Midwest Today, November 1997
|"You saw what happened
right after Desert Storm. It wiped out the divisions caused by
Vietnam, at least for a while. The country came together..."
--Former President George Bush, 1997
|"It is clear that the CIA as
well as the Defense Department has been complicit in a stonewall,
if not a coverup."
-- Washington Post, April 11, 1997
"Our afflicted veterans are sick and suffering, and many have died. Others are now destitute, having spent tens of thousands of dollars, depleting their life savings, in an unsuccessful search for an explanation for their ailments. The veterans of the Gulf War have asked us for nothing more than the assistance they have earned. Our refusal to come to their immediate assistance can only lead others to question the integrity of the nation they serve."
--Former Sen. Don Riegel of Michigan
It was a spectacular sight during prime time on CNN: The night sky over Baghdad, lighting up with the streaks of hundreds of Iraqi missiles fired at U.S. bombing runs. Live reports from the scene of the Middle East conflict kept us glued to our TVs, and we cheered the impressive success of the U.S.-led coalition of nations that drove Saddam Hussein's invading Iraqi army out of Kuwait.
This short Persian Gulf war in the Winter of 1991 was being covered as war had never been covered before. The usually skeptical press accepted unprecedented restrictions on its coverage and hewed to the official line, for the most part accepting the government news handouts as gospel, rarely doing any of the investigative reporting that had characterized Vietnam and previous wars.
For the placated American public, the Gulf war was one of smart bombs, surgical strikes, and laser-painted targets. It was also a dream come true for defense contractors and the U.S. military elite -- a unique opportunity to test on the battlefield a whole array of expensive new weaponry and warfare techniques and, as it turned out, to use American troops as guinea pigs for experimental drugs that had not even been approved by the FDA.
The allied powers gloated over their astoundingly low casualty figures (about 150 dead for the allies -- 25% of that from friendly fire), and they rejoiced in the 100,000-plus Iraqi casualties. But this blaze of post-war hyperpatriotism and technophilia didn't last long.
It now appears that Saddam Hussein may be getting the last laugh. That's because tens of thousands of Gulf War personnel have come down with one or more of a number of disabling and even life-threatening medical conditions collectively known as Gulf War Syndrome (GWS).
Despite having spent over $80 million investigating the matter, the Pentagon has steadfastly insisted that most of the ailments suffered by Gulf War veterans are merely the result of stress.
But Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), said at recent Congressional hearings that we may have brought greater casualties to ourselves than the enemy did.
Consider these revelations, which have emerged in the past few months:
A respected chemical-weapons researcher who had been mysteriously dismissed from a special White House panel said recently that he also believed that Iraq might have attacked American troops with chemical weapons.
Jonathan Tucker, a former arms specialist at the State Department, said eyewitness accounts, declassified intelligence records and operational logs all suggest that Iraq deployed chemical weapons to the front lines during the war and may have employed them in a sporadic and uncoordinated manner against coalition forces.
Tucker cited Iraqi documents captured after the war showing that the Iraqi military had authorized front-line commanders to fire chemical weapons once the American-led offensive began.
Anecdotal evidence from coalition forces who recall chemical alarms sounding and symptoms developing after Iraqi scud missile attacks lend credibility to this speculation.
British Gulf War vet Richard Turnball reflected, "We were always told that there was a 99.999% possibility of a chemical attack. We were expecting it. That was in our intelligence briefings. 'Inevitable' was the word used. And now they deny it."
Adding insult to injury, as the health of thousands of Gulf War vets has been deteriorating, many of them have been ruined financially and even threatened with IRS action by VA hospitals demanding payment for bills that ordinarily wouldn't be charged to combat veterans, but were anyway because the Department of Defense refused to recognize their claims for disability, insisting Gulf War Syndrome wasn't a bona fide illness.
As the Washington Post reported, "There is ample evidence that the Defense department did not give Congress crucial documents about chemical weapons it possessed when questions were first asked in 1993, that until recently it portrayed ill-researched conclusions as indelible facts and that it has been slow to reexamine those conclusions."
Midwesterners Show First Signs of Illness
As early as 1992, some members of the Indiana-based 123rd Army Reserve Command who had served in the rear reported some unexplained illnesses mainly memory loss, fatigue, rashes and headaches. The same symptoms began showing up in veterans across the country and by mid-1993, the mystery illness became known as Gulf War Syndrome.
As reports increased, symptoms worsened. These grew to include depressed immune systems, respiratory and gastrointestinal problems, neurological dysfunction, joint pain, severe skin rashes and even cancer.
Life magazine reported in a big cover story that there have also been serious birth defects among children conceived by veterans after they returned from the Gulf.
One Congressional study concluded that by 1993, 78% of the wives of veterans who are sick were also likely to be ill; that 25% of their children born before the war were also likely to be sick; and that 65% of the children born to affected Gulf War veterans were also likely to become ill.
In 1993, President Clinton ordered the Pentagon to launch a study to determine whether U.S. troops had been exposed to chemical or biological weapons during the war.
As the frustration mounted, the Senate Banking Committee, headed by then-Senator Donald Riegle of Michigan, launched an investigation into sales by U.S. companies of biological and chemical agents to Iraq as late as 1989. Yet when questioned, the Pentagon, along with the CIA, openly discredited countless firsthand accounts by U.S. and coalition troops of their detections of numerous chemical agents.
GAO Sides With Vets
Ailing vets and their families, who have been complaining for years about what they believe is the government's stonewalling and cover-up, have been heartened by a new study released this Summer by the General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress. The GAO harshly criticized the Pentagon and a special White House panel over their investigation of the illnesses reported by veterans of the 1991 Persian Gulf war. The GAO has found that there is "substantial evidence" linking nerve gas and other chemical weapons to the "delayed or long-term health effects similar to those experienced by Gulf war veterans."
The GAO report says that the Defense Department should also not rule out the possibility that Iraqi biological weapons, especially aflatoxin -- any of a group of potent liver carcinogens -- might be responsible for some ailments reported by the estimated 80,000 Gulf war veterans who have sought special medical checkups from the government.
It noted that because United Nations inspectors have not seen all the damaged Iraqi sites since the war, "the magnitude of exposures to chemical-warfare agents has not been fully resolved. "
The GAO also said that since the United States had no effective method for detecting biological weapons during the war, "one cannot be certain that such weapons were not used" against U.S. troops.
The GAO criticized the Pentagon for trying to discount another potential risk, a tropical disease spread by parasites that produces symptoms that also might not surface for years, and questioned whether pesticides had contributed to the health problems.
In addition, the GAO condemned the government for having to be prodded into investigating Gulf War illnesses by repeated complaints from ailing veterans. Most of the research into Gulf War illnesses began in 1994 or later, three years after the end of the war, the GAO said.
Gulf war vets hailed the GAO study as vindicating what they've been saying all along. In addition, the report was described by aides as a personal triumph for First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is the unsung heroine in pushing the government to respond more forthrightly to the problem. Aides say she has always been skeptical of Pentagon assurances that the veterans illnesses were stress-related. It was Hillary who, in May 1995, convinced her husband to appoint the 12-member Presidential advisory committee on Gulf war illnesses. And when the panel supported the military s dubious findings, she successfully lobbied her spouse to extend the investigation.
Pentagon Does An About-Face
Many suspect that Mrs. Clinton may have been a primary reason why the Pentagon reversed itself a few months ago and admitted that tens of thousands of troops could have been subjected to fallout when bunkers containing Iraqi chemical/biological warfare (CBW) agents, were destroyed by coalition forces apparently without adequate safeguards.
That and the fact that a home video surfaced and was about to be shown on CBS "60 Minutes." The videotape was made by one of the troops ordered to destroy an Iraqi bunker, and it clearly showed the range of armaments inside.
Widespread allied attacks on Iraq's chemical-weapons factories and depots occurred during the 39-day air war. During that assault, the U.S.-led alliance was said to have destroyed 75% of Iraq's chemical-weapons production capability, along with 21 weapon storage sites.
Eighteen chemical, twelve biological, and four nuclear facilities in Iraq were bombed by the U.S.-led allied forces. Debris from the bombings was dispersed upwards into upper atmospheric currents, as shown by a U.S. satellite videotape obtained by Congress.
Finally, last year the Defense Department acknowledged that up to 400 engineers might have come in contact with poison gas. The Pentagon announced that chemical weapons -- deadly mustard gas and the nerve gases sarin and cyclosarin -- were present when a site known as Bunker 73, near the southern Iraqi village of Kamisiyah was destroyed by military munitions experts on March 4, 1991.
Contrary to media reports, Kamisiyah was not some small bunker. It was, in fact, a veritable city -- ten square miles of munitions, including 100 bunkers and 40 warehouses, each the size of a Wal-Mart -- which contained approximately 7.5 million pounds of serin gas and 2.5 million pounds of mustard gas.
Later revelations that allied bombing destroyed a second cache of rockets found in a pit two miles away and blown up by U.S. troops on March 10, 1991 sent the estimates soaring.
Not long after this announcement, Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said a very large number of soldiers, probably far more than 20,000, could have been exposed to a chemical-weapons explosion in 1991.
Then it was revealed that, in addition to the March 1991 demolitions, Kamisiyah was the target of extensive air strikes a month earlier, according to intelligence documents made public on the Internet on a Dept. of Defense site, but withdrawn because the CIA thought they disclosed too much about intelligence-gathering methods.
Administration officials now say a CIA computer model shows that on at least one night, thermal plumes of nerve gas were released into the cool night air, forcing chemical agents into the upper atmosphere where they drifted downwind over elements of seven U.S. Army divisions after that 1991 blast at the Iraqi complex. More than 130,000 troops were in these units. The Army divisions with the units involved include the 1st Mechanized Infantry, the 82nd Airborne, the 24th Mechanized Infantry, the 1st Cavalry, the lst Armored, 2nd Armored and 3rd Armored.
White House investigators have also obtained new evidence that U.S. air attacks on Iraqi chemical-weapon plants at Muhammadiyat, west of Baghdad, in January 1991 sent poisonous clouds of a low-level nerve agent blowing toward allied positions in Saudi Arabia.
Troops Not Protected, Logs Missing
In "Gassed in the Gulf: The Pentagon-CIA Cover-up of Gulf War Syndrome," (Insignia Press), Patrick Eddington, who for nine years was a CIA intelligence analyst, also charges that retired Gen. Colin Powell knew that U.S. soldiers went into Desert Storm wearing defective gas masks and protective suits. The General Accounting Office says the masks and suits have still not been fixed.
Though Powell now denies he knew of equipment problems, Eddington says that in the Fall of 1990 the Army's Foreign Science and Technology Center was reporting that "the overgarments -- the nuclear-biological-chemical (NBC) gear our guys were wearing -- were completely vulnerable to penetration by dusty chemical agents, which we knew were in the Iraqi inventory. And there was also evidence that the gas mask failure rate was 26% to 44%." It "would be impossible for [Powell] not to know about something that serious," says Eddington, especially because the Joint Chiefs of Staff was sent all those messages.
Meanwhile, newly de-classified military logs show that United States commanders sheltered themselves behind special filters while instructing troops to disregard reports of a toxic cloud during the Persian Gulf War.
After the commanders sealed their facilities with airlocks and used chemical-warfare filters, they told troops to ignore Czech reports of low-level nerve agents: "Told them to disregard any reports coming from Czechs," the logs say.
As has been widely reported, the logs, which were obtained by the advocacy group Gulfwatch under the Freedom of Information Act, have glaring omissions, especially the period covering the eight days in March 1991 when troops destroyed a cache of Iraqi chemical weapons.
Gulfwatch has said the log omissions bolster its claim of a military cover-up of Gulf War syndrome. The Pentagon admits that portions of the Central Command logs appear to have been removed or lost and cannot be located, despite an exhaustive search.
The New York Times reported that "on the days for which logs exist, there are meticulous, almost minute-by-minute typewritten entries, [so] it would be remarkable that on other days, the officers in charge of the logs would simply fail to record any entries at all."
The logs were compiled for Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf at his headquarters in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to assess the threat of chemical weapons in the Gulf War. But Schwarzkopf says he never saw them, nor was information from the logs routinely brought to his attention.
In an interview, the General said "It sticks in my craw when people say these logs were prepared for me. It's a routine staff log that is kept at that level. I never saw it."
Schwarzkopf, who was commander of coalition forces from 28 countries, called it a "blatant lie" to suggest that he or his commanders knowingly exposed GIs to chemical contamination during the Persian Gulf War and then tried to cover it up.
But he did concede that it was a "very real possibility" that U.S. forces may have bombed chemical-weapons storage facilities that they weren't aware of.
Questions Of High-Level Complicity
One question that has haunted Gulf War veterans is: What did the generals know and when did they know it?
Retired top U.S. general Colin Powell said that he did not get a CIA warning that chemical weapons might be present when U.S. troops blew up an Iraqi arms dump after the 1991 Gulf War.
"None of us...had any reason to believe that the blowing up of these bunkers was exposing our troops to a hazard for which they were not prepared, " Powell told the Senate Veterans Committee.
Powell, who was chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Gulf War, said he and Gulf War commander Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf would have taken different action if they had received the CIA warning.
"It now turns out that they had information that if I had known about at the time and if General Schwarzkopf had known about would have increased our level of sensitivity as to how we would go into those bunkers," Powell told the Senators.
Further, he said, he probably would have ordered the chemical weapons found and captured to prove what kind of enemy Iraq President Saddam Hussein had been.
"I would have shouted it from the roof-tops," Powell said. "I would have wanted everybody to know it. "
Powell said he doubted there was any conspiracy in the CIA or Defense Department to withhold information six years after the Gulf War but said, "Why it isn't all just flooding out so everybody can see it I just do not understand.
"Frankly, the events of the last few days are somewhat outrageous with respect to who knew what when and documents that come flying out...years after they should have been flying out. "
He said if he was still chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff "I would be raping and pillaging throughout the intelligence and operational community to get to the bottom of this."
Powell said he had had to assume at the start of the war that Iraq would use chemical weapons against U.S. troops since it had used them against Iran and its own people.
"The assumption we made was that they might use them and the darkest part of the first night of the war for me was waiting in my office to see whether any reports were coming in on the use of chemical weapons," he said.
General In the Dark?
General Norman Schwarzkopf's credibility on topics relating to the Gulf War is even worse than Powell's. In fact, the general made what appeared to be contradictory statements in unsworn Congressional testimony on Jan. 29, 1997, in which he was not put under oath or even asked to tell the truth. He said, "As I stated...the first time I ever heard of Kamisiyah was in 1996 when it was first announced by the Department of Defense and no one was more surprised than I was. "
About a half hour later, he told a completely different story: "I remember Gen. Franks came to me -- and I assume it was Kamisiyah he was talking about at the time, because it was about the same time frame -- and talked about this huge ammunition dump that they had found, with literally tons and tons and tons of ammunition in it. And there was no way they could possibly retrograde it, and I challenged him on that, and he convinced me no, they couldn't retrograde it, and therefore they were going to destroy it...and I said 'Fine.' That's Kamisiyah."
The CIA said recently that, despite mistakes, it warned Schwarzkopf's headquarters more than a week in advance that there might be chemical weapons at Iraq's Kamisiyah weapons dump, which U.S. troops blew up after the war.
Defense officials said Schwarzkopf's headquarters did act on the warning and relay it to several commanders. But a general who helped blow up the Kamisiyah dump said the CIA warning did not get to him or other demolition engineers.
Another comment from Norman Schwarzkopf that some find hard to believe is his assertion, in prepared remarks, that "I never received before, during, or after hostilities any report of Iraqi use of chemical weapons, nor the discovery of or destruction of Iraqi chemical weapons."
Yet the "Nuclear, Biological and Chemical" (NBC) report logs -- the logs that were maintained in the General's office every day -- contained such reports as these:
On March 3, 1991, at 15:16 hours: "Lt. Colonel Wade advised that Col. Dunn has confirmed that the soldier of the 3rd Armored Division does have blisters characteristic of h. mustard chemical agent on his upper and lower left arm. "
Furthermore, an Army Commendation Medal was awarded to Sgt. James Warren, and Capt. Michael Johnson was given the Meritorious Service Medal, for participating in the mission that located stores of chemical agents. Six other U.S. military personnel were awarded medals for the positive identification of suspected chemical agents.
It is now known that, even as Schwarzkopf was meeting with reporters in Riyadh in 1991, and assuring them that "There have been no reported chemical weapons used," U.S. Marines stationed 300 miles north along the Kuwait-Saudi border had begun to detect nerve gas and mustard agent using the most sophisticated chemical-detection equipment in the U.S. military -- the Fox vehicle, a mobile chemical laboratory jammed with computerized detection equipment.
Gunnery Sgt. George Grass, a chemical-detection specialist, told Congress in December that his vehicle detected chemical weapons repeatedly in Kuwait in the first days of the ground war. He said that on one occasion, his team came upon many shells containing chemicals, which appeared to have been made in the United States.
Yet all of his reports, like those of scores of other chemical specialists, were dismissed or denied by commanders -- for what reason, remains unclear.
During the earlier air war against Iraq, Czech and French soldiers in the U.S.-led alliance said they had detected chemical weapons in northern Saudi Arabia.
Then there is the matter of the more than 14,000 chemical alarms that sounded during the Gulf War, which the Pentagon officially says were erroneous, and which Gen. Powell describes as "false alarms." (Interestingly, claims were never made by the Dept. of Defense against the manufacturers of the "faulty" chemical alarms and our troops are still using the same equipment today).
If anything, the alarms were not as sophisticated as they needed to be for use in such a combat zone. They couldn't even detect blister agents such as mustard gas. Although U.S. Army Material Safety Data Sheets indicate that chronic exposure to levels of over one-ten-thousandth of a milligram per cubic meter (.0001 mg/m3) to the nerve agent Sarin is hazardous and requires the use of protective equipment, it takes 1,000 times this danger level to activate the m8a1 automatic chemical agent detection alarm commonly used during the war.
Another interesting fact is that these alarms did not occur until the initiation of the air war, they continued during hostilities but did not occur after the cease fire. The alarms occurred simultaneously in many cases with the intercept and explosion of Scud and Frog missiles by our Patriot missiles. The British, French and Czech coalition forces also reported detection of chemical warfare agents.
In the past, Pentagon officials have insisted that despite the technical sophistication of the Fox vehicles, which are able to detect 60 different chemical agents simultaneously using a laboratory-quality mass spectrometer, most of the detections made during the war were merely false alarms.
For instance, more than 150 veterans of a Naval reserve battalion have come forward to give The New York Times details of what many of them describe as an Iraqi chemical attack that has left them seriously ill.
Members of the unit, the 24th Naval Mobile Construction Battalion, say something exploded in the air over their camps in northern Saudi Arabia early on the morning of Jan. 19, 1991, the third day of the Gulf War. Within minutes, they say, their skin began to burn, their lips turned numb and their throats began to tighten. Several say chemical alarms began to sound as a dense cloud of a yellow-green gas floated over their camp.
Battalion commanders later insisted that the explosive noise was actually a sonic boom and that there was no need for alarm. But within weeks of the blast, many of the men of the 24th were sick with debilitating ailments that, they say, have lasted to this day.
Newly declassified combat logs maintained by an officer working for Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, do contain the report of a "chemical attack at Jubail" early on the morning of Jan. 19. A separate entry in the log shows that a British soldier reported that night that chemical-detection paper had registered "mustard-positive," a reference to mustard gas.
On July 30, 1991, Ambassador Rolf Ekeus, Director of the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (the organization charged with overseeing the elimination of Iraq's chemical and nuclear arsenals), told the Security Council that U.N. inspectors found chemical warheads armed with nerve gas and that some warheads were already fitted onto SCUD missiles.
Iraq also had an offensive biological weapons program with multiple research and production facilities, evidence of weaponization experimentation, and a history of reported use.
Iraq even admitted to making and storing nearly 5,300 gallons of the highly lethal anthrax bacterium, theoretically enough to kill 15 billion people. Inhalation of one microgram (or about as much as would fit on a pinhead) is enough to cause death by paralysis within an hour.
Possible Reasons for a Cover-up
A persistent question about which many have speculated is why the U.S. government would be so eager to deny that chemical and/or biological weapons were used against our own troops.
The reasons could be multifold: For instance, a link would surely open the door to thousands of new disability claims, plus legislation mandating greatly expanded health coverage for veterans -- costing the U.S. treasury huge sums and undermining bipartisan efforts to balance the budget.
The repercussions could reach to future battlefields as well. An official determination that chemicals have seriously harmed U.S. soldiers would be an admission of vulnerability, likely to encourage Iraq and other potential foes such as North Korea to use chemical weapons if they ever face off against the United States in the future.
It's also undoubtedly true that some powerful interests want to be protected.
To acknowledge chemical weapons would require admitting that the Reagan administration had sent such components to Iraq in contravention of existing laws and announced public policies during the Iraq-Iran war, and that the Bush White House likewise helped arm Iraq.
It would also entail admitting that, because Iraq defaulted on payment for the biological agents received from U.S. companies, American taxpayers ended up stuck with the bill for weapons that were later used against coalition forces.
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 Irag. The Riegle committee confirmed that some of the materials the Iraqis had in their storage dumps, and which they sued to create their CBW capability, came from U.S. corporations.
Eager to sell Iraq more Kansas wheat, Bob Dole was one of five senators who met Saddam in Baghdad just weeks before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and assured him America wanted better ties.
A book by Alan Friedman, an investigative reporter for the Financial Times of London, alleges that former President George Bush was personally involved in efforts to prevent Congress from getting documents which would reveal the extent of U.S. assistance to Iraq prior to the Gulf War. This allegation is so explosive that in the final weeks of finishing "Spider's Web," Friedman -- and an ABC news producer, John Fielding, who collaborated on the book -- stayed in a secret location after serious threats were received on their lives. Robert Morgenthau, the respected Manhattan district attorney, even provided them with guards equipped with assault rifles, who protected them 24 hours a day.
According to the book, Bush became involved in attempts to withhold documents from Congress when Democrats pressed for a post-Gulf War review of the events leading to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990.
No Single Cause, But Some Clues
One thing does appear to be true: There is no single cause of Gulf War Syndrome. Indeed, a number of credible theories have been propounded by scientists looking into the disorder.
The research, based on examination of 249 Navy construction battalion members, suggests that the mysterious symptoms grew from physical damage inflicted by exposure to low-level doses of nerve gas, pesticide, anti-nerve-gas medicine and other substances.
While emphasizing he had not shown there is a virus, Urnovitz said the genetic marker could indicate an infection that made those exposed to wartime chemicals and other pollutants more susceptible to illness.
This discovery meant that GWI could be treated with antibiotics targeted at the Mycoplasma, and indeed the Nicolsons say they have had good success with treating Desert Storm veterans with doxycycline.
Mycoplasma incognitus was first discovered at the U.S. Army Institute of Pathology in 1989 as a presence in seven out of ten patients with AIDS. The Mycoplasma is distinct from the HIV virus and the discovery led many researchers to propose that AIDS is caused by a combination of Mycoplasma and HIV -- each of which on their own cause only limited damage.
Their findings were published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association on February 22, 1995.
However, the government GWI panel under the National Institutes of Health would not take seriously the findings of Drs. Nicolson. They would soon discover why. Their research led to a tentative conclusion that the Mycoplasma had been genetically engineered and its source was possibly a U.S. lab.
The Nicolsons further claim that they were visited by armed Defense Intelligence agents and warned not to continue their research.
But the Walter Reed Army Medical Center recently agreed to spend an estimated $200,000 studying the couple's theories.
Ben Smith, spokesman for Walter Reed Army Medical Center, defended the decision by saying "[Nicolson] is a scientist with a solid track record. He has done creditable work and held distinguished academic positions.
"It is reasonable to look at the man's claim."
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