For Brutus is an honorable man;
So are they all, all honorable men-
-- Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene II
The media manipulation painting David Petraeus as The Next Statesman/Warrior® is in full swing. You gotta admire the spinmeisters for their effort, if nothing else. Even Deepak Chopra has weighed in with an article on Huffington Post that features this jaw-dropping opening:
No one could fail to notice how honorable a soldier Gen. David Petraeus is, and that includes committed opponents of the Iraq War. What made his latest testimony on Capitol Hill so moving was its reminder that a warrior's best qualities -- valor, coolness under fire, loyalty, and patriotism -- are no small thing. In fact, they used to be the test of manhood.
Without any sense of irony, Chopra goes on to note that "War is where illusions go to die." Who knew Chopra, a licensed psychotherapist, would look so fetching in a Freudian slip? Now that he's let the cat out of the bag, let's examine this media-driven illusion of "honorable" David Petraeus...
When someone who has made a fortune selling inner peace and harmony starts talking up the honorable manliness of someone widely recognized as a political hack, it's fair to ask who is paying him -- especially after recent revelations uncovering the Pentagon's extensive use of media plants to sell their war. How could anyone seriously portray Petraeus' tap dancing performance as a profile in courage? We are talking about a guy who responded to direct questions about "civil war" with the tortured euphemism of "ethno-sectarian competition" as if sesquipedalianism was all it took to distract people from the fact The Surge (Petreaus' strategy) did not work as advertised.
Between you and me, if I was looking for an example of manliness and honor I would probably go for something less effete and more direct. Consider the example set by Admiral Fallon. He's the former head of Central Command. He reportedly called Petraeus, "an ass-kissing chickenshit." Now that's the kind of talk one expects from manly men. Fallon, in case you forgot, is the guy who kept his word. He promised we would not attack Iran on his watch, and we didn't. Unfortunately, he was forced to quit after telling people "There are several of us trying to put the crazies back in the box".
Carefully planted reports portraying Petraeus as the honorable warrior send a clear message: We can all relax because the honorable David Petraeus has been nominated to fill Fallon's shoes. Before we go too far down that fanciful garden path, let me remind you about some significant changes in the strategic approach to managing this conflict that were put in place under Petraeus' command. Specifically, the use of US trained and supported death squads.
Last summer , with the security situation deteriorating, some Iraqi and American officials began to argue that the time had passed for a ‘‘clean hands’’ policy that rejected most of the experienced people who had fought for Saddam Hussein. The first official to take action was Falah al-Naqib. In August, Naqib formed his own regiment, the Special Police Commandos, drawn from veterans of Hussein’s special forces and the Republican Guard.
Initially, Petraeus wasn’t even told of the commandos; Iraqis and American civilians at the Ministry of Interior had lost faith in the U.S. training program. The American who was most involved in the commandos’ creation was Casteel, Naqib’s senior American adviser. Casteel, who previously worked for Paul Bremer in the Coalition Provisional Authority, realized that the de-Baathification policy had to be altered and that Naqib was the person to do it.
After the commandos set up their headquarters at a bombed-out army base at the edge of the Green Zone, Petraeus went for a visit. He was pleasantly surprised, he told me, to see a force that was relatively disciplined and well motivated. He knew the commandos were officers and soldiers who had served Saddam Hussein, he knew many of them were Sunni and he certainly knew they were not under American control. But he also sensed that they could fight. He challenged some of them to a push-up contest. He was not just embracing a new military formation; he was embracing a new strategy. The hard men of the past would help shape the country’s future.
Petraeus decided that the commandos would receive whatever arms, ammunition and supplies they required. He also assigned Steele to work with them.
Anyone who remembers the 80s knows what the Salvador Option meant. It is bad enough Petraeus decided to follow a warmed-over Reagan-era policy which ultimately left behind mass graves filled with innocent victims. Unfortunately, this is worse. As their biographies demonstrate, the trainers and people in charge of the Special Police Commandos were the same people who implemented this dispicable policy back in the Reagan era. Petraeus certainly knew this. For those arriving late to the party, here's the guest list:
James Steele, was a former Army Special Forces officer who led U.S. counterinsurgency efforts in El Salvador in the 1980s. Salvadoran paramilitary units trained by Steele's team were later accused of a pattern of atrocities. Steele left the military and eventually went to work for Enron. He then was recruited to work is magic in Iraq.
Steven Casteel, a former top DEA man who has been acting as the senior advisor in the Ministry of the Interior. Casteel was involved in the hunt for Pablo Escobar, during which the DEA collaborated with a paramilitary organization known as Los Pepes, which later transformed itself into the AUC, an umbrella organization covering all of Colombias paramilitary death squads
It is clear Petraeus was not bothered by the identity or history of the people running these programs. However, a lot of people were very upset by this, especially those who had been horrified the last time the US military got into this line of work and committed atrocities in our name. Remember the Christian Peacemaker Team held hostage in Iraq in 2006? One of the men in that team was Tom Fox, a Quaker and former member of the US Marine Band. He was the only one of the four who was killed.
You would think the kidnapping and the murder would have gotten wall to wall coverage on FOX News, but they barely mentioned it. You would think the president would have waxed indignant about this atrocity against one of "The President's Own." But the White House was as silent as the grave. Their silence makes sense once you learn what the Christian Peacemakers were doing in Iraq at the time.
According to an interview originally published in the Salt Lake Tribune with Tom Fox's former roommate in Iraq:
"Christian Peacemaker members, including some of those who have been taken captive, had been investigating abuses at the hands of special police and military groups months before the Nov. 15 discovery of 173 detainees in the basement of an Interior Ministry building. American soldiers who liberated the prisoners said some appeared to have been tortured by their Iraqi government captors."
That is a very polite way of putting it. The BBC report of the atrocities discovered in the basement of the Interior Ministry was particularly gruesome. When men are killed with electric drills, I don't think it's fair to say they "appeared to have been tortured" at the hands of a death squad.
I'm not using the term "death squad" loosely here. The "special police and military groups" referred to in the Tribune piece are the Special Police Commandos described above. Those units represented the operational implementation of the so-called "Salvador Option" being championed by some people in the Pentagon. As noted above, these Special Police Commando units were created, trained and equipped by the US under the command of David Petraeus.
This is certainly concerning, but it would be a lot more damning of his leadership if someone who actually worked with Petraeus brought a complaint. Well, it turns out someone did. His name was Col. Ted Westhusing. When he was in Iraq, Westhusing worked directly for David Petraeus. As the head of counterterrorism and special operations under Petraeus, Westhusing oversaw the training of Iraqi security forces.
Westhusing also carries another distinction. At the time of his death he was the highest ranking soldier to die in Iraq. One has to wonder why there was so little interest in the circumstances that drove him to take his own life. He did, after all, leave a suicide note that named names and pointed an icy finger from the grave directly at Petraeus and others. Here's what he wrote:
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
Honorable men have paid a heavy price to bring this story to light. Tom Fox was not the only person murdered while investigating US-sponsored death squads in Iraq. He wasn't even the first. The allegations of torture, murder, and abuse the Christian Peacemaker Team was investigating in 2005 happened to be the same story investigated by Steve Vincent (New York Time), Yasser Salihee (Knight Ridder) and Fakher Haider (New York Times). All three journalists have this in common: That was the last story those journalists covered before they were shot to death in Iraq in 2005. We owe it to these honorable men, to ourselves, and posterity to make sure this story is not lost among the petty distractions that pass for news.