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March 17, 2007

Military ethicist indicted Gen. Petraeus in suicide note

New evidence has come to light about the suicide of Col. Ted Westhusing a military ethicist who committed suicide in Iraq in 2005, asserting that he would rather die than dishonor himself any further in a profit-driven war:

Now, a new article reveals -- based on documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act -- that Westhusing's apparent suicide note included claims that his two commanders tolerated a mission based on "corruption, human right abuses and liars." One of those commanders: the new leader of the "surge" campaign in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus. [E&P]

Robert Bryce of the Texas Observer obtained Westhusing's suicide note which reads:

Thanks for telling me it was a good day until I briefed you. [Redacted     name]—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? No more. 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.

Bryce confirms earlier reports Westhusing was particularly distraught by the corruption of the private military contractors.

Here's what I wrote in 2005 about Westhusing's death:

Military ethicist Col. Ted Westhusing, 44, committed suicide in Iraq earlier this year. He was apparently distraught over allegations that American contractors under his supervision committed human rights abuses.

Westhusing held a doctorate in philosophy. He wrote his dissertation on military honor.

In the months before his death Westhusing had been locked in a bitter struggle between his superiors and military contractors. He suspected the contractors of gouging the government and abusing Iraqis, but his superiors were unwilling to take action.

In his suicide note, Westhusing concluded that there was no place for honor in a conflict like Iraq because profit had eclipsed duty.

"I cannot support a msn [mission] that leads to corruption, human rights abuse and liars. I am sullied," the note says. "I came to serve honorably and feel dishonored.

"Death before being dishonored any more."

The military psychologist who helped investigate Westhusing's suicide or less proved his point about profit-driven war:

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." [LAT]

Is it wrong of me to regard Westhusing as something of a heroic figure? I don't believe that he was dishonored by his service. On the contrary, he went with all the best intentions as a soldier and a scholar; and he did his best in an impossible situation.

Westhusing took his life only a month before he was scheduled to go home. As a high ranking dissident officer, he could become an influential critic of the war. Why did he think that death was the only way to restore his honor? Maybe depression clouded his judgment or made him feel so hopeless that he couldn't envision anything constructive endeavor. Maybe Westhusing saw his suicide as the only kind of protest he could bear to make.   

Westhusing wrote his doctoral dissertation on military honor. I would be curious to know whether the view of military honor that he argued for in his thesis would be compatible with suicide before dishonor.

The idea of suicide as a way to restore honor strikes me as a bit of magical thinking. What's so special about death? If you die, you can't make any further amends for your shortcomings.

Yet, I'm awed by someone who took his ethics so seriously he was willing to die rather than live in what he considered to be a dishonored state.

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Comments

Thank you for sharing this deeply sad but extremely important story. I'll be sharing it with as many people as I can.

More sunshine, please!

Interesting that yesterday on TImes blog, anna marie wonkette, wrote about an article in Time about mercs,critising Kos in her post.

"Liberal bloggers famously derided these contractors as mercenaries who deserved to die, but their stories should resonate with anyone who doubts the wisdom of the day-to-day prosecution of this war and its overarching goals."

Maybe he thought dissent couldn't make a difference, while death could. Sometimes people talk themselves into the the darnedest things.

I'd like to read that thesis.

Death is what you do when you're torn between two irreconcilable moral imperatives that are both absolute. (Reading up on Seppuku is useful for understanding this.)

I don't know what his ones were - honor was obviously one. Perhaps duty or loyalty was the other.

Or perhaps, indeed, the depression was simply too much.

And, of course, it could simply be that he felt so sullied by his participation in dishnorable acts that life was no longer bearable. What made it liveable - his sense of honor, was broken, and he could see no way to repair it.

oh puh-leeze. So some random colonel kills himself, and writes a weepy suicide note blathering about he would rather face death than dishonor? Look, excepting extreme extreme cases of physical pain and literal hopeless despair, people kill themselves because of depression, a diagnosible mental condition. (And your use of the term seems to suggest yyou don't distinguish between clinical depression and just plain unhappiness-being depressed.) This guy almost certainly suffered from this condition, and in drafting this desperate note sought out a justification for his act. You don't blow you're brains out because you think Halliburton is making an unfair profit on supplying the port-a-toilets. And you are simpletons to leap on this as more proof, SEE, A COLONEL KILLED HIMSELF BECAUSE W AND CHENEY AND HALLIBURTON ARE WAR PROFITEERS!

mark nuckols With as much respect as I can muster, you don't have a clue what you are talking about.

The comment by Ian about seppeku is more relevant than your blathering derision (capslock and all) of why he did it.

Becuase the pigeonholing of the Colonel as just anothe person with clinical depression, instead of someone who saw an oranization, and institution with which he identified, and which he thought was being damaged, stained and perverted; is as facile an excuse as the one you try to palm off on Lindsay (n.b. I've managed to internalise the proper spelling, apologies for previous errors).

There is a long tradition in the services of "death before dishonor". It's why captains go down with the ship, and why lots of officers lead doomed and desperate charges; it's why some generals commit suicide when they lose a battle, because the disgrace of facing that sort of failure is too great to bear.

The admiral who shot himself because he was going to be exposed as a fraud; for claiming a decoration he hadn't earned... it's not the sort of thing someone who is depressed is going to shoot himself over. Yes, for a military person, who has depression that's more likely to trigger an over-reaction that in a non-military person, but in ages past that suicide would have been seen as the only honorable recourse.

Given that he wrote a paper on military honor, such concepts were not alien to him.

Hell, I'm just a simple soldier (perhaps more widely educated than most, with a lot of reading in history, as well as an interst in Japan; where there are all sorts of reasons/motives for committing seppeku, but I digress) and I can imagine killing myself for those sorts of reasons.

Being in a combat zone makes that easier to think about, because death loses some of it's terrors. It's less abstract when you see it all the time (or even on an irregular, but frequent basis), "a consummation devoutly to wished," to quote Shakespeare.

So yes, I can see it as protest.

"The idea of suicide as a way to restore honor strikes me as a bit of magical thinking. What's so special about death? If you die, you can't make any further amends for your shortcomings."

I think you may be misinterpreting what Westhusing meant by "being dishonored." He did not mean that he put himself in a position of dishonor, but rather that those who were in command were placing him (and all our soldiers) in a position of dishonor, and that it was intolerable to live that way.

Many in the military regard "duty" as a sacred thing: They put ultimate trust in their commanders to act in a morally correct way, so that their soldiers need not worry that following orders will place them in a position of dishonor.

The Bush administration and the military commanders operating under their command have betrayed the sacred trust of the soldiers who serve under them. By lying about the reasons for the war, and then by using the war to generate obscene profits for corporations and contractors, these people have brought terrible dishonor upon the men and women who serve in the U.S. military, involving them in craven scams and the basest rackets of war profiteers.

Military service for persons like Ted Westhusing involves a level of honor that is a blood oath, a notion that George Bush, Dick Cheney, Rove and Rumsfeld cannot comprehend. To these craven chickenhawks the honor of men like Westhusing is a anachronism, a stale reminder of a romantic, Victorian sensibility. Westhusing's quaint ideals (like the Geneva Conventions) made him a weakling, a rube to be exploited, then cast aside.

The neocon psychopaths that today rule America want a military that is quicker and more flexible, both physically and morally. Our soldiers need to be able to hand out soccer balls to Iraqi children (on camera) one day, then turn around and slaughter those same children (off camera) the next day, without bothering about the "morality" of killing children, torturing prisoners, etc.

Is this moral relativism? Heavens no! It's called absolute authoritarianism. All it requires is the surgical removal of a soldier's sense of conscience. Call it losing his soul. What remains is essentially a tool for killing, a human meat harvesting machine. That's all the neocons are asking for. Westhusing was apparently unable to make the adjustment to a conscienceless killing machine, and so that particular warfighting unit self-destructed.

Military psychologist agitprop unit Lt. Col. Lisa Breitenbach was efficient in labeling the Westhusing unit as unable to adjust to the profit motive assigned to the current warfighting transaction. Subtraction of the Westhusing unit was assessed as having minimal impact on current wealth-extraction operations.

Lying, spying, destroying, and stuffing Benjamins into duffel bags. This is what BushCo is. This is what they do. Some people just can't get used to it.

It's so silly... every time I hear that guy's name, I'm reminded of a Tom Tomorrow cartoon depicting America as this horse with 2 heads, pointing in opposite directions, both shouting "I WANT WHAT I DON'T WANT!" (and then it's Click & Clack, the Tappet Brothers, doing the credits for their show, with all the double-entendre names for various functionaries, and I wonder "Where does General Betrayus fit in?")... and it's "General, Betray us!" General... Betray us... betray us betray us... Betray us, General... wheeeaaahh ^..^

Right on, jimbo... Westhusing is the idealistic "old school- death before dishonor"; and Watada is the pragmatic "new school- put me in prison & dishonor me... and then see me, in your mind's eye, for the rest of your life, calling "bullshit" on your game"... ^..^

Pecunium asserts, "There is a long tradition in the services of "death before dishonor". It's why captains go down with the ship, and why lots of officers lead doomed and desperate charges; it's why some generals commit suicide when they lose a battle, because the disgrace of facing that sort of failure is too great to bear."

oh, double puh-leeze. OK, I saw Titanic once in a hotel when there was nothing else on to watch, and I remember the captain *did* go down with the ship, and I think that Lighthouse Brigade also did have some brave souls who led a doomed and desperate charge (when was that anyway? 1902? 1577? or 476 BC?). Oh, and there's a new movie apparently about some Romans or Normans (or Mormons?) who fight a zillion Arabs to the death. But really, can you cite two instances in the 20th century when any general in the US military committed suicide because they suffered a military defeat. I ask for two since you employ the plural here.

I think you're a fool. I at least pity Westhusing, no doubt his depression was not helped by the stress of a war environment or by witnessing undoubtably many bad, and even dishonorale things in Iraq. But unlike you, I am pretty sure he was not enough of a fool to take his life just because the port-a-toilets cost more than they should have.

I have a hard time viewing him as a hero at all.

He decided that his own sense of honor, carefully cultivated in his academic work, and his narcissistic demand that the entire military universe adopt his value system were more important than his duties to his wife and his children. So he killed himself. He disagreed severely with military policy regarding contractors; therefore his wife and kids get a funeral to attend. He perceives another officer (apparently Petraeus) as selfish; therefore he commits a selfish act to duck dealing with the unpleasant blowback.

When someone cares more about his own sacred honor than he does about justice to his family or to the soldiers whom he serves, he is not a hero. He could testify to Congress, write a book, dedicate his life to fighting this horrible profit motive among the horrid companies who respond to the DoD RFPs. Instead he kills himself - deliberate, after writing an extended note.

Perhaps I am being unduly harsh and judgmental, but I say bury him at the crossroads.

I don't think you're wrong to view Westhusing as a heroic figure, at all - however, I rather suspect that the reason for the implicit hesitation is that like many heroic figures he had some flaws that figured significantly in his heroism. I suspect that Breitenbach is on the right track - unusually rigid thinking would be a recipe for disaster in this type of scenario. A good friend of mine spent many years psych screening for SOF and HUMINT folks - he told me once that the factor that he looked for most among guys that were going to be selected for the hardest duties was a high tolerance of ambiguity. I daresay that Col. Westhusing likely would not have scored highly on this metric.

Wouldn't it have been more in line of a "military ethicist" to gather evidence of the things that were bothering him and find a way to channel it to sources that could have brought it into the open, rather than kill himself and take that knowledge to the grave? Sure, he must have been suffering from severe depression, but with a wife and "precious children", at least he had a backbone of support.

Also, how could someone who writes so poorly have completed a doctoral dissertation? There is hardly a coherently written sentence in that note and they aren't the sort of mistakes a person would make in a time of grief.

I'm afraid I have to go with underlying depression.

That said, does the teenaged libertarian hang out here a lot or does he just show up to troll posts about death? Damn, Nuckols. Grow up.

I think he has made a difference; certainly to you. And suicidal depression after heartbreak is hardly uncommon.

So why did a USIS manager (the private security company that Westhusing had reported on, one with some allegations of wrongdoing in its mission of training Iraqi police), a manager with http://www.unknownnews.org/0512021127Westhusing.html>'30 years(of experience) from military and law enforcement training'...'pick(ed)up the pistol at Westhusing's feet and toss(ed) it onto the bed' upon discovering the Colonel?

Not exactly proper police procedure to handle a weapon in the course of securing a potential crime scene, especially one that posed no risk to the attending officers.

RE: So why did a USIS manager (the private security company that Westhusing had reported on, one with some allegations of wrongdoing in its mission of training Iraqi police), a manager with '30 years(of experience) from military and law enforcement training'...'pick(ed)up the pistol at Westhusing's feet and toss(ed) it onto the bed' upon discovering the Colonel?

It would be a lot easier to explain the USIS manager's prints on the pistol, certainly... ^..^

In a more civil world, we might be inclined to leave a kind word on behalf of the deceased, like: “Rest in peace, Colonel Westhusing” or perhaps “my heartfelt condolences to the Westhusing family for their loss.” No. Instead, we get comments like “narcissistic” and “selfish” that do not even rise to the level of bad pop psychology. Who is really the narcissist behind the words, the subject of the commentary or the commentator? Even more callous and offensive: “oh puh-leeze. So some random colonel kills himself, and writes a weepy suicide note … “

At least the Colonel valued honor and integrity. It seems bruce and mark nuchols value nothing at all.

I don't dare try to psychoanalyze the late Colonel from this distance or in this forum. I will note though, that he would have been more effective in making his point, and more valuable to the anti-war movement, if he had gone the route of Ann Wright and others who resigned their posts to become full time anti-war activists.

I agree with Rob's comment that it would have been far better to have the late Colonel join the ranks of Ann Wright and other voices in the anti-war movement. One problem is that many people have misconceptions about the grip of depression. Tragically, mortality occurs, not in the trough when subjects are too debilitated to act, but on the rebound when they have regained sufficient energy to carrying out suicidal ideation.

Moreover, the military has an archaic attitude about emotional problems. Even a treatable disorder can ruin a career or make advancement impossible. Thus, career military personnel have a tendency to avoid treatment virtually at all costs, and tragically too late as in the case of Colonel Westhusing. Furthermore, let us not forget that active duty personnel are currently under a “stop loss” order that prevents them from leaving. Resignation or early retirement are no longer options.

One more conjecture: The Army has been prosecuting everyone who disobeys a "stop order." Obviously, the possible shame and humiliation of a prosecution would be too much for an honorable man to bear. Thus, there are two aspects of depression to bear in mind: (1) when anger is internalized and is turned against the Self; (2) when there really are no other means of escape from an internal conflict.

I love how Americans medicalize everything. He must have been clinically depressed because so many people can't imagine that someone would suicide over honor. And yet, in history, and around the world, committing suicide for reasons of honor has been very common.

But oh well, I guess all of those people were just suffering from depression. You know better than they did why they acted as they did and your experiences and understanding must trump their own.

Mr. Welsh, I think you misunderstand the context. Diagnostic terms try to describe a behavioral phenomenon but in no way diminish the worthiness of a person, if that is your concern. At last I am trying to understand his actions in realistic terms compared with other comments accompanying this post that have been low in empathy but high in snark.

Nuckols: You are free to think me a fool, as kindly as I can think of you, you're an idiot.

Self-satisfied, self-centered and wilfully clueless.

And those are the kindest things I can think to say.

Which is where I'll leave it, insights, you don't want. Experience, you discount, so I have to presume (in keeping with your apparent kind) that evidence you will discard.

My brother, Colonel Westhusing
[Report this comment] Posted by: ForeverForMyBrother on Mar 28, 2007 4:43 PM

My brother, a man with great values as many of you reflect in many of these notes and discussions , good people who care about PEOPLE. He fought for what was right and what we teach our children and hope that they will believe in as they grow up - a good and fair life for all - Not the political of financial gain at the expense of others. Maybe naive to some degree, but I would rather hold dear his values than those. He did not die by his hand. He reported numerous obusives to his Commanders Gen Fil and Petraues, while on duty, who brought him there to run this most important program to transition the Iraqi goverment. TED embodied democracy - or should I say freedom or the chance of it, how ever you want to measure or politisize it, whether right or wrong, it was his job and he wanted to DO THE RIGHT THING for these oppressed people. He reported deaths by death squads supported by contractors and who were trained by the army, he reported contract fraud and stealing money while they continued to cut back their obligations and resouces to improve their profits, leaving soldiers to die unprotected and civilians to be massecred. I have it in notes from him, in detail. The army said they checked these out and it was inconclusive, even when he had so much detail that he wrote in his journal, which they took and won't release, even to his family. And his commanders turned their cheek when he reported more of it and when he said he would bring it home in an open forum, and he definately would have the audience since Gen Petraues selected him to run this, they refused him to go home at the end of his term, granted his bodyguard leave the week he died and denied him a military laywer - which he requested, when he wanted to go forward with someone, anyone he could trust that would help him, DO WHATS RIGHT. His last note to me was that he was threatened if he continued to go forward with the evidence and he wasn't coming home alive and feared for all of us back home, if we spoke up for him. You tell me. I have the documentation and all the army wanted a couple of weeks after his death when they came to my house was to discuss "why he had shot himself", which they did with all of his family - us and already had there plan in place. Then a few weeks after his death sent Gen Petraues (his mentor) and Fil back home to Kansas and Texas to let the heat die down..........That was not a suicide note, they were pages from his journal and many were missing and taken by the government/Army .We have never seen all of them and they won't release them even with the Freedom of Information Act requests. He never wrote a goodby note to any of his family who he dearly loved. Shades of Tilman.....................................you tell me.

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