Clinton panel criticizes Pentagon's gulf probe Outside inquiry is sought into wartime gas incidents

November 08, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- A White House panel has condemned the Pentagon for its investigation into whether American troops were exposed to Iraqi chemical weapons in the 1991 Persian Gulf war and has called for an independent inquiry into more than 15 incidents in which nerve gas and other chemical agents were detected by American troops.

In a draft of the final report, expected to be delivered to President Clinton next month, the panel said the Pentagon had lost so much credibility on the issue that the new inquiries should be taken away from the Defense Department and given to outside investigators.

The panel, the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses, said the Defense Department's investigation of chemical exposures in the gulf war has "severely undermined public confidence" because it has "lacked vigor, fallen sort on investigative grounds and stretched credibility."

"The Department of Defense has conducted a superficial investigation of possible chemical warfare agent exposures," the report said, "which is unlikely to provide credible answers to veterans' questions."

The draft is the result of the most independent and far-reaching investigation of the actions of the Pentagon in dealing with the claims of American soldiers that they were exposed to clouds of Iraqi chemical or biological weapons in the war.

The report, portions of which are still being rewritten, does not resolve the mystery of why tens of thousands of gulf war veterans are ill.

Members of the White House panel said they believed that while clusters of gulf war veterans were exposed to Iraqi chemical weapons and some may be sick as a result, the evidence does not show that chemicals wafted over most of the soldiers who are now reporting ailments.

"Theater-wide contamination is highly unlikely," the report said.

Copies of the draft were made available to the New York Times.

The Defense Department, which has denied allegations that it has withheld information from gulf war veterans about their health, said it would have no comment on the report until the president receives it.

The committee, which includes several prominent doctors and scientists, concluded there was "overwhelming" evidence that chemical weapons were released when American troops blew up a massive Iraqi ammunition depot near the southern Iraqi village of Kamisiyah in March 1991, shortly after the war.

Thousands of American soldiers were deployed in the vicinity of the blast.

"The committee concludes that for nearby troops, exposure should be presumed," the report said. "The releases at Kamisiyah suggest the need for a thorough investigation of other sites for which reliable detections exist or where information indicates cw agents could have been present."

(CW refers to chemical warfare.)

About 80,000 of the 700,000 American troops who served in the gulf have requested special medical examinations to determine whether they were made sick by their service. Many have complained of a variety of ailments, including digestive problems, chronic fatigue and memory loss, that have collectively come to be known as gulf war syndrome.

Pub Date: 11/08/96

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