By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
When he visits American units, says Shays, "Everyone tells us that everything is A-OK. But when we get back we get e-mails saying there aren't enough suits, we need more masks, we don't know how to use them. There's a lot of unease among the troops, but they're afraid to speak up."
"Sure, war is hell," says the NGWRC's Robinson. "But soldiers who volunteer to risk their lives when they hold up their right hand to be sworn in don't expect to lose their lives because of bad equipment and poor training."
What if there is a chemical-biological attack, with presumably high numbers of sick and wounded? The medics on the battlefield or the doctors and nurses at field hospitals or on hospital ships aren't any better trained than the troops they'd be treating. And the logistics of caring for wounded troops are monstrous: They must be decontaminated before anyone touches them, and then anyone who provides medical aid must be decontaminated. At each step — from being put on a stretcher inside a zipped-up body bag to keep them from contaminating others, to being put in a vehicle and sent to a field hospital or a hospital ship — anyone who touches the patient or any piece of equipment he touched, including vehicles, must be decontaminated. And that's besides treating the gigantic blisters, collapsing lungs or other medical problems.
In November 2001, the intrepid Shays held yet another set of CBW hearings, this time on medical preparedness. GAO investigators reported that top military health officials told them that "No realistic field exercise for medical personnel of chemical and biological defense has been conducted."
Most doctors and nurses now being sent to the Gulf are reservists, who train only one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer. "It's hardly enough to keep up their training in combat medicine. How well do you think they're trained to deal with chem-bio casualties?" asked one worried GAO investigator.
Kucinich: " . . . That implies that if [a CBW attack] happened, we wouldn't be able to deal with it. . . . ?"
Kingsbury: "At this point we don't know whether we would be able to deal with it, because it has not been exercised. The people who do the exercises believe it can't be dealt with. I'm talking mass casualties here."
And If Not?
Even if Saddam Hussein holds his fire and doesn't use chemical and biological weapons, soldiers and civilians alike will still find themselves on a toxic battlefield — soldiers wearing pesticide-impregnated combat fatigues and dog flea collars, tank jockeys breathing in depleted uranium dust from exploded rounds, engineers digging bunkers in plumes of chemical-biological weapons from stockpiles blown up by American air strikes, guys drowning in their own fluids from overreactions to anthrax vaccinations, all sucking in smoke from oil-field fires.
James B. Tucker, who's worked for the U.N. as a biological-weapons inspector, for the State Department and for the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses, has compiled a list of scores of incidents during the first Gulf War when American soldiers were probably exposed to low levels of chemical and biological agents. Based on Defense Intelligence Agency and CIA documents, after-action reports by Army units and veterans' own testimony, Tucker's case is strong. He details veterans' accounts of battlefield symptoms like blistering, difficulty breathing and deep fatigue after Iraqi Scud attacks. His case includes the reports of Czech chemical-defense experts hired by the Saudis who detected low levels of nerve gas drifting across the border after the U.S. began bombing Iraq on January 17.
The Czechs, under Russian tutelage, have become the world's best chem-bio detection experts. They describe themselves sitting near the Iraq-Saudi frontier inside their sealed detection vehicles fully outfitted in protection suits and masks picking up nerve-gas readings while oblivious American soldiers only yards across the border played touch football.
After a four-year struggle, Gulf War veterans from Georgia got the Pentagon to declassify documents which revealed that Iraqi stocks of sarin gas stored in an ammo depot at Khamisiyah had been blown up by unsuspecting U.S. troops, releasing a plume of sarin that exposed 140,000 American soldiers and countless Iraqis. (The CIA had known about the weapons stored there and told the Defense Department, but that warning never made it down to the field.) The Pentagon continues to deny that any other toxic exposures took place elsewhere in the Gulf theater.
"That was the first lie," says the NGWRC's Robinson of the Pentagon's cover-up of the Khamisiyah debacle. Robinson, who retired recently after 20 years in the military, was in the Special Forces during Desert Storm, helping repatriate Kurdish refugees who had fled into the mountains of northern Iraq during the war. "Then, after we got the Khamisiyah evidence from U.N. inspectors, the Pentagon said maybe 100 soldiers had been exposed, then it was maybe 1,000 — lie after lie — now it's up to 140,000 [the Defense Department] admits were exposed."
Even after admitting the sarin exposures at Khamisiyah, the Pentagon has continued to insist that low-level exposures of nerve gas or toxic chemicals don't have serious effects. Many scientists agree, arguing that no cause-and-effect relationship can be made between exposure to low levels of sarin in the Gulf War and veterans' illnesses.