Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Bacevich, Petraeus and Westhusing

Andrew Bacevich's appearance on Bill Moyers' show this week served to remind me of a certain obsession I developed about David Petraeus's possible role in the suicide of a famed American colonel in Iraq.  I wrote about it early and often and Bacevich would dedicate his fine book Breach of Trust to Westhusing and one other man. 

Col. Ted Westhusing, 44, was a well-known West Pointer specializing in military ethics.  The episode first came to prominence two years after his death later thanks to some digging by reporters from the L.A. Times and Texas Observer.  Some even claimed that Westhusing had been murdered.  I wrote a major piece about it at the time for my old magazine, Editor & Publisher, and then updated it later at The Nation and Huffington Post after I got my hands on hundreds of documents myself.   The murder charge still seemed sketchy but documents, reports and interview transcripts raised disturbing questions about why Westhusing was driven to suicide.  He had repeatedly mentioned in calls home to his wife witnessing "human rights" abuses directed at "insurgents," besides rampant corruption involving contractors.

But the key document has always been his suicide note, in which he pointed to abhorrent (unfortunately rather vague) behavior by Petreus and another general, Joseph Fil.  "I will be sullied--no more," Westhusing wrote, hauntingly.

My latest piece from 2011 is here.  The episode is also featured in my book,  So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits--and the President--Failed on Iraq.  There's a fine piece by someone who knew Westhusing here.  Here is an excerpt from the suicide note, directed to Petraeus and Fils.
I cannot support a msn [mission] 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. ... Death before being dishonored any more.
Trust is essential—I don’t know who trust anymore. 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.

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