Jeffrey St. Clair Correspondent
There would be no stone left unturned, President Bill Clinton assured Americans on Veterans Day six days after his re-election in November 1996, in efforts to get to the bottom of the array of illnesses colloquially known as Gulf War Syndrome. With his next breath, Clinton heaped praise on the presidential advisory committee on Gulf War illnesses, whose prime finding, leaked three days earlier, had been that there is no Gulf War Syndrome and that any adverse symptoms associated with the name could be attributed to psychological stress experienced by the vets.
George H. W. Bush’s determination to punish Iraq led to the Gulf War illnesses, but Clinton was responsible for the cover-up of how those illnesses developed. Shortly after Veterans Day, Hillary Clinton told an audience at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas that one of her priorities in the second term would be to work on issues related to these Gulf War illnesses.
Indeed, it was Hillary who pushed in the spring of 1995 for the creation of this same presidential panel that eventually laid the blame on stress, the relief of which became the First Lady’s therapeutic project, though as the years unscrolled less-and-less was heard from her on this thorny eruption of mass “psycho-somatic” illnesses.
The report of the presidential commission could hardly be called scientific, since the results of a hundred epidemiological studies, which the panel commissioned, have not yet been processed. In other words, the only stones not left unturned by Clinton were those used to conceal what happened in 1991.
Another finding of the presidential commission proved highly pertinent. The nine-person panel said emphatically that the Pentagon cannot be trusted to investigate itself. The panel called for an independent probe of whether Allied forces in the Gulf in 1991 had been exposed to chemical and biological weapons.
Previous Pentagon investigations, they wrote, “have lacked vigour, fallen short on investigative grounds, and stretched credibility.” Clinton gave this recommendation short shrift, saying that he believed Defence Secretary Bill Perry “has moved in an expeditious fashion.” Clinton endorsed the Pentagon’s position that it alone had the technical expertise to exhume the truth in this affair.
From the very first moment, back in 1991, when the possibility of chemical and biological weapon (CBW) deployment was raised, the Pentagon denied that such weapons were ever used, that troops were ever exposed, that there are illnesses associated with Iraq’s chemical/biological arsenal of weaponry.
In marked contrast, Czech CBW experts who were part of the Allied forces notified Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf’s HQ on January 19, 1991, two days after the initial bombing of Baghdad, that they had detected two chemical “events” near Jubayl.
Schwarzkopf’s office promptly issued an order to all US commanders to “disregard any reports coming from the Czechs.” On November 10, 1993, the Pentagon admitted in a congressional hearing that it believed the Czech report to be valid. When asked why the army had not investigated the “events” reported by the Czechs as a possible source of the syndrome, Major General Ronald Blanck, commander of the Walter Reed Army Medical Centre, said they did not explore this because “it was the position of military intelligence that such exposure never occurred.”
But the US Army had more than the Czechs to contend with. US chemical alarm systems had gone off nine times during the war, most significantly on January 28, when Major Stephen B. Leisenring reported a low-level chemical cloud that set off “12 alarms in a conventional gtp downwind pattern.”
His superiors dismissed this observation as “a false positive.” The final fall-back position was enunciated by the late Les Aspin, Clinton’s first defence secretary. In November 1993, Aspin declared that the detection of chemical and biological agents in the gulf “is totally unrelated to the mysterious health problems that have victimised some of our veterans.”
Aspin’s posture remained that of the Pentagon until June of 1996, when a CIA analyst, Larry Fox, discovered that the US Army had destroyed as many as a thousand Iraqi missiles loaded with the nerve gas Sarin and with mustard gas at Khamisiyah. The army admitted this but claimed that only 400 engineers might have been exposed. That estimate soon climbed to 20 000.
But even the 20 000 figure is relatively modest in comparison with CIA estimates that as many as 100 000 troops may have been exposed to Sarin after Allied bombing missions destroyed Iraqi weapons plants west of Baghdad. The CIA reckoned that as many as 20 metric tonnes of Sarin had been released into the air.
The CIA documents pinpointing this and other chemical and biological exposures of US troops were placed on the Internet on November 3, 1996 by two analysts formerly under contract to the CIA. That Internet site was disabled two days later, presumably by Agency hackers. Aside from the matter of cover-ups during and after the Gulf War, there’s no doubt whatsoever that the Pentagon was well aware in advance of the Allied mission to the gulf that there was a distinct possibility the Iraqis would use chemical and biological weapons.
One reason for their foresight was that the Iraqis had used nerve gas against the Kurds and had used biological agents against Majnoon Island in the war with Iran.The Pentagon was also aware that vital ingredients for these weapons had been supplied by US corporations in a secret export drive supported by both the US and British governments.
Chiefly involved here were lewisite, an ammonia-like vesicant used in chemical weapons, and ingredients for Sarin and for another nerve weapon called Soman, as well as for yet another nerve weapon, VX. So far as biological weapons were concerned, there were approved US sales to Iraq of anthrax, botulism, histoplasm capsulatum (a tuberculosis-type disease), brucella melitensis (a bacterium that causes chronic fatigue), clostridium perfringens (a bacterium causing gas gangrene), plus numerous shipments of E. coli.
Hundreds of such approved shipments in the mid- to late 1980s were recorded by the Department of Commerce.One of the more bizarre features of some of the Gulf War illnesses is that they appear to be transmittable through sexual contact. More than 20 000 spouses and partners of Gulf War vets have reported experiences of such symptoms as chronic fatigue, menstrual irregularities, rashes, joint and muscle pain, and memory loss.
Transmission by biological agents could help explain such reports. As early as August 1990, the Defence Department was preparing to inoculate US troops and support personnel with vaccines designed to counteract nerve gases, botulism, and anthrax. But there was no known antidote against Sarin, Tobun, and VX nerve agents.
Anecdotal evidence had suggested to Defense Department scientists that pyridostigmine bromide (PB) might be effective against Soman. PB had been approved by the Food and Drug Administration only for treatment of people suffering from myasthenia gravis, a fatal deterioration of the muscles. The drug had never been widely tested on healthy humans.
The Defence Department was warned by its own scientists that PB should never be used when people might be exposed to Sarin, since it would merely magnify the latter’s potency. Use of PB under any circumstances would also produce severe side effects. There were 35 experiments with the drug with US service people before the Gulf War.