Muslim & Arab Perspectives 2:11-12 (1995)
No: 31 to 43
Facts About a Clean War
Gulf War was a fraud. Saddam was first given the green light by
the US Ambassador in Baghdad (April Glaspie) to invade Kuwait. Later,
that invasion (even when Saddam had agreed to withdraw and had already
started to do so) was used to attack and cripple Iraq. The whole
world was fooled to justify the US-British war which in a nutshell
aimed at destroying Iraq's military capacity which the West itself
had helped to build when Saddam was waging west's war on Iran. During
those days Iraq had stockpiled an enormous quantity of lethal weapons
sold generously by eager western countries together with nuclear,
chemical and biological weapons technology. All this had to be destroyed
once the Iraq- Iran war ended lest Iraq pose a threat to west's
interests in the region and endanger its protégé, Israel.
the myth of US invincibility was to be brought home just as the
British did through Falklands a decade earlier. We have no sympathy
at all for Saddam Husain. He is a modern day Yazid and al-Hajjaj
for us. This enfant terrible of the Arab nationalism has troubled
everyone all his political life : his Ba'th comrades, his countrymen,
especially the Kurds, and all his neighbours and beyond. Yet the
fact remains that the Gulf war was waged to destroy and humiliate
Iraq and not Saddam who, perhaps not strangely enough, was left
to survive. Indeed, his survival was also part of the plan because
a new Iraqi government could have disowned him and his legacy and
opened a new leaf in its relations with its neighbours.
many reports on the Gulf War fraud have appeared ever since, here
is the latest one which appeared in a British newspaper based on
a British TV, Channel 4, report in December 1995. It is time an
international campaign was started to expose that war, to undo the
unjust UN sanctions and to relieve Iraq of its dictator whose exit
is long overdue (editor).
to Tell Lies and Win Wars
sent me a photograph a couple of months ago. It was taken in the
bomb shelter under the Al-Rasheed Hotel in Baghdad on the night
the Gulf War began (17 January,1991). The floor of the bunker is
strewn with blankets and in one corner an old man is stroking a
child's cheek. In the foreground are three reporters. We are all
smiling. Why not ? CNN TV's contacts in the Pentagon have told us
that the Al-Rasheed Hotel, where the remaining 84 journalists covering
the war are staying, is off the allied planes' target list. We are
safe in the centre of the biggest British foreign story since the
had a good time. One British journalist bought a yellow budgie for
her room, but nobody worried about being gassed. John Simpson's
cruise missiles turned corners and we drank beer in an empty banquet
hall. Some nights we climbed to the upper floors for a better view
of the show. Pointed out the targets to each other. Front row seats
at a live snuff movie, except we never saw any blood. Funny that
- nearly 40,000 people died in that war and not a drop of blood.
There were flashes, red stains that steeped out past the censor,
but mostly it was fun: stealth missiles, smart bombs, mind-reading
rockets, flashes of tracer fire in the night, F16s and war games.
the day the war ended, at a bus station south of Baghdad, dusk was
falling and the road was covered with weeping women. The Iraqi survivors
of the `turkey shoot' on the Basra Road were crawling home with
fresh running wounds. Their women were throwing themselves at the
battered minibuses and trucks, pulling, pleading, begging. `Where
is he, have you seen him ? Is he not with you ?' Some fell to their
knees on the road when they heard the news. Others kept running
from bus, to truck, to car, looking for her husbands, their sons
or their lovers - the 37,000 Iraqi soldiers who would not come back.
It went on all night and it was the most desperate and moving scene
I have ever witnessed.
days later I flew home, my head still filled with the women's faces.
I picked up a copy of Newsweek on the plane. On the cover was Schwarzkopf.
Inside, he give a jubilant description of the Basra Road operation
- how the fleeing Iraqi army were trapped and pierced with laser
guided bombs. I cried on the plane, partly for the women at the
bus station, and partly because I knew we had done such a lousy
job with the war, the truth, and the blood. This is a tale of how
to tell lies and win wars,and how we, the media, were harnessed
like 2,000 beach donkeys and led through the sand to see what the
British and US military wanted us to see in this nice clean war.
And the story of how, five year later, they are still telling lies
about what happened to thousands of sick allied soldiers who were
exposed to chemical weapons. The trail begins in St.Petersburg,
Florida with two satellite pictures taken by a commercial Russian
satellite company. Soyuz Karta.
invaded Kuwait on 2 August,1990. The US cabinet met the same day.
At that point, war was no more than a possibility. Schwarzkopf recalls
the prevailing mood in his autobiography, it doesn't take a hero.
He quotes General Colin Powell's remark to him: `I think we could
go to war if they invaded Saudi Arabia. I doubt if we would go to
war over Kuwait.' Within days the mood at the top had hardened.
When Schwarzkopf next met Powell, he was told to prepare to go to
Saudi Arabia. `I was stunned,' he says in his book. `A lot must
have happened after I left Camp David that Powell wasn't talking
about. President Bush had made up his mind to send troops.'
had happened in the interim was the President Bush had met Mrs.Thatcher
at a conference in Aspen, Colorado. `She stiffened Bush's resolve,'
was the way the then Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, puts it. And
Brent Scowcroft, the National Security Adviser and Bush's right-hand
man at the time, echoes that : `She strengthened him... What she
did is give him the assurance that his own instincts were right.'
the early weeks of September, America and Britain were leading the
march towards war. Somehow, almost without anybody noticing, the
agenda was changing. Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait alone was no longer
acceptable. New resolutions had been adopted by the UN Security
Council; President Bush was spitting Hitler insults at Saddam Husain
and Thatcher had made up their minds; their task was to convince
the rest of the world that Saddam was going to gobble up Saudi Arabia
as well as Kuwait. This they did, using satellite evidence. The
photographs, which are still classified in the US (for security
reasons, according to Scowcroft), purpotedly showed more than a
quarter of a million Iraqi troops massed on the Saudi border poised
Iraq watchers, it didn't add up. Although Saddam initially miscalculated
the strength of Western reaction to an invasion of Kuwait, he soon
realized his mistake. The US ambassador, April Glaspie, had hinted
obliquely that a small foray to snatch two oilfields wouldn't cause
too much trouble, but Saddam's capture of Kuwait would not be tolerated.
He got the message that he had gone too far. The next day the Baghdad
newspaper published a photograph of 10,000 Iraqi soldiers pulling
out of Kuwait; and Saddam Husain informed the Security Council that
he intended to withdraw his troops and gave the same assurance to
King Husain of Jordan. It was too late. Thatcher and Bush were on
a war footing. The US and British public were being persuaded. Saddam
was on some mad Hitleresque adventure to take the Middle East. So
classified satellite pictures, which nobody saw, were cited to prove
the point. Except they didn't.
newsroom of the St.Petersburg Times in Florida is on the seventh
floor of one of those unremarkable, functional downtown tower blocks
that make up urban America. It's big, white, perfectly air-conditioned
and strictly non-smoking. At first glance, it's not the place where
you'd expect one of the most sensational stories of recent years
to emerge: how America was manipulated by the Bush administration
into supporting the Gulf War. But Jean Heller has been nominated
for a Pulitzer Prize five times and come second twice, so when she
asked permission to spend $3,200 on two satellite pictures, the
newspaper backed her.
curiosity had been aroused in September when she read a report of
a commercial satellite orbiting and taking pictures over Kuwait.
She wanted to see what the only independent pictures would make
of the alleged massive build-up of Iraqi troops on the Kuwait/Saudi
border. For $1,500 a snap, Soyuz Karta agreed to provide them. But
no trace of the 265,000 Iraqi troops and 1,500 tanks, that the US
officials said were there could be found in the photographs. `They
were so clear that at Riyadh airport in Saudi Arabia you could see
American planes sitting wingtip to wingtip,' she says, She took
the photographs for analysis to two experts. `I looked at them with
a colleague of mine and we both said exactly the same thing at exactly
the same moment: `Where are they?' recalls Peter Zimmerman, a satellite
expert at George Washington University.
could see clearly the main road leading right through Kuwait, south
to Saudi Arabia, but it was covered with sand banks from the wind
and it was clear that no army had moved over it. We could see empty
barracks where you would have expected these thousands of troops
to be billeted, but they were deserted as well.' Jean Heller wrote
her story for the St.Petersburg Times. It opened with the words:
`It's time to draft Agatha Christie for duty in the Middle East.
Call it, the case of the vanishing enemy.' Looking back now, Heller
says: `If the story had appeared in the New York Times or the Washington
Post, all hell would have broken loose. But here we are, a newspaper
in Florida, the retirement capital of the world, and what are we
supposed to know?'
later, Powell would admit to getting the numbers wrong. There was
no massive build-up. But by then, the war was fought and won and
it didn't matter the `proof' of Saddam's blood- thirsty intentions
was a fraud. Besides, it was not the only ploy used to convince
Gray sits impatiently in the dining room of the tatty Holiday Inn,
Tampa, Florida, almost, but not quite, disguising his disdain at
the setting and the fact that our interview is running late. Not
for nothing is he a public relations supremo.
day after Iraq invaded Kuwait, Robert Gray got a call from some
Kuwaits living in the United States. They had a job for his public
relations firm, Hill & Knowlton, a job worth $1 million dollars
a month - the biggest contract in the history of public relations
- improving the image of their spoilt, oil rich emirate.
Gray was used to putting the best face on difficult clients: the
Indonesians, the anti-Castro Cubans in Miami, the Turkish government
during their darker moments and Raul Cedras, heir to the Papa Doc
Duvalier regime in Haiti. He said yes to the Kuwaitis, and set his
12 offices and 100 staff working around the clock and running up
an expenses bill of another million a month. His company turned
out to be worth every cent. As the US Congress agonized over whether
to send troops to Kuwait, Robert Gray came up with the coup de grace.
babies are nothing new. During the German invasion of Belgium in
the First World War, stories circulated in Britain and France of
Belgian babies being butchered by German soldiers wielding bayonets.
There's always a dead baby story. The story of how Iraqi troops,
in the first days of the invasion, went into al-Adan Hospital, tore
the sick babies from incubators and left them on the cold floor
to die, was graphically told to Congress in November 1990 - before
a crucial vote - by Niyirah al-Sabah who, unknown to her audience,
was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the US. In her tearful
testimony, she said she had witnessed the Iraqi troops' brutality
when she worked as a volunteer in the maternity ward.
100 yards from the front of the al-Adan Hospital in Kuwait City
is a white two-storey building which houses about 50 nurses. Nurse
Myra Ancog-Cooke is a Filipino nurse. Six months after the war ended,
I found her still working in the hospital. She poured tea and told
her story - a story which for me sowed the first seed of suspicion
about the tales and half-truths that marked the build-up to the
Gulf War. A staunch Catholic, she explained that it was her duty
and God's will that she stayed to care for the sick. She was assigned
to the children's ward and took it in turns with the other Filipino
nurse who stayed behind, Freida Contrais-Naig, to sleep in the incubator
room with the babies.
someone called and said, `Look at CNN, they are talking about us,
`We watched and it was strange seeing that girl telling them about
the Iraqis taking the babies out of the incubators. I said to Freida,
`That's funny, we've never seen her. She never worked here.' We
didn't think very much about it really. We were more excited seeing
our hospital on the television.' Later, Amnesty, who had also been
duped by the testimony, admitted they'd got it wrong. Andrew Whitley
of Middle East Watch described it as a fabrication, but in took
months for the truth to come out.
President Bush mentioned the incubator babies in five speeches and
seven senators referred to them in speeches backing a pro-war resolution.
Subsequently, Hill & Knowlton were unabashed that the media
worldwide, the UN Security Council and the US Congress had been
deceived by a 15 year-old girl who had been `trained'by a public
relations firm. Lauri Fitz Pegado of Hill & Knowlton, who prepared
six witnesses who corroborated the incubator story to Congress,
told John Macarthur, author of The Second Front, a book on censorship
in the Gulf war.`Come on John, who gives a shit whether there were
six babies or two. I believed her.' The invading Iraqi army did
rape, kill and torture in Kuwait, and that's what the world wanted
exaggerated reports of thousands of deaths were accepted uncritically,
as the PR firm, using Kuwaiti contacts inside the country, smuggled
24 videotapes to hungry and unquestioning mass media. The tone was
set, and the tide was running in the Kuwaiti Government/Hill &
Knowlton direction - war.
during the Gulf war, the presence of so many reporters and TV crews
gave the public at home the impression that they were seeing and
learning more than their parents and grandparents had, straining
at crackling wirelesses to hear news from the front in earlier wars.
They weren't. In the whole Gulf war, there was not a single photograph
or television picture of allied soldiers in combat or doing much
more than writing letters home.
Brunt Scowcroft now runs Scowcroft Consultancy, three blocks away
from the White House. He understood propaganda and the need for
public support. `We didn't know it wasn't true at the time but...
I don't think it mattered so much in the end. I know it wasn't as
bad in Kuwait as was protrayed - but there's no question but it
was not a cakewalk and the Iraqis were not gentle in their treatment
of Kuwait. So it was useful in mobilising public opinion. The vote
in the Senate to support the President going to war. I believe it
was passed by five votes, something like that. Suppose it hadn't
passed... This was a big issue, this was an important conflict in
the height of the First World War, Lloyd George told CP Scott, then
editor of the Guardian, if people really knew what was happening,
the war would be stopped tomorrow. But, of course, they don't know
and they can't know.
1991, the men and women running the war thought much the same thing
and introduced system of control of the media that managed to keep
the horror of the war out of the newspapers and off the TV screens.
Not an easy task when there are 2,500 media personnel trying to
cover the story.
pool system was developed in the Falklands by the Ministry of Defence
and reached its zenith in the Gulf war. It is now standard practice
when journalists are dealing with the British and American military
or UN forces. The US army had 150 `minders' in the field to keep
journalists in line. The pool selects one representative of each
medium: a TV reporter, a print writer, a photographer. The anointed
are then taken under army command to report from the field under
strict censorship conditions and then required to pass on their
observations to other journalists waiting back at the hotel.
journalist Lucy Spengle, interviewed by John Macarthur, says, `There
were about 10 stories to be repeated again and again: Arrival of
the troops; not enough mail; the weather; it's too hot; it's too
cold; too much sand; too much dirt; women going to war; husbands
and wives going to war; should women go to war ?" Kenneth Jarecke,
who took the most famous picture of the war - the corpse of a soldier
burned on the Basra road - has retired to a farm outside Chicago
and given up war reporting. `I did believe it was worth risking
your life for the truth. The problem was we couldn't get near it.'
His picture, although published by the Observer amid a storm of
controversy, was ignored in the US. War without blood.
Sergeant Joe Queen returned to his home town of Bryson City North
California, after the Gulf war, the first thing he saw was a huge
banner drapped outside Hardees Burger Restaurant, which read: `Welcome
Home Joe Queen.' Joe Queen, who'd been awared a bronze star, wanted
to chill out after the war, but Bryson City wouldn't let him Joe,
19-years old, had gone straight from Desert Storm to become one
of the first American troops to cross the Saudi border in an armoured
bulldozer. His job was to bury the Iraqis alive in their trenches
and then cover over the trenches real smooth so the rest of the
Big Red One, as The First Armored Mechanized Brigade is called,
could come nice and easy behind him.
Queen doesn't know how many Iraqi troops he buried alive on the
front line. But five years later, in his military base in Georgia,
he remembers well how it worked: `The sand was so soft that once
the blade hits the sand it just caves in right on the sides, so
we never did go back and forth. So you are travelling at five, six,
seven miles an hour just moving along the trench... You don't see
him. You're up there in the half hatch and you know what you got
to do. You did it so much you could close your eyes and do it...
I don't think they had any idea because the look on their faces
as we came through the berm was just a look of shock.'
of the Iraqis in the trenches was a 30-year old conscript from Baghdad.
His first name is Yussif. He asked not to be identified. Yussif
was defending the lines at Hafr al-Batin when, over a two-day period,
three US brigades bulldozed Iraqi soldiers. At this stretch on the
front line, he estimates around 300 Iraqis were buried alive. Military
sources in Baghdad and Washington put the total number of Iraqis
buried alive during the war as between one and two thousand.
I was retreating, I saw some of the soldiers trying to surrender,
but they were buried. There were two kinds of bulldozers, real ones,
actual ones, and also they had tanks and they put something like
a bulldozer blade in front of them. Some of the soldiers were walking
towards the troops holding their arms up to surrender and the tanks
moved in and killed them. They dug a hole in the ground and then
they buried the soldiers and levelled it.
don't know how to describe it. We were friends. I ate with some
of them. I talked to some of them. I cannot express how I felt at
that moment. It was horrible to witness. I stood there for about
10 minutes. I saw one soldier and his body was just torn apart by
a bulldozer. The upper part was on one side and the lower on the
the pool reporters escorted to the area the next morning was Leon
Daniel of United Press International. `There was a pool of about
10 of us, with the Big Red One, but we were rigidly controlled.
I didn't know that the bulldozer was a tactic that they had planned
- none of us did and we were kept well back from it.'
Queen says now: `I feel sorry for them that stayed in the trenches,
but they did what they did for their country, just like we would...
the military furnished us with this piece of equipment and that's
what it's designed to do.' When he first got home, one of his mother's
freinds who taught at Bryson City elementary school, asked him to
talk to her class. The children wanted to know about the sand. Was
the sand in Iraq the same as the sand in America? Joe Queen said
he didn't have any sand but his mother upped out his rucksack and
found enough to fill a cup. Then Joe Queen went on tour for a week
going from school to school, until he had told every class what
he did in the war and shown them all his mother's cup filled with
Persian Gulf sand.
1994, Bill Arkin, formerly military intelligence, briefly a Greenpeace
adviser and now an international military consultant, wrote to the
Defence Department in Washington asking for details of how allied
forces had napalmed Iraqi soldiers on the front line. They wrote
back saying they hadn't napalmed any Iraqi soldiers. Arkin wrote
again saying he knew they had and, under the Freedom of Information
Act, he was entitled to the details. Three weeks later, he had a
reply confirming that US Marines had dropped 489 napalm bombs on
`those poor fuckers in the trenches' during the cleanest war in
Sami, 34-years old, who now lives in Baghdad, was a captain on the
front at Hafr al-Batin. He experienced the napalm bombing: `With
each attack they would hit us with about four bombs, so it was a
whole field of fire. Most people we couldn't save because they were
covered in napalm so they burned immediately... a few people got
a little bit on their head or on their arm, so we could throw sand
on them an prevent them from dying. There was one particular friend
I was very fond of, who I saw burn from napalm when he got out of
the trench to go to the toilet. I couldn't get out of my bunker
because the attacks were still going on. Ideally I would have been
able to run out and throw my coat on him or something, but I couldn't
because then I would have died, too. He was an only son and had
many sisters to take care of, and that's what made his death all
the harder. It hurt me at the time and it still hurts, that this
man died because he had to go to the bathroom.
impression created by sanitized press briefings in hotel ballrooms
of `smart' precision bombing was wrong. Most of the bombing that
took place in the Gulf happened along the front where thousands
of Iraqi soldiers, most of them Shia and Kurd conscripts, were blanket-bombed
by B52 bombers. More than 80,000 were killed - their internal organs
imploded as specially designed bombs sucked the air out of the trenches.
Thousands also died in the retreat after Iraq had agreed in Moscow
to an unconditional withdrawal. They died in that final `turkey
shoot' on the Basra road which, according to one of those present,
prompted General Powell to remark in the final war cabinet meeting:
`We should stop now: Our pilots are just killing for the sake of
Sami was caught in the convoy of soldiers and civilians retreating
along the Basra road out of Kuwait. `I didn't expect it. It was
the worst of the wrath; there were dead people on your right and
on your left.
us it was the Way of Death because so money of our comrades died
on that road, and the enemy used that particular moment of our retreat
to hit us in the worst possible way.'
you just scratch the surface you will find a nation that still minds
and cares and is grateful and proud and will never forget - Nicholas
Soames, Minister for the Armed Services and grandson of Winston
Churchill, VE day 1995.
biographies of Schwarzkopf and Powell talk of one overriding fear
in the months before the Gulf war: the fear that Iraq would use
its chemical and biological weapons. Intelligence sources told them
that the Iraqis had made successful test flights of missiles armed
with chemical weapons.
since the war, the British and American military establishments
have refused to admit that chemical, and possibly biological, weapons
were used at low doses by the Iraqis with the aim of spreading panic
among the troops, causing sickness problems among them - and, perhaps,
to remind Bush and Thatcher of the consequences if they tried to
go too far.
four months of investigation, Channel 4 and the Guardian have uncovered
accumulating evidence that these weapons were used, and that thousands
of sick veterans are struggling with debilitating damage to their
immune system which has left them open to a wide spectrum of afflictions.
The authorities have generally been disbelieving and unsympathetic,
dismissing the symptoms as `an alleged syndrome,' and Gulf war folk
reason the use of sub-lethal levels of chemical or biological weapons
was covered up at the time is not hard to understand, given that
news of gas attacks would have demoralized and terrified the allied
troops. But five years later, the official line remains the same;
meanwhile veterans are suffering, in some cases dying, from a variety
of ailments ranging from continuous night sweats and depression
this year, the US Defence Department was finally forced, under the
Freedom of Information Act, to release the official logs in which
the war's Central Command recorded suspected chemical and biological
attacks. The logs revealed numerous reports from scientific teams
who believed that they detected mustard gas, sarin, tabun and lewisite
in the battlefield. The authorities in the US and Britain dismiss
all of these reports as false alarms.
tests, more than 50 of them, were carried out mainly by the Czechs.
They detected nerve gas on at least nine occasions and verified
their findings using a mobile laboratory. Yet the Americans and
British told their units to `disregard the Czech reports.' Colonel
Vladimir Smehlit, head of one of four Czech detection units operating
in Kuwait, said he was `baffled by the attitude of the British and
Americans.' A US chemical and biological team would regularly be
sent out to retest their findings. `The Americans had less sophisticated
testing equipment than us. They kept testing regularly until all
traces of the chemical had disappeared or were blown away by the
to the logs, the British, French and Soviets also detected chemicals
flowing downwind from Iraqi chemical and biological stations that
had been bombed. `Downwind has predictably become a hazard and will
continue to be one.' Evidence of chemical/biological exposure is
backed up by the fact that thousands of dead camels, sheep and dog
were reported all over the theatre of war.
Tuite, the author of two reports to the US Senate on Gulf War Syndrome,
and assistant to Senator Donald Reigle, who has led the fight in
the US to get the syndrome recognized, is convinced that chemical
and possibly biological or genetically-engineered viruses were used
by the Iraqis. `The extent of Iraq's biological weapon's capacity
has stunned the West.'
Smith, clearly in pain and using a wheelchair to move around his
Washington home, is suffering from a complete collapse in his nervous
system. Before the war, he passed the gruelling Marine fitness test.
He is a doctor and veterinarian. Two incidents convinced him that
chemical and biological weapons were present in the theatre of war.
The first he saw on the outskirts of Kuwait City on the day it was
liberated in January 1991: `I saw birds just dropping out of the
sky. The next day people started bring me these dead birds because
they knew I was a veterinarian.'
days later, he came across a herd of dead camels three miles outside
Kuwait City: `What made me suspicious was when I came across the
herd of dead camels I saw that they had flies on them. Dead flies
mean that whatever killed the camel killed the flies simultaneously.'
An Iraqi chemical engineer and defector to Britain confirmed that
Saddam had assembled chemical and biological weapons in a crash
programme and explained why it took UN monitors four years to discover
them: `They move them around all the time. Three days here, six
days there, six hours there. It's impossible to find everything
and there's still 40 percent of it hidden.'
Guardian/Channel 4 has gathered eye witness evidence from soldiers
in Britain and the US: soldiers from different units who have never
spoken to each other, but give the same compelling testimony to
attacks by chemical/biological weapons.
Butler spends his time fishing on the Chattahooche river that divides
Georgia and Alabama,where you can catch most anything with night
crawlers, worms half the length of your arm. Roy and his wife Phyllis
are American Dream material. They're from honest Alabama stock.
In the evening Phyllis breaks out the frozen pork ribs for the barbecue.
But their life has been violated by a sickness that has left Roy
slowly dying. Phyllis has not slept with him since he came back
from the war, afraid of catching the illnesses destroying him.
the night of 20 January 1991, Roy Butler was with the 24th Naval
Reserve Construction Battalion (CBs) stationed at Al-Jubayl in Saudi
Arabia, the major port for war supplies. He was woken at three in
the morning. `The skies over us just lit up like a big fireball.
The chemical alarm sounded and we ran for the bunkers. By the time
I got to my bunker, my hands, my face, all exposed skin was burning.
My lips started turning numb. And we saw this mist type stuff, like
rain. In the bunker, we sat there with our chemical suits on. There
were radio communications going back and forth - we were monitoring
the frequency the Brits were on and we heard them saying they had
detected mustard gas and sarin with their chemical detectors.
next morning on formation ground the soldiers were told that the
boom was a jet breaking the sonic barrier and that the alarms had
gone off because of petrol fumes.. Petrol fumes had never set off
the chemical alarms before... And it wasn't no sonic boom. I'm a
Vietnam vet, I've been in combat, and I know what this sound was.
It was missile exploding. Our senior officer told us not to talk
about the incident.'
Tumbull, a British Army electrician who served in the Gulf, has
emphysema after exposure to chemical weapons in a Scud missile attack.
He, like Roy Butler, has been sick for five years with continuous
diarrhoea, joint pains and asthma. His wife exhibits some of the
same symptoms. `The warhead landed about 400 yards from our position
and all the chemical alarms started going off.'
Walker, a British soldier in the naval construction unit, was also
at the port at the time of the attack. `I felt a stinging on my
face. My lips were numb and I was having difficulty breathing. In
our area there were 27 chemical and nerve agent detactors and they
all went off. I couldn't get my suit on quick enough and I felt
whatever it was burning into my scalp and into the back of my neck.
When I did get it on I stayed hidden in the rocks in the dark. I
was breathing and thinking about dying and about my kids and what
they'd do. Then one of the officers came along fully suited up and
called out to stay suited, we've been hit by chemicals. The next
day we were told it wasn't chemicals it was sonic boom and not to
talk about it.'
House of Commons Defence Committee reported on the plight of Gulf
war veterans on 25 October this year. They were highly critical
of the Ministry of Defence: `We are appalled that it has taken two
years since the establishment of the Medical Assessment Board -
over four years since the end of the Gulf war - for MoD even to
contemplate compiling the data necessary to facilitate a full epidemiological
study.' It also noted soldiers' reports that `persistent requests
by personnel for access to their own medical records had been denied'
and records had been `blanked out.'
the United States, where more than 10,000 veterans have reported
sick, 12 special research units have been set up. In Britain, 795
ex-servicemen and women are taking legal action against the MoD.
In previous wars, before the era of biological and chemical proliferation,
it was easy to identify the cause of soldiers' deaths. On VE Day
this year, the Queen heard Michael Mann, Dean of Windsor, read an
account of how British soldiers died in Japanese prison camps because
they were withheld treatment for cholera.
Britain today, the pain and deaths of 4,000 service people and their
families are much less dramatic. The door of officialdom has slammed
shut on the veterans of the Gulf war, as it did on the victims of
Agent Orange in Vietnam and on the soldiers who were used for radiation
experiments in the 1950s. As the Dean of Windsor said on VE day:
`Many would say that it is right to forget the horrors of long ago.
But to reject past experiences of human nature would be a great
Guardian Weekend, 16 December, 1995).