Pentagon "Loses" Critical Gulf-War Files

The Anarchives (tao@lglobal.com)
Fri, 6 Dec 1996 17:03:28 +0000 (GMT)


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GULF WAR DATA ON ARMS DUMP IN IRAQ IS MISSING, PENTAGON SAYS
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Copyright &copy 1996 N.Y. Times News Service

WASHINGTON (Dec 5, 1996 00:18 a.m. EST) -- Military logs for an
eight-day period in which thousands of American troops might have been
exposed to nerve gas and other Iraqi chemical weapons shortly after
the Persian Gulf war in 1991 appear to have been removed or lost and
cannot be located despite an exhaustive search, Pentagon officials
said Wednesday.

The logs were maintained for Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf and his senior
staff at their wartime headquarters in Riyadh, the Saudi Arabian
capital, and were supposed to record any incident in which chemical or
biological agents had been detected.

There are several mysterious gaps in the otherwise meticulous combat
logs. The gaps include the period in early March 1991 in which
American combat engineers blew up the sprawling Kamisiyah ammunition
depot in southern Iraq, an event that might have exposed thousands of
American troops to nerve gas.

Because the portions made public so far show that American commanders
received and disregarded several reports of chemical detections during
the war, the logs are considered vital evidence by ailing gulf war
veterans who believe that their health was damaged by exposure to
Iraqi chemical or biological weapons.

The gaps have only added to the suspicion among veterans that the
Pentagon is hiding information that would explain their health
problems. Government studies show that while gulf war veterans have
not died or been hospitalized at unusual rates, they are reporting
serious health problems, including digestive ailments and chronic
fatigue, at rates far higher than troops who did not serve in the
gulf.

"This was the historical record of what was supposedly the brightest
moment in the last 50 years of American military history, and now they
say they've misplaced part of the historical record?" said James Tuite
III, who led a Senate investigation of gulf war illnesses in 1993 and
1994 and who is now working with veterans groups. "That's very hard to
believe."

Schwarzkopf, now retired, has not responded to repeated requests for
an interview in recent months. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff during the war, Gen. Colin Powell, also now retired, said in an
interview Monday that chemical alarms sounded repeatedly during the
war, but that American commanders in the gulf were unable to confirm
them and considered them false alarms.

The Defense Department, which at one time had denied to Congress that
such combat logs even existed, released them last year to a Georgia
veterans group that sought them under the Freedom of Information Act.

After the veterans group noted that several pages from the logs seemed
to be missing for key dates, the Pentagon acknowledged that there were
gaps and said earlier this year that it would investigate.

Pentagon officials said Wednesday that the investigation, which
included a careful search of gulf war military records stored in
Suitland, Md., by the National Archives had not turned up additional
pages from the logs.

"From our perspective, we've done what we can do," said Lt. Col. Nino
Fabiano, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., the
element of the Defense Department that conducted the war under the
command of Schwarzkopf.

The Defense Department said that investigators working for its special
Persian Gulf war team at the Pentagon were continuing to search for
missing pages from the logs, and that they were trying to interview
Central Command officers who had control of the logs during the war.

"The books haven't been closed on this yet," said Bryan Whitman, a
Pentagon spokesman, "but I can say that we're not any further along
because we haven't found any additional log pages."

Despite initial suggestions from the Defense Department that there
might simply never have been any log entries for the periods in which
there are gaps, officials said Pentagon investigators now believe that
some pages are indeed missing.

"Through our preliminary investigation we can determine that there
were more entries made than we have logs for," Whitman said. "We're
trying to determine how many more logs there might be, and how they
might have been lost."

Even a brief inspection of the logs made public so far suggests that
some pages must have been lost or destroyed. On the days for which
logs exist, there are meticulous, almost minute-by-minute typewritten
entries, and it would be remarkable that on other days, the officers
in charge of the logs would simply fail to record any entries at all.

"Any break in a log is of concern," said Bernard Rostker, the Pentagon
official who is overseeing the department's investigation of gulf war
illnesses.

But Rostker said it might not be surprising that some documents, even
such important ones, had been misfiled or disappeared in the middle of
a war.

"Remember this is a war environment," he said, "and not necessarily
every piece of data that one would like to have will survive the
process."

Whitman, the Pentagon spokesman, rejected suggestions from veterans
groups that the gaps suggested that the government was hiding
important information from them about the detection of chemical or
biological weapons during the war, especially during the period in
early March 1991, when combat engineers blew up the Kamisiyah depot,
after the war ended in late February.

The Pentagon said it learned only in the last year that American
troops might have been exposed to chemical weapons as a result of the
explosions, on March 4 and March 10, 1991. Defense Department
officials say there may have been an additional explosion on March 12.

Whitman noted that the gap in the logs -- from March 4 to March 11 --
was one of several gaps in the chemical logs.

"If that was the only portion that was missing from the logs, that
would raise suspicion," he said. "But those aren't the only days that
are missing."

A Pentagon official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that
he had talked with officers who handled the logs and that none had
recollections on Kamisiyah, nor of any other startling information
that might have been recorded in the logs on the days for which there
are gaps.

"They don't remember any sort of event stemming from Kamisiyah," the
official said. "Didn't show up on their radar scope at all."