by Thomas D. Williams / Hartford Courant –
(August 20, 2003 ) — Sixteen veterans from the Persian Gulf War filed suit Tuesday in US District Court in Brooklyn, NY, against 11 chemical companies and 33 banks from throughout the world that allegedly helped Iraq construct and support its extensive chemical warfare program.
The suit alleges that evidence shows the companies “built Saddam Hussein’s nerve gas and mustard gas factories, supplied him with chemical weapons production equipment, and sold him the bulk chemical precursors used to make his chemical weapons.” It asks to become a class action on behalf of all veterans of the 1991 gulf war who can prove they became sick from chemical weapons’ fallout.
These companies and banks, the suit claims, are identified in the official written Iraqi disclosures given to the U.N. weapons inspectors after the war. They essentially expose Hussein’s procurement network for building his large chemical weapons arsenal, the complaint alleges. The foreign companies and banks all do business in New York.
The banks named in the suit include Deutsche Bank AG of Germany, Lloyds Bank of the United Kingdom, Credit Lyonnais of France, State Bank of India, Banca Roma of Italy, National Bank of Pakistan, Arab Bank of Jordan, Bank of Tokyo and Kuwait Commercial bank. The companies that the suit claims have sold chemicals or materials to Iraq are headquartered in France, Switzerland, Germany, Great Britain and the United States – ABB Lummus Global Inc. in Delaware.
The banks helped facilitate the sales of the chemicals by arranging finances and letters of credit between the companies and the Central Bank of Iraq, the fiscal facilitator for the Iraqi chemical producers, the suit alleges.
Thirty-six percent of the 581,000 retired veterans who served at the height of the gulf war have filed health government claims, while 22 percent of those filing claims either still have those health claims pending or have been denied benefits. More than 11,000 of the veterans, whose average age was 36 during the war, have died. The federal health figures were updated this year but date to last November.
The veterans’ exposures came from the chemical fallout blown over troops from allied bombings of Hussein’s chemical weapons production and storage facilities during the air war, the suit claims. In addition, the suit says, the veterans became sick from “the explosion of hundreds of captured and uninventoried Iraqi ammunition dumps in southeast Iraq during the brief time that coalition troops were in that area upon the liberation of Kuwait.”
During the ground war and after, US and allied forces destroyed large stores of chemical weapons. And as the battles progressed, thousands of military chemical alarms went off, causing soldiers to don chemical protective equipment. Since then, the US General Accounting Office and veterans’ advocates have criticized the lack of quality of the masks and chemical protective suits worn by US troops.
Two of the most controversial after-war explosions were at Khamisiyah, Iraq, on March 4 and 10, 1991. The Defense Department first estimated that 5,000 troops were exposed, and then increased the estimates repeatedly until the number rose to 100,000. Another GAO report said the number is much higher than that but gave no specific figure.
The Defense Department claimed the troops’ exposure to chemical warfare agents was too weak to have seriously harmed their health. And last year, the department disputed high death-rate figures for those troops cited by the Veterans Benefit Association.
After US forces bombed the Iraqi bunkers, the CIA admitted it had advance knowledge that the bunkers contained chemical warfare agents, but the information never filtered down to troops in the area. Most were not wearing gas masks and chemical suits.
The lawsuit, drafted by attorneys Gary Pitts, an Army National Guard veteran, and Kenneth McCallion, claims the companies named in the complaint “made large profits by helping Saddam Hussein make the nerve gas and mustard gas” to which the veterans were exposed.
A government study released more than a year ago said a sample of 10,423 veterans showed they had “a cluster of symptoms consistent with neurological impairment,” consistent with exposure to nerve gas.
Symptoms reported by the veterans include blurred vision, loss of balance or dizziness, tremors or shaking, and speech difficulty. The study was conducted by the Veterans Health Administration in the federal Department of Veterans Affairs and the George Washington University School of Public Health.
Medical research, the suit says, has likewise shown that mustard gas exposure causes birth defects and cancer.
The suit seeks compensation for the “poisoned veterans and their birth-defected children.”