The Nerve Gas Club
by Bill Mesler
The Nation magazine, June 29, 1998
The excellent investigative story that aired on the Time/CNN
television magazine NewsStand on June 7 revealed the unthinkable:
US Special Forces units on more than twenty occasions used the
nerve gas sarin on civilians and combatants during the Vietnam
War. The revelation places us in a select club that includes Shoko
Asahara, leader of the cult responsible for gassing passengers
in a Tokyo subway in 1995, and Saddam Hussein, who ordered the
gassing of Kurds in the eighties.
The exhaustive eight-month investigation by Time and CNN involved
the Army's Tailwind campaign, part of a larger secret CIA operation
called Honorable Dragon, which aimed to destroy Vietcong base
camps in Laos. Featured prominently in the story was an attack
in 1970 on a camp harboring US defectors. Participants claim that
US gas killed a hundred civilians as well as enemy soldiers. Sources
also told NewsStand that the gas was used on more than twenty
missions. The allegations were confirmed by retired Adm. Thomas
Moorer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs in 1970, who added that the
use of sarin would have required permission from the National
Security Council, then headed by Henry Kissinger, who had no comment.
As one participant put it, "The majority of the people there
were not combat personnel." Yet for Moorer the use of sarin
on civilians was justified: "I would be willing to use any
weapon and any tactic to save the lives of American soldiers."
The revelations come shortly after our condemnation of India
and Pakistan for testing nuclear weapons. No wonder Asians have
so little patience with US pontifications about human rights or
weapons of mass destruction. Asia has three times been the site
of our colonial wars (the Philippines, Korea and Vietnam) and
twice the target of our weapons of mass destruction (Japan and,
we now know, Vietnam). Maybe we would have more credibility if
we shipped Henry Kissinger off to The Hague for a long-overdue
war crimes trial.
Bll Mesler is a reporter working with the Investigative Fund
of The Nation Institute.
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