US Troops Were Subjected to Wider Toxic Testing_NYT
Wed, 9 Oct 2002
“At a time when our nation may be called upon to fight a war to protect Americans from chemical and biological terrorism, it is tragic to learn that four decades earlier, some of America’s soldiers and sailors were unwitting participants in tests using live chemical and biological toxins.” Representative Christopher H. Smith, the New Jersey Republican who is chairman of the House committee.
The New York Times reports that 16 newly declassified reports prepared by the Pentagon, describe how, in the height of the Cold War, between 1962 and 1971, chemical and biological experiments used deadly substances like VX and sarin to test the vulnerability of American forces to unconventional attack. According to the Times report, the purpose of the tests was not to protect the health of military personnel, but rather "the aim of the tests on land was to learn more about how chemical and biological weapons would be affected by climate, environment…Tests at sea were intended to gauge the vulnerability of warships and how they might respond to attack…"
An additional dozen reports describe how more benign substances were used to mimic the spread of the poisons in other tests. And "military and medical investigators are studying reports on 35 additional tests that might have been conducted with live chemical or biological agents during the same period."
American soldiers were put in harms way without their knowledge or consent: they were exposed to toxic chemical and biological substances without regard to their health and welfare, without regard for their humanity. No doubt, those who made the decision calculated the harm suffered by fellow Americans as "lateral damage".
Until Cong. Smith and Cong. Mike Thompson, a California Democrat, applied pressure on the government, the Pentagon did not respond to claims by veterans that they had been harmed. "It is appalling that 40 years have passed and this information is just now being disclosed."
October 9, 2002 U.S. Troops Were Subjected to a Wider Toxic Testing By THOM SHANKER
WASHINGTON, Oct. 8 — Acknowledging a much wider testing of toxic weapons on its forces, the Defense Department says it used chemical warfare and live biological agents during cold-war-era military exercises on American soil, as well as in Canada and Britain, according to previously secret documents cleared for release to Congress on Wednesday.
Sixteen of the newly declassified reports, prepared by the Pentagon, describe how chemical and biological exercises, until now undisclosed, used deadly substances like VX and sarin to test the vulnerability of American forces to unconventional attack. An additional dozen reports describe how more benign substances were used to mimic the spread of the poisons in other tests.
The reports, which detail tests conducted from 1962 to 1971, reveal for the first time that the chemical warfare agents were used during exercises on American soil, in Alaska, Hawaii and Maryland, and that a mild biological agent was used in Florida.
Pentagon officials said late today that their investigations indicated that none of the lethal chemical agents had dispersed into the general population. Some milder substances did escape into the atmosphere, with a plant fungus dispersing in an area of Florida, a naturally occurring bacteria in Hawaii and a mild chemical irritant in a remote part of Alaska.
Late today, Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said military personnel in the tests had been given protection available at the time, though he conceded that it was primitive compared with what is available today.
In May, the Pentagon disclosed that ships and sailors had been sprayed with chemical and biological agents during cold-war-era testing. Unlike the newly disclosed tests, however, those took place on the high seas rather than on American soil.
The Defense Department is working with the Department of Veterans Affairs to identify an estimated 5,500 people believed to have participated in the land and sea tests, because it remains unclear, even today, whether all the military personnel were fully aware of the nature of the exercises, and the potential risks.
“We are taking this action now,” Dr. Winkenwerder said, “because we do care about veterans and we do care about service members and their health and any potential ill health effects that might have resulted from their service to their country.”
Congress has scheduled hearings this week to examine the documents and the government’s responsibility to any veterans suffering from ill effects. The House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health meets in closed session on Wednesday to be briefed on the reports, and the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel meets on Thursday.
Representative Christopher H. Smith, the New Jersey Republican who is chairman of the House committee, demanded today that the government make assistance available to any veteran made ill by the tests, especially as the Bush administration argues that military action may be required to disarm Iraq’s arsenal of unconventional weapons.
“At a time when our nation may be called upon to fight a war to protect Americans from chemical and biological terrorism,” Mr. Smith said, “it is tragic to learn that four decades earlier, some of America’s soldiers and sailors were unwitting participants in tests using live chemical and biological toxins.”
The purpose of the tests was not to study chemical and biological weapons’ effects on human health. Rather, the aim of the tests on land was to learn more about how chemical and biological weapons would be affected by climate, environment and other combat conditions. Tests at sea were intended to gauge the vulnerability of warships and how they might respond to the attack while continuing to fight.
The Pentagon previously released details of 10 tests that were conducted in the Pacific during the 1960’s, but the new documents describe a program that was much larger and not restricted to tests at sea.
Tests conducted together with the Canadian government used VX, and tests with Britain used sarin and VX, the documents show.
Officials say that military and medical investigators are studying reports on 35 additional tests that might have been conducted with live chemical or biological agents during this same period, but whose results remain classified. The investigation is slow because the records are on paper, stored at Fort Douglas, Utah.
The legacy of the tests puts the Pentagon in a difficult position, trying to balance the legitimate health concerns of veterans — and anger at the lack of information on possible exposure — against the record of both Democratic and Republican administrations struggling to defend the nation against the threat of chemical or biological attack.
“It is easy to look in hindsight and to conclude that things could have been done in a different or better way,” Dr. Winkenwerder said.
“But it’s important to understand the context and the time period,” he added. “We were involved in a cold war with the Soviet Union and had great concerns about what they might do. I think history has proven that those were not false concerns in terms of the offensive program that was being developed and might have been well in place at that time.”
The process of identifying affected veterans began in September 2000 under pressure from Representative Mike Thompson, a California Democrat, who was responding to claims by veterans that they had suffered health damage from the tests.
“The Department of Defense has not only subjected our own soldiers to dangerous substances, it may have put civilians it is charged with protecting at risk,” Mr. Thompson said tonight. “It is appalling that 40 years have passed and this information is just now being disclosed.”
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