The Gulf War

The Debate

At the root of the controversy over Gulf War Syndrome are a few scientific, medical and factual questions.
FRONTLINE sponsored a debate between two leading experts with different perspectives on the issues: Jim Tuite III, former lead investigator of a U.S. Senate committee's inquiry into Gulf War Syndrome, who points to Iraqi nerve agents as the explanation for many veterans' sickness; and Jim Ware, environmental statistician at the Harvard University School of Public Health, who tilts toward battlefield stress as a more likely cause.
An edited transcript of their in-depth discussion on Dec. 18, 1996, is printed below, covering five principal areas.
Also available are excerpts of Real-Audio exchanges from the debate between Ware and Tuite.

How forthcoming has the Defense Department
been with information relating to Gulf War sickness?

Ware: Our report spoke to the fact that we felt that it would have been helpful to get more complete information in a more timely way from the Defense Department.

Which information?

Ware: Information about ongoing research activities and about the planning process at the Defense Department and so on.

"The Pentagon has not been
forthcoming at all. In fact,
every acknowledgment they've
made of each and every
exposure they've made kicking
and screaming, each and
every step of the way." ... Tuite

Tuite The Pentagon has not been forthcoming at all. In fact, every acknowledgment they've made of each and every exposure, they've made kicking and screaming, each and every step of the way. In March of '94 we sent a request to the Pentagon, requesting a whole series of information, including all information on any chemical and biological warfare agent detections, exposures and so on, including a request for the CENTCOM log. We got a letter back saying that CENTCOM couldn't identify anything called a log. And then we got a letter on May 4th of 1994 from three secretaries of the Administration, Secretary Perry, Secretary Brown and Secretary Shalala, that says there is no classified information that would indicate any exposures to, or detections of, chemical or biological weapons agents. That statement is blatantly false. It's false based on information that has existed during the war, information that has now been released in part through FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests, other information that's on the Gulf Link, over 10,000 reports, I believe. And some of the documents which will provide, or which provide the historical record of the chemical and biological and radiological exposures of the veterans during the war, are now being written off by the Pentagon as lost or missing due to careless handling. These were classified documents and that kind of an admission is an admission that a criminal offense may have occurred - i.e. in the careless handling - and that right now the reaction to it is: so what?

How do you explain the Pentagon's
record in losing certain chemical detection logs and in, allegedly,
not being forthcoming with other information?

Ware: I can't offer any insight into how it took place. I know that the effect has been to undermine the confidence of the public in the information that we have and to raise concern that there may be other information that we don't have. So it's not had a positive impact, that's for sure, on the trust of the public in the information that's available to them.

Tuite I would only add that I don't believe that during the war the commanders intentionally withheld information about exposures that troops were sustaining, believing that they were causing harm. I think that that's a doctrinal flaw that needs to be corrected. But after the war when the Pentagon was asked to admit or to provide evidence that would indicate that it may be responsible for tens of thousands of casualties as a result of a mistake that they may have made, there was a tremendous institutional reluctance to provide the kind of information, because it would have been catastrophic to the reputation of the institution itself and of individuals who were credited with winning the war. That is why I believe very, very seriously that the Pentagon cannot, or the Department of Defense cannot, be an objective investigator of this issue.

You imply a conspiracy of some kind?

REAL AUDIO Tuite Many of the documents that we requested are computerized. So a simple search could have been done to provide a quick response to the documents that the committee had requested. You know, when you talk about a cover-up, yes, they lied to Congress. Yes, they withheld information from Congress. And yes, I believe that they were aware that these low-level exposures occurred. I think it's very difficult for them at this point to acknowledge that there is literature, for example, that doesn't take their position that low-level exposures may be harmful. It would be difficult for anybody. There is something called cognitive constraint. And it's when you're looking at a particular object or a particular set of facts with an end in mind, because this is the way you've always looked at it and this is the way you're going to look at it. The problem is, is that they're not being very open. But if you're asking me if there was a cover-up of information, the answer is unequivocally yes, and there is now evidence that documents were destroyed as well.

What is that evidence?

Tuite The evidence is, that the Pentagon says that the documents, one of the specific documents that we requested back in March of 1994 and which was partially declassified in January of 1995, they're saying that the remainder of the document is now missing.

What document is that?

Tuite That is the CENTCOM nuclear, chemical and biological warfare log.

Ware: I, myself, most of my experience with working with my colleagues, both in academia and in government, is that individuals are trying to do well. So I believe that conspiracy is an over-used explanation, in my opinion, that more often it's lack of information, mistakes, scrambling to catch up and so on.

Syndrome? || Chemical Weapons? || Vaccines? || Stress? || Cover-up?

back to the syndrome

THE GULF WAR | Maps | Chronology | Weapons | Feedback

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation