Gulf War veterans sue banks, firms over chemicals
They allege liability for ailments linked to service in 1991
From Phil Hirschkorn and Deborah Feyerick
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Veterans of the first U.S.-led war with Iraq filed a lawsuit in federal court in Brooklyn on Tuesday alleging that companies that exported chemicals to Iraq in the 1980s, and the banks that financed those deals, are liable for illnesses the U.S. veterans sustained from exposure to chemical weapons stockpiles that were blown up during the 1991 war.
The veterans are among the more than 100,000 U.S. soldiers who have symptoms including extreme fatigue, memory loss, and bone and joint pain, which are often referred to as Gulf War syndrome or Gulf War illness.
The defendants are 11 companies that the suit accuses of supplying Iraq with precursors for chemical weapons, and 33 banks that provided letters of credit for Iraq's purchases according to Iraq's declarations to U.N. weapons inspectors.
Plaintiffs attorneys acquired the never-made-public documents last year from Iraq and showed them to CNN.
They list banks that provided letters of credit for Iraq and more than 50 suppliers of chemical precursors that could have been used to manufacture mustard gas, sarin and VX.
"Those documents reveal which companies were involved, what they sold -- and the veterans have unfinished business with these companies," attorney Gary Pitts said.
"They knew or should have known that the chemicals that were being sold were being used a part of the weapons of mass destruction program of the Iraqi regime," attorney Kenneth McCallion said.
All the companies and banks sued are based outside the United States.
Although the companies have been previously sued in state court in Texas, the banks are new to the class-action litigation.
The banks sued are mainly based in Germany, Italy, France, Japan, England, the Netherlands, Kuwait, and Pakistan, and include such well-known firms as Deutsche Bank, Banca Nazionale Del Lavoro, Barclays Bank, Credit Lyonnais, and Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi.
None of the banks reached by CNN would comment on the suit.
A number of the companies previously denied any connections to Iraq weapons programs.
'Defining moment in my life'
Former U.S. Marine Capt. Daniel Hammond, 37, from Chicago, Illinois, is among the plaintiffs.
He was deployed to the gulf in late December 1990 and returned home the following March.
"Three months out of my life -- it was almost a footnote, but it's become the defining moment in my life," Hammond said.
Hammond, a high school gymnast and a college diver, was among the first troops to cross into Kuwait in February 1991, expelling the Iraqi forces that had invaded the country.
"We had vehicles with us that could detect the chemical weapons, and those alarms went off five or six times," Hammond said.
His physical ailments forced him to quit business school a few years ago and left him unable to hold a job. He's been unemployed for eight months.
"In the last five years, I've worked 10 different jobs, trying to find something that I can do," he said.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages and medical monitoring.
All of the defendants or their subsidiaries conduct business in New York, which is also home to a number of plaintiffs.
Raymond Bordonaro, 65, a former New York police officer from Long Island, called up as an Army reservist, was 52 years old when he was sent to the gulf.
The chief warrant officer was deployed to Kuwait to remove enemy artillery.
Since returning home, he has suffered memory loss and other ailments.
For him, the suit is about "vindication more than anything."
Both he and Hammond are among the 161,000 Gulf War veterans receiving disability payments from the Veterans Administration.
"I'm looking for these companies to pay for their dirty deeds," Bordonaro said.
The veterans' first suit on the matter is pending in Texas state court.
Attorneys filed the new suit with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, in part because the court has handled similar cases in the past, such as settlements for Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange, and for Holocaust survivors who sought to reclaim inheritances left in Swiss banks.
Pitts said the U.S. justice system can also hold Saddam Hussein's former suppliers and financiers accountable.
"They have to pay for what they've done or they'll do the same thing in the future with some other tyrant who has money," he said.