Although the stockpiles of chlorine gas that everyone keeps stumbling across in Iraq were not the basis for the claims that Saddam was developing WMDs, they were (and are), by definition, weapons of mass destruction. The claim, at the time, was that Saddam was moving these stockpiles into neighboring Syria, but politicians and groups opposed to the war dismissed that possibility.
Even worse, of course, is that American troops were exposed to them during the Second Gulf War and that exposure was covered up. This potentially life-threatening information was kept secret by the Pentagon from investigators, other soldiers who could potentially be exposed and from medical doctors treating the soldiers. Many of these soldiers were denied treatment or even acknowledgement that they could possibly be in danger.
American soldiers in Iraq, as well as Iraqi forces, were exposed to chemical weapons after the 2003 invasion. According to the New York Times, “American troops reported finding approximately 5,000 chemical warheads, shells, or aviation bombs in the years following the 2003 invasion of Iraq. On at least six occasions, soldiers were wounded by those weapons, which had been manufactured before 1991. In all, the paper reported that 17 U.S. soldiers and seven Iraqi police officers were exposed to chemical agents during the war. The U.S. government said its number was slightly higher, but did not release a specific figure.”
The paper continues by saying that more than 2,400 chemical rockets, some containing sarin gas, were found at a former Republican Guard compound. The chemical weapons all appear to have been buried prior to the first Gulf War in 1991.
The Pentagon finally admitted that more than 600 American soldiers have been exposed to chemical agents while serving in Iraq. Many of these veterans are underwhelmed by the Department of Defense’s explanations.
“It’s too little, too late,” said a veteran who was exposed while destroying chemical artillery shells in 2008. “No one ever believed me. They were like, ‘Oh, that never happened.’”
Other soldiers have said they were issued “gag orders” to keep them from speaking about their exposure to chemical weapons. Some of the soldiers that have developed health issues from handling chemical shells had their concerns dismissed and left unattended.
Although the Pentagon has reopened an office for veterans to report possible exposure to chemical agents [1-800-497-6261], many are left thinking that it is simply not enough.
No matter what the politics of the situation, this situation needs to be investigated and the parties responsible for this short-sighted and dangerous policy should be held accountable. This represents the breaking of another trust between our government and our military.
No one will ever claim that our government is perfect or doesn’t make mistakes, but to allow the Department of Defense to follow the same pattern of denial, cover-up and apology that happened with the veterans exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War would be a grave mistake. One that we, as veterans, should not allow to happen.
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