The career of General David Petraeus is under the microscope. At the risk of being a scandal-monger I have to drag out the skeleton of Col. Ted Westhusing, a field-grade officer in Iraq who committed suicide in June, 2005. The story of his death did not get close scrutiny for hearly half a year when investigative journalists attempted to connect his suicide with some very unsavory events that occurred about the time of his death. Questions were raised at the time which remain to this day about a coverup of those events which included soft-pedaling Westhusing's suicide. Petraeus was his commanding officer.
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.
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especially upset by one conclusion he had reached: that traditional military values such as duty, honor and country had been replaced by profit motives in Iraq, where the U.S. had come to rely heavily on contractors for jobs once done by the military.
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.
Readers can do their own investigation from here.
This is what I said about it at the time.
There is something wrong with this picture. Very wrong.
I have seen other reports of "straight as an arrow" career military types associated with other stories that do not exactly, shall we say, support the official spin that policy-makers or commanders would have them present. But I don't recall anyone ranked as high as Colonel among them. (There may have been a General or two, but at that level I start to think in terms of political ambitions beyond military careers so arguments about policy take on a different implication.)
A lot of media reporters are "embedded" with the military, which turns out to have been a good thing over all. But I don't know how many media types are embedded with the private sector over there. My guess is that there are very few. And the few that may be there might well be in-bed-with rather than embedded with their host entity. I just don't know.
Letters home and conversations he had with others prior to his death indicate that the man was conflicted about what appears in retrospect to have been a delibrate cover-up of savage behavior on the part of American civilian contractors. No need to go into the details here. At this late date details of those events, though horrible, were long ago tossed into the cesspool of military history, dismissed along with the rest of the bloody mess as the price we pay for "protecting liberty."
I can't say about the rest, but my suspicions about the closeness of embedded journalists was prescient.
I'm not the only one not to have forgotten. These comments appeared this morning in one of Juan Cole's FB posts.
==> I remember being troubled about Petraeus when I read the news item about Ted Westhusing in 2007.
==> Yeah the Ted Westhusing thing is absolutely wild. I hope the people are willing to get to the bottom of all this.
And last year in The Nation Greg Mitchell wrote a piece, General Petraeus's Link to a Troubling Suicide in Iraq: The Ted Westhusing Story.