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The Gulf War Syndrome Cover-Up

SYNOPSIS: While the Pentagon denies that U.S. soldiers were exposed to chemical and biological warfare agents during the Gulf War, its own records contradict the official line. Now, four years after the war's end, 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.

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 included insecticides, pesticides, various preventive medicines given experimentally to Gls, and smoke from the burning oil fields of Iraq and Kuwait. There also is 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 recently declassified Marine Corps battlefield Command Chronologies 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.

Despite Pentagon denials, evidence of CBW exposure during the war is abundant and mounting. In response to a Freedom of Information Act 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. 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. Gls, discoveries of Iraqi chemical munitions dumps, fallout from allied bombing of Iraqi chemical supply dumps, and chemical attacks on Saudi Arabia.

The recently released Marine Corps battlefield reports also confirm scores of CBW incidents during the ground war including the use of anthrax and Lewicite, a chemical nerve agent. Army documents strongly support 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 individuals. "

Reports from VA doctors contradict the Pentagon line while numerous reports from the field also cite the presence of CBW agents. In addition, Iraqi documents captured by U.S. and British forces further bolster the information in the 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.

Given the abundance of evidence, one must wonder why the U.S. continues to deny CBW exposure. First, to admit that CBW exposures occurred means the military must admit its inability to protect U.S. forces from CBW agents. Next is the embarrassing history of U.S. 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.

And there always is the military bureaucracy's natural instinct to cover itself in the face of any problem or scandal. Finally, the cover-up is being compounded by evidence that the military has harassed and mistreated Gulf veterans who have reported ill-effects.


Small Arms Wreck Major Worldwide Havoc

SYNOPSIS: Rwanda is just one example of what can happen when small arms and light weapons are sold to a country plagued by ethnic, religious, or nationalist strife. In today's wars, such weapons are responsible for most of the killings of civilians and combatants. They are used more often in human rights abuses and other violations of international law than major weapons systems.

In the post-Cold War era, in which the profit motive has replaced East-West concerns as the main stimulus behind weapons sales, ex-Warsaw Pact and NATO nations are dumping their arsenals on the open market. Prices for some weapons, such as Soviet-designed Kalashnikov AKM automatic rifles (commonly known as AK-47s), have fallen below cost. Many Third World countries, such as China, Egypt, and South Africa, also have stepped up sales of light weapons and small arms. More than a dozen nations that were importers of small arms 15 years ago now manufacture and export them. But most of this trade remains unknown. Unlike major conventional weapons systems, governments rarely disclose the details of transfers of light weapons and small arms.

The resulting impact of such transfers are apparent. Small arms and light weapons have flooded nations like Rwanda, Sudan, Somalia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, not only fanning warfare, but also undermining international efforts to embargo arms and to compel parties to respect human rights. They have helped to undermine peacekeeping efforts and allowed heavily armed militias to challenge U.N. and U.S. troops. They raise the cost of relief assistance paid by countries like the United States. Yet the international community has no viable mechanism to monitor the transfer of light and small weapons, and neither the United Nations nor the Clinton administration has demonstrated the leadership required to control that trade.

It is increasingly clear that the proliferation of light weapons endangers not only internal, but also regional and international stability.

The largest conventional arms exporter in the world is the United States. The Clinton administration has trumpeted the increased threat of the spread of weapons of mass destruction as the foremost danger facing the U.S. Yet it has issued hardly a word on conventional arms except to assert their importance to U.S. defense manufacturers. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee of Foreign Operations reports, "Regrettably, the evidence clearly indicates that the Administration has sought to promote arms sales, rather than to reduce them."

While the vast majority of the U.S. major weapons transfers are public, most of its transfers of light weapons and small arms are not. No regular reporting is made to Congress in either classified or unclassified form. Many sales are private commercial transactions, and attempts to get detailed data on them through the Freedom of Information Act are routinely denied on proprietary grounds.

The United States, as the world's number one arms merchant, should take the lead in proposing new ways to control the flow of light weapons and small arms. An administration that is struggling to deal with crises in Rwanda, Bosnia, Somalia, and elsewhere should recognize its own need to check this type of proliferation and stop shooting itself in the foot.

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