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by Dennis Bernstein

The Pentagon denies that U.S. soldiers were exposed to chemical and biological warfare agents during the Gulf war, but its own records contradict the official line.
Spec. 1st Class Dean Lundholm, of the National Guard's 649th Military Police Company, was assigned to guard duty at the Hafar Al Batin POW camp near the Iraq-Kuwait border. He was in the shower when the Scud landed. Amid the wail of activated chemical warfare alarms, he dashed naked, holding his breath, through the open air to where his protective gear was stored. Soon after, he fell into a three-day coma. Now he is diagnosed as having Gulf War Syndrome.

Lundholm came home to a

blaze of post-war hyperpatriotism and technophilia, as the allied powers gloated over among many other things their astoundingly low casualty figures. The number tossed around at the time was indeed minuscule: about 150 dead for the allies, contrasted against as many as 100,000 Iraqi corpses.
Yet now, four years after war's end, the euphoria seems premature. Tens of thousands of Gulf War personnel have come down with one or more of a number of disabling and life-threatening medical conditions collectively known
as Gulf War Syndrome (GWS). The syndrome's cause is unclear, but veterans and researchers have focused on the elements of a toxic chemical soup in the war zone that includes insecticides, pesticides, various preventive medicines given experimentally to GIs, and smoke from the burning oilfields of Iraq and Kuwait.

There is also reliable evidence that one of its causes is exposure to low levels of chemical and biological warfare (CBW) agents during the war. According to a variety of sources, including just declassified Marine Corps battlefield Command

Chronologies and After Action Reports, widespread exposure to CBW agents occurred when U.S.-led forces bombed Iraqi chemical facilities, and during direct attacks by the Iraqis.

And while numerous sources, including military documents, link GWS to those exposures, the U.S. defense establishment doesn't want to talk about it. Its policy of denial is making it substantially harder for Gulf War veterans to receive diagnoses that include all the probable toxins and their possible synergistic effects.

Despite mounting evidence, Pentagon denials continue. In sworn testimony before Congress in March, Dr. Stephen Joseph, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, stuck to the Department of Defense (DoD) position. There is no persuasive evidence of such exposures [to CBW agents], he said, even after much scrutiny. Joseph's comments echo those made last year by Defense Secretary William Perry and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman John Shalikashvili that there is no information,
classified or unclassified, that indicated chemical or biological weapons were used in the Persian Gulf.

More recently, former Dep. Sec. of Defense (and now newly confirmed Dir. of Central Intelligence) John Deutch, the DoD's point man on the Gulf War Syndrome, restated the government's line: [W]ith the help of an independent panel, [I] examined those instances where there are allegations of use or presence [of CBW agents], and it is my judgment at the present

"To my mind, there is no more serious crime
than an official military cover uo of facts
that could prevent more effective diagnosis
and treatment of sick U.S. veterans."

time that there has been no use or presence, but that judgment is amenable to change if further information comes up.
During the confirmation hearings, Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) grilled Deutch on comments he made on 60 Minutes that no widespread use had been detected, seemingly suggesting that some use had occurred. But Deutch quickly closed that door, accusing 60 Minutes of misleading the public with editing tricks. I attach no particular significance to use of that word [widespread use]. `No use' would be equally
accurate from my point of view. Kerrey again queried Deutch. And you have no evidence at this point that there was any kind of use or presence of CBW during that 42-day period?
That's correct, Deutch said. The CIA, Deutch's new fiefdom, climbed on board the day before Deutch's hearing began, announcing that nothing has yet surfaced that leads CIA to disagree with the Department of Defense conclusion that chemical weapons were not used during the Gulf War. But former Senator Don Riegle (D-Mich.), whose Senate
Banking Committee held extensive hearings and issued two reports on GWS, said the denials don't wash. According to Riegle, British and U.S. troops made at least 21 positive tests for the agents, and he accused the U.S. military of a cover-up:

"These Department of Defense explanations are inconsistent with the facts as related by the soldiers who were present, and with official government documents prepared by those who were present and with experts who have examined the facts. ... To my mind, there is no more serious

crime than an official military cover-up of facts that could prevent more effective diagnosis and treatment of sick U.S. veterans.

EVIDENCE OF CBW EXPOSURE Riegle is not alone. Evidence of CBW exposure during the war is abundant and mounting. In response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the Gulf War Veterans of Georgia, in January the Pentagon released 11 pages of previously classified Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Incident (NBC) logs prepared by aides

to Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of coalition forces during the war. The NBC log excerpts, which cover only seven days of the war, document dozens of chemical incidents. They also reveal chemical injuries to U.S. GIs, discoveries of Iraqi chemical munitions dumps, fallout from allied bombing of Iraqi chemical supply dumps, and chemical attacks on Saudi Arabia.

I think this is a very powerful piece of evidence, said ex-Sen. Riegle, about the released logs. Why did they hide it from us?

Did it now get out in a purposeful way or did it get out by accident?...They [the Pentagon] did not respond honestly and truthfully to my requests. It's obvious the mistakes made during the war were serious. It's obviously too damaging to too many people's reputations here, Riegle said.

The Riegle committee itself developed strong evidence that exposures took place. James J. Tuite, III, chief investigator for the committee's two-year study of GWS and U.S.-Iraqi trade policies, says:

talked about alarms sounding continuously during war, and in fact some units had complained about the alarms sounding so much that they received instructions to take the batteries out or to disable them."

"After a while, units stopped going to MOPP [protective dress] when these alarms would go off because they were being told that it was because of traces of nerve agent in the air but not enough to hurt you;

we have since learned that the amount of nerve agent that is

capable of hurting someone is one one-thousandth of the amount required to set off that alarm over an extended period. In other words, had they been exposed to very low levels over the period of the war, there was a possibility that they could suffer serious injury. What we are seeing is probably the result of not taking those alarms seriously.

Tuite says testing carried out in the field was sophisticated and highly reliable. Many chemical specialists have come forward, reporting that they detected chemical agents

and that their detections were backed up by a number of techniques, said Tuite. Not only were the ionization alarms sounding, but they used chemical reaction devices which confirmed the presence of agents, and mass spectrometry devices that also confirmed the presence of agents. In fact, Czech, French, British, and U.S. commanders publicly reported those detections.

Recently released Marine Corps battlefield reports confirm scores of CBW incidents during the ground war. One report notes that on February 24, 1991, the "513th

Military Intelligence Brigade U.S. Army confirms the use of anthrax at King Khalid Military City. Method of delivery unknown. Another entry, a February 25 After Action Report from the 1st Marine Division says, Fox vehicles detected and identified Lewicite [chemical nerve] agent, which could have resulted from an Iraqi attack or been exploded by our own artillery fire, thus causing secondary explosions.

Army documents validate the exposure claims. In an internal memo, Army Maj. Gen. Ronald R.Blanck, commander of Walter Reed Army Medical Center,

strongly supported contentions that CBW agents were present in the Gulf: Conclusions: Clearly, chemical warfare agents were detected and confirmed during the war. It cannot be ruled out that [CBW agents] could have contributed to the illness in susceptible individuals.

Reports from VA doctors also contradict the Pentagon line. Charles Jackson, M.D., Environmental Physician at the VA hospital in Tuskegee, Alabama, described one patient with classic GWS symptoms and noted that [h]e was a member of Construction

Battalion 24 which was stationed at Al Jubayl in the Gulf. We have given him the diagnosis of [GWS] and Chemical-Biological warfare exposure. He had none of these symptoms prior to the Gulf.

A GIFT FROM THE ENEMY Numerous reports from the field also cite the presence of CBW agents. In August 1991, Capt. Michael F. Johnson of the 54th Chemical Troop of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment was briefed at the U.S. embassy in Kuwait and ordered to lead a mission to confirm the presence of a suspect

liquid chemical agent that had been discovered on August 5 by British Royal engineers while clearing unexploded ordnance left [by the Iraqis] at a girls' school in southeastern Kuwait during a hasty retreat.

Johnson later reported that tests on the suspect chemical detected and identified highly concentrated H-Agent, an extremely toxic and volatile mustard gas agent. Coalition soldiers did experience exposure to Iraqi chemical agents, he concluded. British troops also reported CBW attacks. Corp.

Richard Turnbull, an 18-year vet, built NBC shelters, and instructed British troops in the use of chemical monitoring and protective clothing.

Corp. Turnbull had been based in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, during the Gulf War, and was present on January 20, 1991, during an Iraqi Scud missile attack. Within seconds of the warhead landing, every chemical-agent monitoring device in the area was blasting the alarm, he said. We were put into the highest alert for twenty minutes, he added, and then we were told it was a false alarm caused by the fuel from aircraft

taking off.

Turnbull himself carried out two residual vapor detection tests for CBW agents shortly after the Scud hit and both were positive. Turnbull, who has since suffered from what the British call Desert Fever, believes his test results were correct. We were always told that there was a 99.999 percent possibility of a chemical attack. We were expecting it. That was in our intelligence briefing. `Inevitable' was the word used. And now they deny it, said Turnbull. Iraqi documents captured by U.S. and British forces bolster the information in NBC logs and

the on-the-scene accounts, as do reliable reports by U.S., British, and Czech chemical weapons specialists deployed in Iraq and Kuwait after the war. They found chemical munitions, including bulk agents, behind Iraqi lines, including 28 chemical warfare heads subsequently destroyed by the U.N.

The captured documents contain orders to use chemical weapons. British intercepts of Iraqi communications during the war also revealed that the Iraqis were planning to use the weapons when the ground war began. Captured Iraqi

prisoners of war told the British substantial supplies of chemical weapons were deployed and used in the Gulf War.

Because of overwhelming allied ground and air superiority, Iraqi attacks were limited and sporadic. Even after all the reports of exposure to CBW agents after Scud landings are tallied, they fail to account for other exposures, many of which came as a direct result of allied bombings of Iraqi chemical and biological production and storage sites. According to Riegle, his two-year study identified 18 chemical, 12

biological, and four nuclear facilities in Iraq bombed by the U.S.-led allied forces. Debris from the bombings was dispersed into upper atmospheric currents, as shown in U.S. satellite photos, as well as in videotape obtained by Congress. This airborne dispersal came down on the heads of allied personnel in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Iraq. Official documents show weather patterns over Iraq that carried chemical fallout to coalition troop positions. So do U.N. assessments of damage done to well-stocked Iraqi chemical storage facilities.

Reports from the recently released NBC logs,

written following allied bombings of Iraqi chemical supply dumps, support this position. One entry reads: Lt. Col. [Vicki] Merriman called. Report from Army Central Command forward. Czechoslovakian recon report detected GA/GB (mustard gases). And that hazard is flowing down from factory storage bombed in Iraq. Predictably, this has become/is going to become a problem. Sandia, Los Alamos, and Livermore National Laboratories were consulted or prepared reports on the danger of chemical fallout from the bombings. Former Soviet CBW expert Ivan Yevstafyev warned that strikes on chemical and biological weapons facilities in Iraq's territory could rebound on us and cause damage to the population of our country.

Gen. Raymond Germanos, a spokesperson for the French Ministry of Defense, confirmed in February 1991 the presence of chemical fallout from allied bombings, probably neurotoxins...a little bit everywhere. And in July 1993, the Czech Defense Ministry said it was able to irrefutably confirm traces of chemical warfare agents, including the deadly

nerve agents sarin and Yperite.

The cover-up is being compounded by a growing body of evidence that the military has harassed and mistreated Gulf veterans for reporting ill-effects from CBW exposures. Navy Reserve Capt. Julia Dyckman of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a 27-year veteran with service in Vietnam, Panama and the Gulf, was a nursing supervisor in a 500-bed field hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where she oversaw thousands of GI patients. We treated people,

but none of them for chemical illnesses, said Dyckman, because we were told there were no chemicals. So if somebody came in with [conditions] like what I had, open sores, which I think was from a blister agent, we didn't treat them for that. Dyckman said she was told the blisters and festering open sores were from desert sand.

Dyckman ran into problems with the Navy when she was asked to serve on a REDCOM 4 (Readiness Command) committee to welcome back the returning veterans. When I started interviewing people,

they were complaining of the same illnesses that were plaguing me, so I started documenting the complaints, she said. When she started reporting back to REDCOM's Capt. Brian Silk, he filed negative and harassing reports, and removed her from the REDCOM payroll.

Members of National Guard units may have been discharged for complaining about illnesses. A Guard memo reviewing medical records for its Gulf veterans concluded that the VA had inadequately addresse[d] vague and undiagnosed illnesses resulting from exposure to

environmental hazards and that several hundred National Guard soldiers, ordered to Desert Storm/Shield Active Duty, incurred medical conditions in the line of duty and were erroneously released from that duty.

On occasion, supposed DoD concern about vets turned into browbeating. Lt. Col. Vicki Merriman, an aide to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Chemical and Biological Matters, and who appears in the NBC logs reporting on CBW alerts, contacted veterans after they appeared before the Riegle

committee. Among them was former U.S. Army Sgt. Randall L. Vallee. Vallee served as an advance scout and has been afflicted by a half-dozen serious medical conditions which began following Scud attacks that set off chemical monitors. Merriman called him after he testified about what he believed to be his exposure to CBW agents.

She asked me about my health and my family, said Vallee. But after some small talk...the Colonel's attitude turned from one of being concerned

about my well-being to an interrogator trying to talk me out of my own experiences. Vallee added that Merriman claimed there was absolutely no way that any soldiers in the Gulf were exposed to anything. Vallee quotes Merriman as saying, the only ones whining about problems are American troops; why aren't any of our allies?

In fact, they are, and they are getting the same treatment. Wendy Morris co-directs the Gloucester, England-based Trauma After Care Trust (TACT), a private organization that

assists sick British Gulf veterans. Morris said TACT has been contacted by hundreds of British veterans who claim to be afflicted with war-related medical conditions.

We can assume it's only the tip of the iceberg, said Morris. Until recently, they've been very reticent about coming forward, because they're worried about their careers, postings, pensions, and what have you, but there are gradually more coming out of the woodwork because they are so sick and needy.

The British soldiers have received unsympathetic responses from their superiors. They're called weak and wimps, told they haven't got any guts, no moral fiber, that sort of thing. They tell them it's all psychological, Morris added. The latest development is that anybody who has got these problems, which `had nothing to do with the Gulf,' of course, must be seen by a military specialist for tests.

Now, a lot of men and women have gone for these tests, but nothing has come out of it. They've had blood tests, urine tests, the usual sorts of testing, but no treatment.

Part of the problem in determining the causes and scope of GWS is a lack of records, and it is occurring throughout the armed forces. Some records may have been lost or destroyed through incompetence or negligence, but the military is deliberately suppressing important information as well.

In response to the Gulf War Veterans of Georgia FOIA request, Lt. Gen. Richard I. Neal, Deputy Commander of the U.S. Central Command, cited national security in refusing to release NBC logs.

Portions of this [NBC] log contain material which is properly classified pursuant to an executive order in the interest of national defense. Accordingly, your request is denied in part.

Two months later, the military admitted destroying some NBC logs. In reply to the same FOIA request, Anthony Stepleton, a civilian aide to Forces Command commander Gen. Dennis Reimer, revealed that the Army's 1st Cavalry Division...NBC logs [were] destroyed, and that NBC logs from the Army Central Command, the 3rd Army, and other units may have been destroyed

as well. The Marine Corps is also implicated. Two marines stationed at Camp Pendleton, near San Diego, former Cpl. Patrick Weissenfluh and Sgt. Todd See, reported seeing hundreds of records from the Gulf War being destroyed. They had a trash can that they were dumping...the medical records in and burning them, said See. Such incidents may reflect Marine Corps concerns about future claims related to GWS. One Marine Corps internal document says:

"Several sources have suggested that the documentation of exposure to smoke within the

geographical boundaries of Kuwait should be placed in members' health records. Placing such information could wrongly imply possible health problems in the future, while all the information to date suggests no health hazard exists. Unless there are current health complaints, there is no reason to make health record entries."

And in response to the FOIA request from the Gulf War Veterans of New England that resulted in the recent partial release of Marine Corps battlefield reports, the Marines noted:
We have determined that

portions of the information are exempt from release. Other documents have been withheld in their entirety.

The Navy has also been accused of mishandling Gulf War medical records. Navy personnel say that in November 1991, the Navy removed records from the medical files of sailors with GWS. Sailors claim these records prove they were exposed to CBW agents in the Gulf. Navy Captain Julia Dyckman tells a similar tale. We kept statistical records and data that we sent to the Navy Research Center in San Diego, but they said they never received them,

she said. We sent medical encounter sheets on the 10,000 we saw over the period we were in Saudi Arabia, and they claim it never arrived. Convenient, isn't it?
Dyckman now suffers from a variety of disabling medical conditions and has tried without success to get her own records from the Navy to assist her in seeking treatment. Dean Lundholm, the soldier exposed running from the shower and now disabled with GWS, lives with his sister Erika, his primary caregiver. Erika Lundholm says the VA told her that all the medical records from Dean's hospital stay
in the Gulf are missing. We have repeatedly requested those records and have yet to receive them.

Riegle committee chief investigator Tuite confirms that there is a pattern of missing files and misplaced medical and service records. We've received widespread reporting on that issue, he said, and when we questioned the DoD on that issue, they just say that their record-keeping process isn't very organized and that they just can't find the records. But the fact of the matter is that

medical files are maintained on all personnel, and those files go with the personnel as they travel from place to place, so I find it highly unusual that the records are missing.

At first glance, it seems counterintuitive for the U.S. to downplay CBW exposure, especially if it can be blamed on Saddam Hussein. Yet there are good reasons for the U.S. government to stonewall. To admit that CBW exposures occurred means the government must address some uncomfortable issues, such as the

military's inability to protect U.S. forces from CBW agents. But with U.S. troops possibly facing lingering contaminants as they carry out training exercises in the region, silence could be deadly.

Equally embarrassing for the U.S. is the history of government and corporate cooperation with Iraq in the 1980s. With the active support of two presidents and many U.S. officials, U.S. and Western European companies sold the technology to Iraq that may now be making tens

of thousands of soldiers and civilians ill.

In 1987, then Vice President George Bush met with Iraqi Ambassador Nizar Hamdoom and assured him that Iraq could continue to purchase sensitive dual use technology from the U.S. Senior Bush administration officials continued this policy, despite opposition from within the administration and Congress, and despite clear evidence the Iraqis were actively working on the development of nuclear and chemical weapons.

In the five years leading up to the Gulf War, the Commerce Department licensed more than $1.5 billion of strategically sensitive U.S. exports to Iraq, from companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Honeywell, Rockwell, and Tektronix. Many of these dual use exports were delivered directly to chemical and nuclear plants in Iraq. The Riegle committee found that some of the materials the Iraqis had in their storage dumps, and which they used to create their CBW capability, came from U.S. corporations.

By the time of the invasion of Kuwait, the Pentagon knew Iraq had developed CBW weapons and that its biological warfare program was the most advanced in the Arab world. Large-scale production of these agents began in 1989 at four facilities near Baghdad, and Iraq had developed delivery systems, including aerial bombs, artillery, rockets, and surface-to-surface missiles. A more prosaic contribution to the cover-up probably resides in the military bureaucracy's eternal instinct to cover itself in the face of any problem or scandal.

In an attempt to get at the source of their medical problems, and as a way to sidestep prohibitions against suing the government for injuries resulting from exposure to CBW weapons, veterans filed a billion-dollar class action lawsuit against the companies including Bechtel, M.W. Kellogg, Dresser Industries, and Interchem Inc. that peddled these deadly technologies to Iraq. The suit, filed last November in federal court in Galveston, Texas, could break new ground, holding

companies liable in cases in which third parties use their products to cause bodily harm or death. Vic Silvester of Odessa, Texas, is a plaintiff in the suit. His 24-year-old son James was deployed near Scud missile attack sites, and he now suffers a variety of disabling medical conditions including nerve damage, rashes, severe headaches, and chronic fatigue. He can't sleep. He goes to the store and can't remember what to get, Silvester says of his son. And he gets no disability. The companies that made the chemical-biologicals should pay.

While it is at least theoretically possible to hold corporations accountable, the government and the military are legally immune from financial liability. But the potential political liabilities are enormous. Admitting that the U.S. role in arming Iraq eventually resulted in U.S. veterans suffering the torments of exposure to debilitating toxins is a prospect the Pentagon is so far unwilling to face.

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS John Deutch's continuing denials of CBW exposure in the face of now considerable evidence to the contrary ring hollow. They also raise

concerns that his promises, so well-received on Capitol Hill, to make the CIA accountable are similarly suspect. Based on what we know today, said Riegle committee investigator Tuite, DoD withheld information from the Congress, and Deutch has said he was the responsible person there. There are laws that make it illegal to withhold information from Congress. And if the DoD has done it on this issue, he continued, I don't believe we can afford to have the CIA feeling as though they can withhold information from Congress. Congress has a constitutional responsibility to make sure that the laws are being followed.

Gulf War veterans groups

remain frustrated. They accuse Deutch of being actively engaged in a cover-up of the presence and exposure of chemical and biological warfare agents. What we have is the man who's the number two person at the Department of Defense intentionally or by mismanagement covering up documents or lying about them on television, said Paul Sullivan, president of Gulf War Veterans of Georgia, the group that obtained the NBC logs. What we want to know is this: What is Mr. Deutch hiding? How much more is there in terms of documents that the DoD is not releasing? What effect does this have on our vulnerability to chemicals? What does this say about the expendability of veterans' lives?


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