there's a shocker) with contracts worth $79 million. They were hired to train an Iraqi police corps for "special operations".

[OEE Note: USIS identifies itself as a descendent of the federal Civil Service Commission that was put in place to investigate applicants after the assasination of President Garfield by an angry job seeker. It was transmuted by congress and the president into a private company in 1996. "Were I to see this on a stage, I would condemn it as an improbable fiction."]

Last May, an "anonymous" four-page letter was sent to Colonel Westhusing in Iraq that accused USIS of deliberately shorting the government on the number of trainers reported to increase its profit margin.

[OEE Note: This is an old game, frequently played. The Manchu army of the 19th century was full of these "ghost armies"-- the numbers of troops reported to the central government looked good on paper, but only a few of the names supplied by the local mandarins were viable soldiers-- the rest were old men, ward heelers, or somebody's brother-in-law. The central government gave the mandarins an allowance for each man reported on the books. The ward heeler got a few crumbs just for signing his name, and the mandarin pocketed the rest. If there was an inspection, the mandarins trotted their cronies around the barracks for a day, bribed the inspector, and everyone was happy. (The central government was no better-- the Dowager Empress spent money assigned for a modern battleship on an life sized ornamental boat for her garden. As a result, the Taiping rebellion made mincemeat out of the emperor's troops until the Chinese mandarin Tseng Kuo Fan and his protegees put together a reformed army that could actually fight for their Manchu masters.]

The letter to Westhuysen detailed two incidents in which USIS contractors allegedly participated or were present at the killing of Iraqi civilians. A USIS contractor was boasting about the number of insurgents he had killed, the letter says. Private security contractors cannot conduct offensive operations, unless American policy has changed and we are openly hiring mercenaries.

Another letter arrived from a USIS employee who saw Iraqi police trainees kill two innocent civilians, then cover it up. A USIS manager (quoting the letter) "did not want it reported because he thought it would put his contract at risk." Westhusing reported these letters to his superiors but at the time told General Joseph Fil that he believed USIS was following the terms of its contract.

Sometime between that conversation and the first week of June 2005, Theodore Westhusing's the tone of his letters home became more and more depressed and agitated by the situation he was seeing in Iraq. He was having trouble sleeping. We are meant to interpret this as a dangerous obsession with honor versus capitalism in Iraq, poor chap, a common slander by those who love money more than virtue.

On the morning of June 5th morning, according to an Army Corps official, Westhusing verbally attacked the contractors present. The unnamed official said it was the first time he'd seen Westhusing lose his temper in three months. According to this witness, "He was sick of money-grubbing contractors," and Westhusing said that "he had not come over to Iraq for this."

The meeting broke for lunch. Around 1 p.m., a USIS manager went looking for Colonel Westhusing because he was scheduled for a ride back to the Green Zone. There was reportedly no answer, and the manager says he returned about 15 minutes later. Another USIS employee looked through a window and saw Westhusing lying on the floor in a pool of blood. The manager moved the pistol from the floor to the bed before notifying anyone, because, he says, he was afraid someone would trip over it.

The investigation has a four page letter in Westhusing's handwriting expressing thoughts such as "I cannot support a msn [sic] that leads to corruption, human rights abuse and liars. I am sullied. I came to serve honorably and feel dishonored. Death before being dishonored any more--" but a man concerned with ethics might use the same phrase to express confronting a dangerous situation. Nothing has been reported from the supposed suicide note that specifically mentions death by suicide. Westhusing's hand reportedly tested positive for gunpowder. A psychologist, Lt. Col. Lisa Breitenbach, has provided a rationale for Westhusing's suicide, but her scenario is built about as well as a sophomore's literary paper: "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."

[OEE note: This kind of lickspittlery by psychologists-- that the dominant paradigm can't possibly be in error, therefore the patient must be mad-- is the kind of thing that gives the profession a bad name.]

Colonel Westhusing's superiors have praised him, a terrible tragedy all around, albeit a damned convenient one for somebody. His family and friends are bothered that Colonel Westhusing was without a bodyguard and surrounded by the same contractors he was accusing of corruption. The family is asking why the manager who found the body, picked up his weapon and "moved" it form the floor to the bed wasn't tested for gunpowder residue. One of Westhusing's friends from graduate school is saying, "He's the last person who would commit suicide. He couldn't have done it. He's just too damn stubborn."

[OEE Note: "Trophy" videos showing murders in Iraq are starting to show up at places like this. Similar trophies of war atrocities were being broadcast by American soldiers on an American site when (I'm shocked, shocked!) the owner of the amateur forum was threatened with jail by the guardians of decency in Polk County, Florida. Meanwhile the internet -- and American corporations-- swim in billions of dollars generated by images far more offensive to the commonwealth than naked GIs, their wives and sweethearts. Christopher Wilson, the owner of this amatuer porn forum, is being held on $101,000 bail. He has taken down the pictures of naked bottoms but is still publishing, with perverse courage, the photos of atrocities in Iraq that are sent him by GIs.]

Truth hasn't many friends to go her bail, not in today's United States. Not the complicit Clinton Democrats with splattered blood on their hands, not the Republicans who have yet to reach their remarkably high gag level (remember McCarthy and Nixon? The dead nuns in El Salvador? Remember hugging Bush the Younger after the smears against your daughter? Do you really want it that much, John McCain?)

Thus American democracy is defended not by her self appointed champions, but by two stones the builders rejected: an honor bound ethicist who once belonged to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and an amateur pornographer who went for the gross out and naively started posting everything the GIs sent him. If the one had stuck to his books, if the other had been content with bare breasts and bottoms, we might never have heard of them.

This is admittedly, armchair detective work. From this distance, lunchtime seems an unlikely hour for suicide-- but persons who are being accused of murder already have a habit of believing they can erase a crime by killing everyone who knows anything about it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Memorial Day is ours to honor our fallen.............

Ted's Ghost
The death of Ted Westhusing leaves a widening circle of sorrow

Illustration By Doug Potter"They're still there, he's all gone." – Bruce Springsteen, "Born in the U.S.A."

When the Greek hero Odysseus visits the Underworld in Book 11 of Homer's The Odyssey, he learns that his mother, Antikleia, who was alive when he set sail for Troy, has died and now dwells in the gloomy regions the Greeks called Hades. Odysseus sees her there and, overcome by sorrow, tries to embrace her. She slips away from his grasp but responds to his tearful pleas by explaining, "We no longer have sinews keeping the bones and flesh together, but once the life-force has departed from our bones ... the soul slips away like a dream." Cold comfort for the still-living and long-suffering Odysseus.

My friend, my former student, my scholarly collaborator Ted Westhusing is a ghost to me now. He is a ghost to his mother, his father, his brothers and sister, his wife and three children, his fellow soldiers, his former students at West Point Military Academy, and to the many people who wrote messages in his memorial guestbook ( We all want Ted, flesh and blood, self-effacing wit, plainspoken and honest, dedicated, moral, caring. We want to hear his laughter and feel the warmth of his hello, only matched in how good it made you feel, in my experience, by my late friend Clifford Antone's "Hey there, brother."

I want Ted, not his ghost. And I only knew Ted for three years. I feel the profound grief of his mother and family. Their loss seems to me unbearable, all the more because of the circumstances described so well in Robert Bryce's article (p.28).

In the online guestbook, Steve, an old friend of Ted's from Jenks High School in Oklahoma, writes, a year and a half after Ted's death, that "Ted always made us feel like we were someone special. ... Just the other day, I talked to my children about how important it is to look out for others. When my son was being bullied by a group at school, I talked about Ted and how he cared and looked out for others. It really made an impact on my son. Thanks Ted and God bless you and your family." Ted is somehow still alive in Steve's son.

Imagine the man Steve describes shouldering the overwhelming responsibility of training Iraqi security forces and doing so with no brothers-in-arms around him and, as his "suicide note" makes clear, without the support of his two commanders. One of them, with an irony right out of Joseph Heller's Catch-22, is Gen. David Petraeus, "Iraq's repairman," as Newsweek calls him.


Fierce Dedication
I teach ancient Greek and war and violence studies through the filter of ancient history. I knew Ted Westhusing in both these areas. Ted was 41 years old and a stellar Army officer of almost two decades when he came to UT-Austin in the summer of 2002 to study intensive Greek, five hours a day, five days a week. He needed Greek for his Ph.D. thesis, and he was taking it with graduate students and gifted undergraduates. He reminded me then of Col. Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, who went through Army Airborne School at age 38. Capt. Willard describes Kurtz's Westhusing-like experience in this way: "The next youngest guy in his class was half his age. They must have thought he was some far-out old man humping it over that course. I did it when I was 19, and it damn near wasted me. A tough motherfucker. He finished." As a description of how his fellow students viewed him, Ted would disagree only with the use of the word "motherfucker." I never heard him swear.

Ted was not a natural linguist. But he mastered Greek by long hours and hard work. He later described his experience in the UT alumni magazine, The Alcalde, as being harder than Army Airborne training.

Even in intensive Greek with so many hours of contact, memorable students are rare. The focus is on getting 20-25 students through historical linguistics and then assorted classical Greek literary genres. But Ted's achievement stayed with me. We stayed in touch despite our widely differing views on whether the American military should be in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ted invited me up to West Point for five days to lecture to his cadet students on the nature of ancient Greek warfare and ancient Greek attitudes about the morality of warfare. He trusted that I would stay on message and not interject my strong views about Iraq and Afghanistan. I saw there the fierce dedication he had to his cadets and the respect bordering on awe they had for him. I also noticed how he had organized every detail of my five-day visit with scrupulous care.

Ted and I worked together on three other major projects. We were advisers to a Discovery Channel program on war in the Homeric epics. We wrote an article together for London's Times Higher Education Supplement on the value of studying Homer at West Point. And we both gave papers at a conference in St. Louis on the experience of war and the trauma it causes, from ancient Greece to the Iraq war. On all these projects, Ted's sense of values and his fierce belief in moral principles were conspicuous.

When Ted e-mailed me on Dec. 20, 2004, with what he called "twice good news" – that he had been selected for eventual promotion to colonel and had agreed to deploy to Iraq to serve under "a former boss of mine Lt. Gen. Petraeus" – I first responded in keeping with his own excitement about assisting in "the continuing effort to get the Iraqi security forces capable of killing the bad guys themselves and of securing their own country."

I expressed my pride in what he had achieved and my heartfelt good wishes. But later, I wrote that soldiers who had been writing me and sending me images of the effects of suicide-bomb blasts were not "optimistic" about the effectiveness of "Dumsfeld's" strategies. Ted's reply was strong. He felt there was no place for such attitudes and even requested the names and units of my informants. I declined in a way that let the matter drop, but that break stayed with us so that I did not communicate with Ted while he was in Iraq.


The Diameter of Death
I feel now that I let my friend down. Ted's death haunts me. His ghost sometimes flits close enough for me to feel. I have the cards from his memorial service that his mother sent me propped up in my study at home and at my computer in my office in Waggener Hall. It is much too easy to turn any dead soldier into whatever you want him or her to be. I want to remember who Ted really was.

In my opinion, it is good that Ted has become a symbol of the waste of this particular war. Those who want to defend the war can easily say that Ted's moral sensibilities were too inflexible and that war's moral ambiguities produce many shades of gray, while Ted saw things only in black and white. Those who want to condemn the war, as I do, can easily use Ted as a symbol for all that is wrong with our leadership and how this war is being waged. Those choices make dead soldiers into icons, and they also let us blame easy targets, Bush, Rumsfeld, Ted himself, and move on.

We should instead remember what Yehuda Amichai writes in his poem "The Diameter of the Bomb" about the death of a single young woman from a terrorist bomb. The grief from her death radiates outward to affect people on other continents and eventually involve the whole world in a circle of sorrow "with no end and no God."

The conditions of the Iraqi war enclosed Ted in a circle within which he could not feel the tender mercies of his God, nor the saving love of his family and friends. His death is a terrible waste. We should have more than the ghost of this good and honorable man for comfort.