A Senate Banking Committee probe blames chemical weapons for causing some cases of "gulf war syndrome" - but the military says it has no proof of any such attacks.
Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, a committee member, blasted the military for discounting eyewitness reports of gas attacks for lack of scientific confirmation."Just because you didn't find any evidence of chemical agents causing the symptoms experienced by veterans, it does not mean that they don't exist. We have eye witness accounts that say that they do," Bennett told Pentagon officials at a hearing.
The committee's report said symptoms of the mysterious gulf war syndrome - fatigue, concentration problems, joint pains and skin rashes - are consistent with problems caused by exposure to low levels of nerve or mustard agent. The levels may have been too small to be found by chemical weapons detectors in the field.
The banking committee is conducting the review because it oversees foreign trade, and has studied the export of chemicals and biological materials that helped Iraq make chemical and biological weapons.
The staff of committee chairman Donald Riegle, D-Mich., interviewed numerous soldiers who believed they were gassed, and found several stories of missile attacks followed by gas alarms, strange smells and symptoms of gas exposure.
It said about 1,400 chemical sensor alarms occurred during the war among American troops. But more sensitive monitoring devices used after alarms sounded failed to confirm the presence of chemical arms. So the military concluded they were false alarms.
Bennett said, "To say all the explosions were sonic booms and all the alarms were false alarms and all the illness is coming from some other source is just not going to cut it."
Committee members called for more work and openness by the Pentagon to solve the mystery of what is causing the illnesses.
"The government has a responsibility to tell the truth to its citizens. I come from a state where we have a group of people called `downwinders' because they were exposed to radiation from the atmospheric tests of nuclear weapons . . . and as a result are now victims of cancer. They were told it was just coincidental."
"Clearly the government lied to our citizens. . . . We now confront the same type of circumstance (here)," he said.
"I need to know how I explain this phenomenon to those gulf war veterans who are suffering from unexplained symptoms. If it is a result of activity on the part of our enemies in the gulf war . . . we need to know as quickly, openly and completely as we can."