Originally created 02/28/97

Gulf war chemical logs missing



WASHINGTON - More than three-quarters of the chemical weapons logs kept during the Persian Gulf War are missing, far more than the eight days' worth previously disclosed, the Pentagon reported Thursday.

A computer virus imported by an officer who brought some computer games to gulf war headquarters may have wiped out half the logs, the report said. Two sets of the logs on disk and a paper copy shipped to U.S. Central Command headquarters in Florida after the war appear to have been lost from a safe in an office move. A third disk set and hard copy were lost from a safe at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.

Gulf war veterans concerned about unexplained illnesses that have afflicted them since the war are anxious to know whether the logs mention chemical weapons releases. Many believe chemical weapons - which the Pentagon says were not used by Iraq during the war - caused their illnesses. And some veterans charge the Pentagon with covering up the full release of records.

"The Pentagon has botched not only the handling of the records but also the investigation of the handling of the records," said Paul Sullivan of the National Gulf War Resource Council, a veterans' group.

Matt Puglisi, director of gulf war issues for the American Legion and a veteran of the 1991 conflict, said that having been in the military he can understand the bureaucratic foul-ups that could lead to the loss of records.

"But there's certainly the appearance of a cover-up and that needs to be investigated aggressively," Mr. Puglisi said.

{jump}The new Pentagon report, disclosed at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, concludes that only 36 out of about 200 pages of the logs can be found. "This expectation is based on an assumption that one page of log was written for each day in theater from August 1990 to March 1991," the report said.

Previously, the Pentagon had said it was unable to locate records from a critical eight-day period in March 1991 immediately after the gulf war, when Army demolition teams blew up Iraqi storage bunkers now believed to have contained chemical warheads. More recently, Bernard Rostker, the Pentagon official in charge with gulf war illness issues, has warned that much more than eight days appeared to be missing. Thursday's report confirms Mr. Rostker's statements.

The logs were kept throughout the gulf war by a nuclear, chemical and biological weapons watch desk intended to track any events relating to these weapons.

Testifying Thursday, retired Army Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the gulf war coalition commander, said he had no reports of chemical weapons releases.

"And believe me, we were looking," Mr. Schwarzkopf said. He dismissed the idea that chemical weapons caused gulf war illnesses because, "we're talking about something where one milligram on your skin is fatal and we never had a single report of a serious illness or fatality among 540,000 troops."

Coalition leaders actually hoped they would catch Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein turning loose chemical weapons to help them highlight his brutality, Mr. Schwarzkopf said.

Mr. Schwarzkopf offered several reasons why Saddam was unwilling or unable to use chemical weapons: coalition bombing seriously damaged Iraqi chemical munitions factories; the only Iraqi means of unleashing chemical weapons, artillery, was devastated by coalition air power; the United States threatened massive retaliation if Iraq used chemical weapons; and Saddam, the only Iraqi who could authorize their use, was cut off from front line forces by bomb damage to his communications.