The GULF WAR

The Gulf War
Source: Muslim & Arab Perspectives 2:11-12 (1995)
Pages No: 31 to 43
Dirty Facts About a Clean War
The 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.
Also 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.
Although 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).
How to Tell Lies and Win Wars
By Maggie O'Kane
Someone 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 Falklands.
We 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.
On 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.
Two 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.
Iraq 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.'
What 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.'
By 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 via CNN.
Bush 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 to pounce.
To 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.
The 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.
Heller's 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.
`We 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?'
A year 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 the reluctant.
Robert 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.
The 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.
Robert 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. Dead babies.
Dead 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.
About 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.
I remember 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.
Meanwhile, 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 to read.
Highly 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.
Somehow 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.
General 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 world.'
At 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.
In 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.
The 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.
The 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.
When 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.
Joe 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.'
One 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.
`While 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.
I really 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 other side.'
Among 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.'
Joe 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.
In 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 history.
Kareem 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.
The 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 it.'
Kareem 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.
For 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.'
If 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.
The 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.
However, 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.
In 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 lore.
The 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 to cancers.
Earlier 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.
The 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 wind.'
According 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.
James 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.'
Herb 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.'
Three 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.'
The 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.
Roy 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.
On 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.
`The 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.'
Richard 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.'
Terry 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.'
The 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.'
In 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.
In 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 mistake.'
(The Guardian Weekend, 16 December, 1995).
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