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A Fire on the Cross
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Special Report

“You Don’t Psychosomatically
Give Birth to a Child with Birth Defects”

Wolfertz is one of a host of Persian Gulf vets who castigate those who want the veterans to believe their troubles are psychosomatic. “Take a look at the statistics for birth defects,” he told Freedom. “They are much higher for those who are veterans of the Gulf War. You don’t psychosomatically give birth to a child with birth defects.”

Journalist Dennis Bernstein reported that of 15 children conceived by Gulf War veterans from a Waynesboro, Mississippi, National Guard unit, 13 had birth defects. Hundreds of other cases of birth defects in the children of Gulf vets have been reported. In the United Kingdom, 52 couples with a Gulf War veteran as a partner are suing the British Ministry of Defense due to serious birth defects in their children.

Freedom examined registries containing dozens of pages of names of babies born to Gulf War veterans with such entries as:

  • 7 months in hospital. 14 surgeries.

  • Baby boy with missing left eye, cleft palate, malformed left ear, malformed nose, 25 percent of brain missing.

  • Daughter born with hole in heart.

  • Baby girl, left side of brain smaller, persistently red eye, infantile glaucoma, ear problems.

  • Born Dec. 20, 1994, died Jan. 1, 1995.

  • Severe birth defects. No anus. No urethra.

  • Born dead with no kidneys.

“We Have Come Across Something
Unprecedented in Medical Literature”

Veterans view the disregard for their symptoms, and those of their families, as a betrayal of trust. As one officer said, “You put your life on the line and then they tell you it’s all in your head. You can imagine how that makes you feel.”

In Manchester, New Hampshire, Dr. Victor Gordan of the Department of Veterans Affairs currently treats more than 500 servicemen for Gulf War Illness.

“We have come across something unprecedented in medical literature,” he told Freedom. “Previously healthy people who are 23 years old, 25 years old, tell you about symptoms that you can’t make any sense of.”

He frowns on the action taken by his colleagues to refer such cases to psychiatrists. “There is something wrong,” he said. “It’s not in their heads. It’s real.”

He said that “post-traumatic stress disorder” is not the answer, describing as “laughable” the idea that soldiers became stressed out when they saw oil wells burning. “85 percent of those I treat are younger than 30 years of age, men formerly in excellent health,” he said. “They come from every single branch of the armed forces: Marines, Navy, Army, Air Force. There are no differences in the symptomssome people simply have a larger number of symptoms than the others.”

Stress, Dr. Gordan adds, is at most one piece of the puzzle. “How can you make the whole picture out of one small piece?” he asks.


Another, far larger, piece of the puzzle emerged between 1993 and 1995, when then-chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, U.S. Senator Donald W. Riegle Jr., led a probe which released its findings in a series of reports, confirming that Americans had been exposed to harmful chemical and biological warfare agents during the Gulf War.

Riegle dismissed the Pentagon’s claims that no such agents had been used. “Department of Defense explanations are inconsistent with the facts as related by the soldiers who were present, and with official government documents prepared by those who were present and with experts who have examined the facts.”

The man who directed the Senate committee’s investigation, James J. Tuite III, presented this overview of the problem:

  • The illnesses being experienced by our veterans of the Gulf War are real, and in many cases are seriously disabling or fatal.

  • The number of individuals who are reporting that they have fallen ill as a result of their service in this war is rising dramatically. And, increasingly, members of these veterans’ immediate families are also falling ill.

  • The Department of Defense has been, and remains, aware of these exposures, yet is trying to shift public and medical attention away from toxic chemical and biological agent exposure as potential causes of the illnesses.

  • As the federal government evades its responsibility to care for these chemically wounded veterans and their families, the states will become responsible for providing the financial, medical, and special assistance that these ill veterans and their families require.

The Senate committee disclosed that the United States had exported chemical, biological and missile-system equipment to Iraq that was converted to military use in Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons program. “Many of these weaponsweapons that the United States and other countries provided critical materials forwere used against American service personnel during the Gulf War,” the committee reported.1

Despite the lengthy Senate inquiry, the obfuscation and denials continue, with years of work by Senate investigators extinguished under an avalanche of disinformation.

A media search revealed only one brief mention in 1996 of the Riegle committee’s independent investigation or its three detailed reports, and even that was buried in the body of a story giving a historical summary. Yet a similar search showed that media in the same period featured 53 stories regarding Pentagon-sponsored reports by the Institute of Medicine.

“A Great American Tragedy”

One former Army officer and senior Pentagon official told Freedom, “Concern is too light a word for the way I feel. It’s a great American tragedy. Under [John] Deutch, they put the final lid on this.”

He went on to comment, “It’s a grandiose case of the emperor’s new clotheseverybody knows it happened, but it is being denied.”

There is certainly no lack of studies buttressing the veterans’ claims. A 1995 study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, for example, found that 46 percent of Gulf War veterans experience difficulty in remembering or concentrating, compared to 9 percent of military personnel who were not in the Gulf War.

Those responsible for treating disabled vets prefer to ignore such studies and statistics, and their significance is too often lost to the media and the public in a torrent of other informationincluding “studies” that seem to add further confusion to the scene.

A notable study of 14 Gulf War veterans by a British scientist, for example, found evidence of damage to their nervous systems. The study, published in March 1996 in Britain’s Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, compared veterans selected at random from among those suffering unexplained illnesses to 13 healthy civilians. Problems were most noticeable in the arms and legs.

On the heels of that study came another from Duke University which suggested that veterans may be suffering from effects of pyridostigmine bromide -- a drug injected in hundreds of thousands of American troops to prevent damage from Iraqi nerve gas -- combined with either of two insect repellents, Deet and Permethrin, doused on troops during Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Researchers administered doses of one, two and all three toxins to chickens and found that more severe effects, including nerve damage, occurred when a bird was exposed to the three in combination.

Although the Duke tests provide evidence that veterans’ problems are not “in their heads,” experts on Gulf War Illness have pointed out that media reports of this latest study failed to take into account evidence that a percentage of veterans afflicted by Gulf War Illness suffer from something that is communicable—and hence caused by biological, not chemical, substances.

“The government doesn’t want to get into biologicals at all,” said one scientist who has conducted extensive research into Gulf War Illness. “There are too many liabilities. They also don’t want the use of chemical weapons to come out.”

Referring to pyridostigmine, Deet and Permethrin, Captain Joyce Riley, an Air Force flight nurse who heads a national organization dedicated to aiding those afflicted with Gulf War Illness, said, “I never had any of the three, yet I have the illness.”

Said Riley, “There’s no Gulf War vet that believes those substances caused their illness. What they are not telling you is that the chickens do not have a communicable disease, but the people do.” Riley said she was deluged with calls from veterans who expressed outrage over the idea that the study explained the symptoms they suffer.

While exposure to these toxic chemicals undoubtedly had adverse effects on veterans, many doubt those substances are what created the symptoms from which they suffer. Some even view the pre-publication release of the Duke study as an attempt to offset the published British study which documented nerve damage. The newer study corroborated that such damage occurred, but served to direct attention away from chemical or biological weapons as a cause.

“They had to respond to the British study,” said Julianne Hamden, who never went to the Persian Gulf, but still displayed symptoms of Gulf War Illness. “They threw everybody a bone.”

This provides insight into what insiders say is a long-range Pentagon and CIA strategy: When information escapes or is pried out, contain the damage as rapidly and firmly as possible. Thus, in June 1996, when a presidential commission forced the Pentagon to release an October 1991 United Nations report from its files which detailed the release of chemical warfare contamination from munitions in an Iraqi bunker, the wall of denial trembled slightly and a spokesperson admittedafter years of obfuscationthat up to 400 American servicemen may have been exposed to chemical weapons. CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield, however, stepped into the breach to pronounce that no large-scale health hazards stemmed from use of chemical or biological weapons during the war.

The presidential commission had demanded that the Pentagon make the U.N. report public after obtaining a videotape of American troops’ destruction of the bunker from Gulf War veteran Brian Martin. Martin served near the site with the 37th Engineering Battalion for five days and suffered severe chemical exposure as a result.

Since the June 1996 revelation of chemical contamination Martin helped make possible, the Pentagon has admitted to three other episodes of chemical agent release. According to Gulf War veterans, certain Defense and CIA officials were aware of such incidents all along. “John Deutch and Stephen Josephthey’ve been perjuring themselves for five years,” Brian Martin told Freedom. “They knew it. We knew it.”

“A Convenient Way to Condemn Them”

Former Senate investigator James Tuite has pointed out that the Institute of Medicine panel which authored the reports supported by and frequently cited by the Defense Department can hardly be called independent. The panel’s chairman, Joshua Lederberg, for example, at the time of Tuite’s analysis served on five government panels.

Another panel member, Christopher C. Green, received the classified briefings on the issue of chemical/biological warfare exposure on behalf of the committee. Tuite noted that Green had spent 15 years with the Central Intelligence Agency in the Directorate of Intelligence’s Office of Life Sciences. “He may be a highly qualified physician-scientist,” Tuite said, “but again, he is hardly an independent, unbiased source.” Green defended his position, claiming that the classified information he had been told about has since been declassified.

But even such an insider cannot give complete assurance that all pertinent information has been disclosed, since all such information may not have been provided to him. Indeed, the former Army officer and senior Pentagon official mentioned earlier insists a cover-up existswith a careful attempt to prevent the establishment of a paper trail.

Another officer, Major Richard Haines, a former U.S. Army public relations expert, has dedicated himself to documenting and exposing the health effects suffered by Gulf War veterans. He points to a combination of three powerful interests, each of which gains from maintaining the status of Gulf War Illness as a psychiatric disorder.

Psychiatrists receive the direct benefit of vast sums of money from veterans and service personnel tagged with “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” or other spurious psychiatric labels. Chemical makers benefit because if Gulf War Illness opened up the issue of chemical sensitivity, the wall would be breached for potentially billions in liabilities for other chemicals, including but not limited to Agent Orange. Added to this, in Haines’ words, is “the Pentagon’s unwillingness to ‘fess up’” because it would face massive liabilities.

Richard Haines
RICHARD HAINES: Major Richard Haines, a former U.S. Army PR expert, cited powerful interests that gain from maintaining the status of Gulf War Illness as a psychiatric disorder and from misclassifying vets who have physical ailments as “mental wimps.”

For the psychiatric industry, with some 37 percent of those registering complaints being classified as having a psychiatric disorder, Desert Storm must have been a dream come true. Each individual, and often members of their family, moves on a psychiatric assembly line that tells them it’s all in their heads, loads them with drugs, and keeps them quiet. And, of course, government funds support the psychiatrists in both the Defense and Veterans Affairs departmentssome $1.5 billion per year for the VA alone.

One mental health practitioner pointed out that if a Gulf War vet bails out of the government tangle and consults a private psychiatrist seeking straighter answers, fees range up to $180 an hour, with in-patient “care” costing up to $1,400 a day. The psychiatrists “can make a ton of money,” she said, particularly if the veteran is covered by a private insurance policy.

The losers, of course, are the veterans. By putting a psychiatric label on those with Gulf War Illness, Haines said, “They wash these guys out as mental wimps.”

Or, as the former Army officer and senior Pentagon official pointed out, “It’s a convenient way to condemn them.”

Avoiding “Bombshell” Reports

After interviewing many veterans and authorities on Gulf War Illness over a period of more than a year, the grim reality emerged that thousands have been adversely affected by exposure to toxic substances during the Gulf Warsome of which may be communicableand that their case has been woefully understated in the press. Messages from spin doctors such as Stephen Joseph and Robert Roswell of the Defense Department continue to dominate, while mounting and damning evidence of the true extent of the horror story is ignored or minimized.

A November 3, 1995, memorandum from the Office of the Secretary of Defense sheds light on one aspect of the cover-up, expressing in particular the department’s wish to avoid “bombshell” reports regarding Gulf War Illness appearing on the Internet.

Entitled “Identification and Processing of Sensitive Operational Records,” the memo, signed by Paul F. Wallner, staff director, Senior Level Oversight Panel, Persian Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses, identifies five categories of “sensitive documents” regarding Gulf War Illness to be forwarded to a special Investigation Team “by the fastest avail. means, e.g., E-mail, fax, mail or courier”:

“a. Documents that could generate unusual public/media attention.

“b. All documents which seem to confirm the use or detection of nuclear, chemical, or biological agents.

“c. Documents which make gross/startling assertions, i.e., a pilot’s report that he saw a ‘giant cloud of anthrax2 gas.’

“d. Documents containing releasable information which could embarass [sic] the Government or DoD. Statements such as ‘we are not to bring this up to the press’ fit this category.

“e. Documents which shed light on issues which have high levels of media interest....”

This memorandum reflects continuous efforts to deny the truth about a devastating illness and replace it with disinformation to cloud the issue.

Drs. Garth and Nancy Nicolson of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center are two authorities whose findings about Gulf War Illness have been reported by foreign media, but virtually drowned out in the United States. (See “The Bug that Bit the President”.) An electronic search of media publications revealed just eight items mentioning the Nicolsons’ ideas in U.S. media, among more than 1,800 stories on Gulf War Syndrome. Yet their information has been published in such peer-reviewed publications as the Journal of the American Medical Association and the Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology, and is thus widely available.

Garth Nicolson attributes media reticence to the Pentagon’s adamant stand that no chemical or biological weapons were used in the Gulf Wara position steadily eroded through veterans’ eyewitness testimony and congressional inquiries.

“There is a criminal liability,” he said, “and of course there is certainly a lot of financial liability and political liabilityat least three reasons for them to try to stonewall this and shut it up.”

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