Albion Monitor /Commentary
Foreign Correspondent

Why the Pentagon Has Been Covering Up Gulf War Syndrome

by Eric Margolis

The Pentagon insists there is no proof, in spite of many alarms by chemical sensors.

New revelations earlier this month reinforce the widely held belief that the Pentagon has been covering up the extent and gravity of the complex of illnesses known as Gulf War Syndrome.

Military logs covering eight days in March 1991 are missing. a period in which tens of thousands of US and allied troops were accidentally exposed to chemical and/or biological agents.

During this mysterious eight-day gap, US troops blew up the huge Kamisiyah munitions dump in southern Iraq, that held 6,000 shells and 297 rockets containing the nerve agent Sarin, or mustard gas. The cloud produced by the explosion drifted south, blanketing at least 15,000 allied troops, according to a CIA study. Other studies suggest 100,000 men were affected by the toxic cloud.

The Pentagon, coalition leader Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, and former US Chief of Staff Colin Powell, all insist there is no proof allied forces were exposed to chemical-biological weapons (CBW), in spite of many alarms by chemical sensors. Indeed, Gulf War veterans have not died, or been hospitalized, at an abnormal rate.

Not since World War I had troops been so intensively exposed to a lethal soup of environmentally toxic elements

Nevertheless, it's by now clear that large numbers of Gulf War vets are suffering a host of ill-defined, unknown, or undiagnosed ailments. Having been one of the first to report the extent of Iraq's CBW plans, and based on my own investigation just before the war in Baghdad, here is my conclusion:

Besides Kamisiyah, US forces destroyed a score of other CBW plants in Iraq. The largest was Salman Pak, outside Baghdad. This huge facility was bombed even though the US believed it contained 150 litres of deadly anthrax, and quantities of botulism toxin. Fortunately, the Iraqis moved these toxins before the war began. Otherwise, the US attack would have released a cloud of anthrax and botulism over Baghdad -- enough to kill a million of its inhabitants.

Substantial quantities of toxins, nerve agents, and mustard gas were spewed into the air from other bombed plants, blowing south into Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Add to this miasma a black rain of toxic hydrocarbons from Kuwait's burning oil wells, and widespread use by US forces of poisonous depleted uranium tank and cannon shells.

Not since the Western Front in World War I had troops been so intensively exposed to a lethal soup of environmentally toxic elements. In addition, most coalition forces were given powerful, untested drugs against chemical attacks, and potent inoculations that almost certainly caused severe, lingering reactions in many soldiers.

Put troops in an ecological hellhole, douse them with small amounts of airborne toxins and chemicals, inject them with other chemicals, and it's inevitable that mass illness will ensue. Ironically, the Gulf War -- the most modern of wars -- was like a medieval war in that illness laid low far more soldiers than combat.

The Pentagon covered up the extent of CBW-induced illness and civilian casualties for two principal reasons: First, the war was a made-for-TV triumph. Reports about large numbers of sick veterans -- or great numbers of Iraqi civilian dead -- would have spoiled President Bush's victory parade.

Second, the US and Britain did not want attention drawn to their central role in developing Iraq's vast arsenal of toxins and germs. Last month, it was revealed that a senior scientist -- who chaired the Pentagon study that concluded CBW had not caused illness among Gulf vets -- had been director of firm that had supplied Iraq with toxic cultures before the war.

His biotech firm, American Type Culture Collection of Rockville, Maryland, had supplied Iraq 70 shipments of anthrax, botulism, and other extremely deadly pathogens in the 1980's. Iraq used these breeder stocks to produce a witch's brew of biological warfare agents.

Britain also supplied raw materials and manufacturing equipment, as did Germany. Most important, Britain sent technicians - many of whom I interviewed in Baghdad. Three were working on the Salman Pak anthrax project; one on Iraq's top secret nuclear weapons program. Their information provided one of the first comprehensive looks at Iraq's biological and nuclear weapons program.

The US and UK secretly supplied chemicals and toxins used intensively by Iraq, killing or maiming tens of thousands of Iranian soldiers

Why did the west build Saddam's CBW capability? At the time, Iraq, was locked in a long, bloody war with far more populous Iran. The US and Britain secretly backed Saddam Hussein with arms and money in the hope he would crush Iran's Islamic revolution that threatened Anglo-American oil interests in the Mideast.

Iran, short of weapons but with large numbers of troops, resorted to mass infantry attacks, delivered with suicidal bravery, to break Iraqi lines. Outnumbered Iraq needed wide-area weapons to halt these attacks. The US and UK secretly supplied the means: chemicals and toxins. Both agents were used intensively by Iraq, killing or fearfully maiming tens of thousands of Iranian soldiers. Western- supplied CBW played a key role in defeating Iran. Iraq also developed CBW as a counter-force to Israel's nuclear weapons.

But the Pentagon cannot reveal US troops were sickened by agents whose biological progenitors came from Rockville, Maryland. Nor that blowing up Iraq's CBW plants and depots may have been a grave error. Or, for that matter, that the entire 'surgical' Gulf War, and the subsequent poisoning of so many soldiers, may have been avoided by diplomacy.

© Eric Margolis 1996
Margolis is a syndicated columnist for The Toronto Sun. Back Issues of Foreign Correspondent are avilable at the FTP site

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Albion Monitor December 31, 1996 (

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