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
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
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.
THE OFFICIAL LINE
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
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
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.
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
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:
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.|
WE DON'T WANT TO HEAR IT
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
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
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
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:
portions of the
information are exempt from release. Other
documents have been withheld in their
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
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. |
WHY DENY IT?
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
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
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
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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