Highest Ranking US Officer Killed in Iraq Was An Apparent Suicide
by : John Reed
Friday June 24, 2005 - 10:28
Having followed the story of the death of Col. Ted S. Westhusing, the highest-ranking US officer killed so far in the Iraq, since June 5, the date he died, it is with a heavy heart and much trepidation that I have finally arrived at the conclusion you read in the headline, that Ted’s death was a suicide. Westhusing was a professor in the English Department at the US Military Academy at West Point who volunteered to go to Iraq.
Officially, Ted died of a non-combat injury at Camp Dublin near the Baghdad Airport. As of June 16, the date of Westhusing’s funeral at West Point, the military was still conducting an investigation into the death, which could have been caused by accident, homicide or suicide. A blog posting on the No More Apples blog on Wednesday, June 8, along with many other clues, leads me the suicide theory.
The posting stated that the blogger, Motherlode, had heard on CNN’s American Morning show that morning that Westhusing died of a single gunshot wound. Photo of Motherlode here. She is the Director of Communications at a Fortune 250 construction company in Dallas, Texas. The implication is that he may have committed suicide, which seems odd given his basic character and the lack of reports that he was depressed.
In a later post, On Col. Westhusing’s Death, Motherlode attempted to explain why she felt that Barbara Starr’s reports from the Pentagon on June 8 made her feel that Westhusing may have been a suicide. Motherlode apparently received several letters from irate people accusing her of maligning the memory of this fine officer.
I managed to find a transcript of Barbara Starr speaking to Soledad O’Brien and Bill Hemmer on CNN’s Morning Show on June 8. If you read it you can see why the CNN show got Motherlode thinking. Starr says:
"If it comes to it, they will conduct what they call a psychological autopsy. That will be conducted by Army medical personnel. That is the standard procedure in all of these cases. They will try and determine what factors were at play and what did happen here."A psychological autopsy? My comment on Motherlode’s later post is on her site, followed by her response, followed by an irate comment by a poster telling those of us reporting on his death to butt out. The irate poster makes some interesting points about the possibility of Westhusing dying of an accident, but unfortunately, if you read his post, he actually ends up also suggesting Westhusing may have been a suicide.
The next comment was just posted the other day by one of Westhusing’s cousins, whom I am not going to name. Part of his (edited) comment is reproduced below (my comments are in brackets; the bolding of certain words was done by me):
Was it an accident? There is pure danger, as Anonymous mentioned, everywhere, yet that wasn’t what I think caused his death. Motherlode, you mention "accusations that you had maligned Col. Westhusing’s reputation".In a further (edited) comment this morning by the same cousin on The Fulcrum blog, he elaborates further on his theory:
I am sad, too, that I think...and I am thinking out loud, to be frank and honest, and striving for the truth in this crazy war where facts are hard to get. I say it looks like he may of committed suicide, by piecing facts and emails and Internet news and blogs together.A story on June 16 about Westhusing’s funeral contained quoted Army spokeswoman Martha Rudd about the investigation into Ted’s death:
"It’s ongoing. When someone dies in Iraq or Kuwait that’s not a combat death, the death is investigated. It doesn’t mean there is anything criminally suspected here," she added.Take note of that last comment, which definitely seems to rule out homicide. That leaves us with accident or suicide. And why conduct a "psychological autopsy" (see Barbara Starr’s comments above) in the case of an accident?
I recently found a nice, but odd, obituary for Ted on a site for the West Point Class of 1983 (Ted graduated from West Point that year), with a great picture of a young Ted. This obit has very nice eulogies of Ted. Curiously, his obituary is on the same page as a classmate, Lori Good Loucks.
Sadly, Loucks seems to be an obvious suicide - she was bipolar (manic - depressive), and in the midst of an episode of psychotic depression when she died of an unstated cause in a mental hospital. Was Ted’s obit placed next to hers by chance or design?
On the morning of June 8, I started getting search engine hits for "Ted Westhusing suicide", some from military sites like Centcom. That’s what first got me thinking along those lines. I have now received many more search engine hits like that, including some more from the military. I didn’t get my first "Ted Westhusing homicide" until today.
At this point, after spending hours investigating this story, we can rule out everything except accidental death and suicide. After adding up the clues, including the excessive silence typical and suggestive of shame and the strange silence of the investigative team, my best theory is that Ted committed suicide. But we really need to wait for the full investigation to have a final say on the matter.
For a long time, I thought the suicide theory didn’t make sense due to Ted’s superior character and life, which seemed to be the ultimate negation of the death instinct. At first glance, Ted seemed one of the people least likely to commit suicide.
Charles, the author of the fine blog The Fulcrum and a former classmate of Ted’s, echoes my sentiments in this comment on his site here. But Charles had not seen Ted since West Point (Ted and Charles were students at West Point in the early 80’s). But the comments of Ted’s cousin, quoted above, show that Ted Westhusing, the man who seemed like Superman, was really just as human as measly you and me.
In a way, Ted’s suicide is terribly disturbing. For if a man like Ted, a warrior who stood tall as the tallest of men, the last man in the world you would think of as a suicide, can kill himself, then the world is a stranger and scarier place. Suicide, always mysterious, is more baffling than ever. And far more of us, maybe even all, are capable of killing ourselves, even if we don’t think we are, a thought that strikes terror deep to the bone.
When he died, Ted was near the end of his deployment in Iraq, and was due to return to West Point this summer. Before he left, he was said to be very enthusiastic about going to Iraq to train Iraqi troops. Ted was also one of the nation’s top experts on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which he apparently felt was overdiagnosed. Sounds like Ted was a real suck-it-up type.
Camp Dublin, where Ted died, is a very poorly-known US base that is probably located just outside Baghdad Airport. Dublin is apparently located adjacent to Camp Sather, a large US Air Force base inside Baghdad Airport on the west side. Camp Dublin may be located somewhere just west of the airport.
An overhead photo of Baghdad Airport is here; Camp Dublin is possibly located to the left of the area sketched in red on the photo, near the solid white line that represents the large runway on the west side of the airport. An overhead photo of the airport in comparison with the rest of Baghdad is here.
Many on the ground photos of Baghdad Airport are here. Photos of Camp Sather. Here airmen at Camp Sather walk amidst blackout conditions - the camp went to blackout as a force protection measure - after a major guerrilla attack in Baghdad.
Here Air Force Staff Sgt. Kristina Baker and her dog Rex are seen searching a car carrying equipment to set up a coffee shop on Camp Sather. The airmen at Camp Sather live in a relative luxury that would make most US forces in Iraq jealous. See here for details on the "luxurious" Air Force accommodations at Sather.
There is another reason that Camp Dublin is not widely-known. The camp was apparently set up to train the emergency-response unit (ERU) of the Iraqi police, an elite force. The ERU’s duties are to carry out high-risk missions like hostage rescues and searches and arrests of high-value targets. The program is very rigorous, with a dropout rate of 70%. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld visited Dublin recently.
Here is a rare photo of Camp Dublin. At Dublin, Westhusing was serving as Senior Advisor for the Counter Terrorism Special Operations training program under the U.S. military’s Civilian Police Assistance Training Team (CPATT). That title apparently means he was in charge of training the ERU unit at Camp Dublin.
Here is the only photo I could find of Westhusing at Camp Dublin; in the photo, he is praising ERU forces for storming a training building and shooting targets of hostage takers without shooting the targets of the hostages or shooting each other. A hostage taker target peppered full of holes by Westhusing’s ERU is here.
He had taught English at West Point since 2003. In his extremely distinguished career, he held a variety of staff and command positions in Army airborne units and in Army’s 2nd Infantry Division in South Korea.
Westhusing was very highly educated, holding an incredible three separate doctorate degrees. His degrees were in philosophy, Russian and military strategy. I do not think I have ever heard of any American getting three doctorates before!
Articles about Ted’s unbelievable achievements, transcripts of his talks and presentations, and articles about him in general are here. Ted served as a consultant for the Discovery Channel’s program on the Greek Trojan Horse. He also consulted on the movie Troy.
I realize I oppose this war, but Westhusing sounds like a fascinating guy, and I would have been honored to meet him. Great minds, great men, great souls and great spirits like Ted don’t come along too often.
As noted above, Ted was buried at his beloved West Point, where he graduated, an incredible third in his class, in 1983. Ted leaves behind a wife, Michelle, of West Point, and the couple’s three children, apparently two boys and one girl, all under age 12.
Anyway, tip of the hat and a toast to Colonel Ted S. Westhusing, an inspiration for all, and a prayer for his worldly soul, wherever it may be. As they say in Latin America when a great person, especially a fighter, dies, "Ted Westhusing, Presente!" Note: This idiom is not easily translated. It means something like, "Three cheers"; except it’s said after the death of a hero, and it’s often said in a tone of spirited defiance.
Those who are unconvinced and prefer conspiracy theories, here is a theory that Ted was double-crossed and shot dead by one of the Iraqi police he was training. The shame of a top officer being killed inside a US base was so great that the military is covering it up. Lauren Westhusing, Ted’s nephew and a fine soul, doesn’t believe Ted was a suicide in her comment here, but she may have her reasons for believing that.
Me, I am about done with this story. Surely, as Ted’s death continues to percolate through the media, we will hear more moving eulogies, more theories and countertheories about his death, more accusations of tarnishing Ted’s character. A lot more back and forth, in other words. Unless there is something really newsworthy that adds to this piece, I will not be covering all of that.
I may add some more about Ted’s life and achievements, and will add the findings of the military investigation, assuming they even wrap it up and publicize the findings.
Let us now close with some eulogies for Ted. From Eric Alterman’s column, look for comments by Joseph Alferio, Dr. James R. Goetsch Jr., Charles Perez, Bruce Henke and finally, Major Bob Bateman from Iraq. From The Fulcrum blog, a neat little eulogy, and another, much simpler, from Georgia Weblog. Best of all is this glorious, soaring, terse, powerful eulogy from the War Historian blog. Oh God, it leaves me shaking with emotion. Ted Westhusing an Apparent Suicide
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