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Pentagon says it hid drug risk from Gulf War troops

gulf war September 26, 1996
Web posted at: 5:30 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Pentagon said Thursday it made a "conscious decision" not to tell U.S. troops that they were being given a drug to protect them from chemical weapons attacks.

The drug, which the Pentagon called "investigational," was intended to help ward off the effects of chemical weapons that the U.S. feared might be used by Iraq during the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

Pentagon spokesman Capt. Michael Doubleday said the military agency decided not to inform troops that they were taking the drug to keep Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from finding out what chemical agents the United States was prepared to defend against. Had he known, he could have adjusted the nerve agents in his chemical weapons, Doubleday said.


"I believe there was a conscious decision made at the time not to tell the troops and the reason that that was done was because there was enormous concern at the time of raising any specter, any concern on an intelligence level with the Iraqis that we were prepared to defend against certain kinds of chemical weapons," he said.

However, Doubleday added, in retrospect he thought the department should have told soldiers more about the drugs they were taking and their side effects. "Had they been known to the individual that had been administered the drug, (the side effects) would have been of less concern," he said.

The Pentagon says only one-tenth of 1 percent of soldiers had symptoms serious enough to discontinue the anti-nerve gas agent, pyridostigmine bromide. Side effects include gastrointestinal problems such as increased flatus, loose stools, abdominal cramps and nausea.


Of the 700,000 Americans who served in the Persian Gulf War, thousands came back reporting a wide variety of ailments. Those include fatigue, memory loss, or respiratory, digestive and skin problems.

A number of Gulf War veterans have also said they believe their health problems stemmed from chemical pollutants, such as germ warfare inoculations, fumes from oil fires set off by Iraq or possible chemical or biological attacks.

Although the U.S. government maintains it has found no evidence Iraq used its arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, the Pentagon admitted in June that thousands of U.S. troops may have been unknowingly exposed to chemicals, including sarin and mustard gas, when they destroyed an ammunition depot in Iraq after the Gulf War.

Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.

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