Monday, November 28, 2005

"War is...Business"

The most e-mailed article at the “L.A. Times” over the weekend was entitled “A Journey that Ended in Anguish,” written by T. Christian Miller.

It can be found here:,0,1236434,print.story

Miller’s piece recounts the life and death of Col. Ted Westhusing who was, according to the article, “one of the Army’s leading scholars of military ethics,” professor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and a doctor of philosophy.

He was, by accounts contained in the article, a “straight shooter,” “deep Christian,” “cream of the crop,” and all around “solid citizen” (as the scribe’s mom used to say when describing someone distinct from the scribe).

Westhusing, who was living a pretty nice life in a lifetime position at “The Point,” responded to the war in Iraq in the way men of his ilk tend to: by running towards it.

But things did not go well. He apparently ran afoul of contractors (or they afoul of him) hired by the Department of Defense to handle tasks that used to be done by, well, the Department of Defense.

Westhusing’s charge in Iraq was to school Iraqi police recruits in how to do their job, without, one assumes, the bullwhips, electric prods, rape techniques, and outright murder that were trademarks of the prior regime.

Anyway, what got his goat was relations with a firm out of Virginia called USIS.

For those who don’t have the time to sort such things out and can only get a sense of goings-on in Iraq from a distance (courtesy of U.S. media), let the scribe explain: We now pay private companies to do a lot of the legwork building a prospective and democratic nation like Iraq requires.

These companies teach interrogation techniques and, as it turns out, have done a fair amount of questioning themselves. Because the Army and Marines were unprepared for a war in the Middle East of the Bush conflict’s depth and breadth, contractors are providing hundreds of people, at a considerable price (given the location and inherent threats), who can speak the languages necessary to facilitate a project (or whatever it is) like that underway in Iraq.

Contract employees have, despite legal constraints, been involved in house-to-house sweeps, jail discipline and interrogation, and firefights. In April 2004, for example, a few of them got their booties in a bind and wound up burned and hanging from a bridge entering Fallouja. That led to a massive firefight and the eventual leveling of the city and its citizens.

PBS’ “Frontline” did a special report about two months ago on the impact of “private sector elements” in the war effort and it tweren’t pretty.

Incidentally, literally hundreds of employees have been killed, led by those from Dick Cheney’s old boss, Haliburton, and SAIC in San Diego.

Westhusing had his own problems with the contractors. In April of this year, friends, family and colleagues began to notice a darkening of his mood. E-mails home got cryptic and creepy.

Here’s some from the article itself:

“Then, in May, Westhusing received an anonymous four-page letter that contained detailed allegations of wrongdoing by USIS.

The writer accused USIS of deliberately shorting the government on the number of trainers to increase its profit margin. More seriously, the writer detailed two incidents in which USIS contractors allegedly had witnessed or participated in the killing of Iraqis.

A USIS contractor accompanied Iraqi police trainees during the assault on Fallouja last November and later boasted about the number of insurgents he had killed, the letter says. Private security contractors are not allowed to conduct offensive operations.

In a second incident, the letter says, a USIS employee saw Iraqi police trainees kill two innocent Iraqi civilians, then covered it up. A USIS manager ‘did not want it reported because he thought it would put his contract at risk’.”

Westhusing reported the allegations and an ensuing investigation revealed what such fox-guarding-the-henhouse exercises tend to reveal - nothing.

One U.S. military official, naturally requesting anonymity, said, “As is typical, there may be a wisp of truth in each of the allegations.”

“Wisps” of truth are not much different than truths themselves, especially if the “wisp” part included the death of innocent people.

Westhusing killed himself, according to the military investigation that followed his death. The deceased’s family is not so sure. They fear danger may have lurked in the form of armed contract employees themselves, since the colonel was at odds with them.

the scribe, in all due respect, wonders what in the heck anybody running off to participate in the block party known as Operation Enduring Freedom was expecting.

Lt. Col. Lisa Breitenbach is the psychologist who reviewed Westhusing’s communications. She concluded that he, “struggled with the idea that monetary values could outweigh moral ones in war.”

One has to wonder what administration he was watching sell this ghastly enterprise.

“Despite his intelligence,” she said, “his ability to grasp the idea that profit is an important goal for people working in the private sector was surprisingly limited.”

He thought war is hell, but war is... business.

the scribe would suggest that, like neo-cons Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle (and Christopher Hitchens!) Westhusing, before he took off for Iraq, was something an Ivory Tower soldier (the best kind).

These two guys were not:

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today (11/28) released the following statement regarding the death of Spc. Vernon R. Widner of Redlands:

“Spc. Widner gave his life in service of his country, paying the ultimate price in the struggle for democracy and freedom. This nation owes him and his family a debt of gratitude we can never repay. Maria and I send our sincere condolences to Vernon’s friends, loved ones and fellow soldiers as they grieve for him during this difficult time.”

Widner, 34, died Nov. 17 of injuries sustained when his HMMWV was involved in a vehicle accident during convoy operations in Bayji, Iraq. He was assigned to the 3rd Special Troops Batttalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, Fort Campbell, KY.

In honor of Widner, Capitol flags will be flown at half-staff.


Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas of El Paso. TX:

“The loss of Lance Cpl. Terrazas painfully reminds us of the perils the members of our armed forces face every day. Miguel courageously took on these dangers, and Maria and I send our deepest sympathies to his loved one for their loss.”

Terrazas, 20, died Nov. 19 from injuries sustained as a result of an improvised explosive device while conducting combat operations against enemy forces in the vicinity of Hadithah, Iraq. He was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendletonn, CA. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, his unit was attached to 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force.
the highway scribe will read from the novel "Vedette" to the accompaniment of flamenco guitarist Omar Torrez at 33 1/3 Books & Gallery Collective, Dec. 15, 8 p.m. 1200 N. Alvarado St. at Sunset Blvd.

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