Veterans are calling for criminal investigations into the Pentagon's handling of Persian Gulf War documents. The call comes after the Pentagon admitted last week that it has 20 confirmed detections of chemical agents, despite three years of denying the reports existed.
"There is now strong evidence ... to contend that possible criminal wrongdoing and possible negligent handling of secret military government documents has taken place at the Department of Defense and-or the CIA," wrote Paul Sullivan, the head of Gulf War Veterans of Georgia, in a letter Saturday to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.
Also on Saturday, the National Gulf War Resource Center, a coalition of two dozen grass-roots veterans groups, called for the appointment of "an independent commission with investigative powers" to look into whether Pentagon officials withheld information from Congress.
Other veterans groups have petitioned the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to investigate whether the United States and their Gulf allies have violated their veterans' human rights by denying them information that could have led to better medical treatment for sick veterans.
Newsday reported Friday that Bernard Rostker, an assistant Secretary of the Navy who last month took over the Pentagon's investigation in Gulf War illnesses, released the reports that had been in the possession of senior Army officials since December 1993.
Pentagon officials told a Senate committee in 1994 that no such logs existed.
The records come from Fox chemical detection vehicles, sophisticated mobile chemical labs made in Germany that were deployed to the Gulf because of fears Iraq would use chemical weapons.
Three Fox crew members are scheduled to testify today to a Congressional committee investigating Gulf War illnesses.
The Pentagon also admitted last week that chemical logs kept by Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf's staff were missing.
"The recent revelations concerning the missing logs and the sudden release of the 20 Fox confirmations clearly show that until Rostker took charge the Pentagon was unable to perform even a minimal investigation," Sullivan said. "It validates every thing we've said - there really were chemical confirmations. And the Pentagon owes an apology to veterans.
"Someone needs to be held accountable. Apparently there may have been contempt of Congress and, secondly, the mishandling of secret documents must be investigated. "Mr. Rostker is clearly doing the right thing. We wish we had it earlier."
Chris Kornkven, president of the Resource Center, said he is amazed every few days at new revelations concerning chemical exposures.
"I am incredibly disappointed in the Pentagon's actions to date," Kornkven said. "When they are topped off with this recent revelation that these 20 Fox vehicle reports were deliberately withheld, this issue no longer calls for an independent investigation - it screams for an independent investigation."
Jim Brown, who heads the Missouri-based GULFWATCH, said his organization and the Operation Desert Shield-Desert Storm Association have asked the United Nations to investigate because Department of Defense and CIA investigators have too many conflicts of interest.
"They had their chance for five years and they lied," he said. "So we're going to someone who has the power to investigate and no reason to lie."
Originally Published, December 10, 1996, Belleville News Democrat,
(c) 1996 Belleville News-Democrat, Belleville, Ill.
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