Deserted Victims: The Soldiers who Survived History’s “Most Toxic War”

May 5th, 2003 - by admin

by Felicity Arbuthnot – The Ecologist

(September 22, 2000) – Professor Malcolm Hooper is emeritus professor of medicinal chemistry at the University of Sunderland, an eminent adviser who sits on the British Government’s independent panel on Gulf War illnesses, and is chief scientific adviser to the Gulf Veterans” Association. With these credentials, his analysis of Gulf War syndrome, one would imagine, should make the Government sit up and take notice.

If, that is, it says what they want to hear. Yet Professor Hooper’s new report — entitled “The Most Toxic War in Modern Military History” — is a strong condemnation of the newly announced governmental investigation into the effects of the war on the many ill and dying veterans.

“There is no concern,” he writes, “with diagnosis or treatment of Gulf War veterans — the research (which is being undertaken on marmosets) will throw no light on Gulf War illness.” Results are not expected until 2003. Yet Gulf War veterans “have died at the rate of one a week since the end of the Gulf War.” Recently a north of England coroner also stated that an average case of one veteran a week who committed suicide came before his court.

One sick Edinburgh-based Gulf veteran with 13 years’ service with the 1st Battalion of the Royal Scots told The Ecologist: “The unit is ravaged with Gulf War illnesses. An entire platoon (36 men) are unwell and four friends who worked from the same vehicle have cancer. My illness is almost as long as my service.” Veteran MP Tam Dalyell is pursuing the matter “with particular vigor” with the British Government. He himself once served in the Royal Scots.

According to Hooper, there is a battery of potential causes of the syndrome. These include experimental vaccinations which breached established guidelines, exposure to a variety of toxins damaging to both man and the environment, depleted uranium, chemical warfare agents, biological warfare agents and extensive exposure to oil, smoke and chemicals from oil-well fires.

Studies by the MOD and US Department of Defense dismissing health detriments resulting from the fires are: “bad science, flawed, and amount to a cover-up,” says Professor Hooper. Exposure to oil and smoke from the oil-well fires compounded health effects: “providing a deadly brew of potent and damaging chemicals including carcinogens.”

The presence of depleted uranium (DU) in the bodies of Gulf veterans after nine years: “indicates a prolonged radiological exposure… the consequences of such cumulative radiotoxic dosage is probably considerable.”

Back in 1990, the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority put together a report on the potential environmental impact of DU weapons. They were so concerned by the results that they sent a copy of their findings to the Government. They warned that, in their estimation, if 50 tons of residual DU dust remained “in the region” there could be half a million extra cancers by the end of the century. (1) Estimates of residual dust now range from the Pentagon’s 325 tons to other scientific bodies who put the figure as high as 900 tons.

The DU weapons used in the Gulf War included 120, 105, 30, 25 and 20mm rounds for use by tanks, aircraft, naval cannon and machine guns. The cruise missiles used to attack major sites in and around Baghdad and major cities carried DU as counterweight to stabilize flight — this would also burn on impact. An estimated 74 per cent of the larger DU weapons containing DU penetrators missed their targets: “representing a considerable radiological and toxicological hazard to the local environment. People and animals will be affected, as will the water supply. Children playing with these penetrators would be particularly vulnerable,” says Hooper. (2)

“Casualties brought from the battlefield, particularly Iraqi wounded, would also bring DU dust in their clothing, raising the possibility of contamination of personnel in hospital units.” A notable pattern of Gulf War illness amongst veterans has been the high incidence of crippling and debilitating symptoms amongst medical personnel who were not in the war zone, but based in medical units in Saudia Arabia to where casualties were brought.

When I was visiting Basra General Hospital in February 1998, a doctor drew my attention to a farmer with a virulent form of bone cancer, which had spread, they said, with unprecedented speed. With no history of cancer in his family and previously the fittest of beings, they had tried to piece together a cause. During the Gulf War he had found numerous bodies of Iraqi soldiers and civilians and had made it his mission to collect them, load them into the back of his pick-up truck and take them to the authorities for indentification and proper burial. Both his legs had been amputated in an effort to stop the spread, but his spine and the rest of his body had become infected. He died shortly afterwards.

“Everyone in or near the theatre of operations — military personnel, civilians, men, women, children and future generations yet unborn — are at risk, as is the whole environment,” says Malcolm Hooper.

The soaring cancers and chilling birth deformities in the Basra region of Iraq, which was in the eye of Operation Desert Storm, are well recorded. No one who has visited the area can escape the conclusion that something terrible has gone wrong since 1991. Dr Jenan Hussein at Basra Maternity and Pediatric Hospital has kept a photographic record of birth defects since late 1991: babies without eyes; babies full term but part-formed; internal organs grotesquely adhered to the stomach and back; foreshortened limbs — no limbs; no genitalia, no brain, no nose, no trachea… no head.

The US investigation into Gulf War sickness, also addressed, has come under fire from experts, with one Congressional report finding: “…efforts on Gulf war issues by the Department of Defense (DOD), Veterans” Administration (VA) Central Intelligence Agency and Food and Drug Administration to be irreparably flawed… efforts hobbled by institutional inertia that mistakes motion for progress… efforts plagued by arrogant incuriosity and a pervasive myopia that sees lack of evidence as proof. We find approaches to research, diagnosis and treatment unlikely to yield answers to veterans” “life or death” questions in the forseeable or distant future.”3

A toxic onslaught of mind-bending dimensions on veterans, the people and environment of the region includes a range of insecticides including organophosphates, associated with chronic neurological damage in farmers when used in sheep dip and organochlorines including lindane, “a known nerve poison causing convulsions, kidney and liver damage” and damage to heart and lungs. “These are now widely dispersed in the (Gulf) environment — organochlorines have a 50-year life and organophosphates are long-lived and resist washing — the persistence of chemical and biological agents is well known.” Further, says Professor Hooper: “other agents used cause joint, muscle and nerve damage; the neurotoxicity of the compounds cannot be exaggerated.”

Wide contamination also resulted: “from leaking containers and local supplies of insecticides buried because of their aggressive side effects.”

Further exposures were from Iraqi chemical weapons, despite: “continuous denial by the Pentagon, DOD, VA and MOD” states Professor Hooper. This in spite of “overwhelming evidence of chemical detections… each of nearly 14,000 alarms went off on average two to three times daily.” They were written off “in a variety of explanations – one favored by the MOD is that of a plane flying over the area with a leaking fuel tank!” Another, echoed last year in the Balkans, was that the alarms were inaccurate “because they were made in Czechoslovakia.”

However, “a US Marine Corps survey of 1,600 chemical defense specialists who served in the Gulf War, stated that 221 respondents (about 13 per cent) reported some contact with or detection of Iraqi chemical weapons during the ground war.” A Major Michael Johnson reported his unit detecting sulfur mustard in the soil in the Sabaniyah district, while a British soldier received chemical burns in Sabaniyah, Southern Iraq, of the kind used in Scud missiles. Exposures, says Professor Hooper, were from nerve agents, mustard gases/agents, lewisite — another WW1 blister agent with extensive chemical and biological properties — an organo-arsenical compound, and hydrogen cyanide, phosgene and its derivatives. The nerve agents, combined with the OPs constitute a “cholinergic triple whammy.” Interaction between the various compounds can increase the detrimental effects to the entire nervous system up to 100-fold.

“Chemical fallout appears to have come from three sources: aerial bombardment of Iraqi field munitions depots, production and storage sites; explosive demolition of munitions bunkers by ground forces, as in Khamisiyah; sporadic and uncoordinated (Iraqi) use of chemical weapons such as in Scud and Frog missiles. Over 55 specific chemical weapons detections or exposure incidents and their locations were identified between 13 January and 26 March 1991… The Pentagon has now conceded that the Czech detections were valid and credible. Not so the MOD which still insists that there was no chemical exposure.” Scud missiles were explained away “as sonic booms — but still the alarms went off.”

Intelligence reports had led coalition leaders to believe Iraq had biological weapons including anthrax, plague, botulinum toxin and tularaemia (“rabbit fever”) — stockpiled by the USA between 1971—1973 — then sold to Iraq. All agents: “have varying capacity to kill by damaging the major sites of the body,” however: “there were no detection devices available for rapid detection of biological weapons” it is thus “impossible to know what exposures, if any, occurred… any exposure will take time to emerge”


The 656 oil-well fires — “of which 94 were detonated by coalition bombing” — exposed all in the region to a variety of toxins and carcinogens — a massive pall remained suspended over Kuwait for some two years. Deposits from the smoke were found in South America and the Himalayas. The fires presented: “a major health risk.”

Professor Hooper is demanding a public inquiry and an end to the: “bad science, spurious conclusions, tin ears, cold hearts, closed minds and the belittled, misunderstood and misrepresented” plight of Gulf War veterans by the authorities. Such an inquiry would also shed light on the epidemic of illnesses and deformities mirrored in the region since Operation Desert Storm.

Felicity Arbuthnot is an Iraqi specialist, focusing on social and environmental issues. She provided the research for John Pilger’s recent award-winning film “Paying the Price — Killing the Children of Iraq.”

1 Author interview, April 1993.

2 “Depleted Uranium Munitions: New Weapons of indiscriminate and Mutually Assured Destruction” A Paper presented by Professor Hooper, Helsinki, 23rd October 1999 as part of the United Nations Peace Celebrations.

3. D Burton, Second Report by the Committee on Government Report and Oversight, Union Calendar No.228, November 1997.

From The Ecologist,