A lawsuit on behalf of over 100,000 Gulf War veterans has the Bush administration on edge and businesses running for cover.
The class action suit names 11 companies and 33 banks alleged to have helped Iraq with its chemical weapons program in the 1980's, despite knowledge Saddam Hussein was actively using WMD against both Iranians and his own people.
At the time, Reagan's Middle East envoy was one Donald Rumsfeld, hard at work opening doors for Hussein's regime to purchase millions in aircraft, hardware and other potential weaponry.
But after the invasion of Kuwait bumped Hussein from Pentagon friend to the "Most Wanted" list, coalition forces got stuck with the nasty task of dealing with the same chemical weapons that businesses had profited by helping Iraq amass.
Unfortunately, most Gulf War troops didn't realize that in destroying Hussein's WMD, they would also be endangering their own lives.
In the 1991 air war against Iraq, coalition forces bombed weapons production facilities and ammunition dumps, subjecting themselves to widespread and unexpected fallout; in one disastrous case, over 100,000 service members were exposed to sarin nerve gas when the US military improperly blew up chemical weapons sites in Khamisiyah.
Today, it is estimated that up to half of the 697,000 Gulf War veterans are sick, many suffering from a variety of symptoms collectively known as Gulf War Illness. The US Department of Defense (DOD) has been repeatedly criticized for mishandling the veterans' health complaints, often citing lack of diagnosis as justification for withholding treatment and compensation.
However, recent medical research has established causal links between exposure to chemical warfare agents, Gulf War Illness and birth defects among veterans' children.
It's those links attorneys Gary Pitts and Kenneth McCallion will address. Maintaining "companies and banks have not yet had any negative consequences for helping Saddam Hussein build his chemical weapons of mass destruction," Pitts and McCallion claim the lawsuit is not only "to seek just compensation for the poisoned veterans and their birth-defected children, it is to deter companies from engaging in this kind of behavior in the future."
And in light of today's conflict in Iraq, the lawsuit's implications are both broad-reaching and ominous. At least 100 Gulf War II troops have already contracted a "mystery" pneumonia-like illness the US Department of Defense can't properly diagnose, and the families of soldiers based in Iraq are demanding answers.
Michael Neusche describes how his 20-year-old son Josh, a former track star from Missouri, wrote home from active duty in Iraq on June 26 saying he would be doing a secretive "hauling" mission. By July 1 Josh had fallen into a coma; the military promptly reclassified Josh as "medically retired," thus stripping him and his family of entitlements, and on July 12th Josh died from what the Pentagon called "other causes."
In a similar case, Zeferino E. Colungo, a 20-year-old from Texas, died after battling an unexplained pneumonia-like illness. In a recent letter to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the Colungo family says, "We deserve to know why a healthy young man who was supposedly screened and determined fit for deployment would suddenly die. It is our right to receive honest answers."
It's clear the DOD has some explaining to do; GW II troops must not be forced to receive the same medical run-around suffered by their predecessors.
The lawsuit on behalf of Gulf War veterans, however, ups the ante considerably--this time not only the DOD is under fire. By targeting companies and banks for compensation, veterans are sending the weapons industry a clear warning: it's getting dangerous to profit by helping dubious governments produce WMD.