US Military Failing to Treat, Or Even Track, Exposure to Chemical Weapons

Home / US Military Failing to Treat, Or Even Track, Exposure to Chemical Weapons

The Pentagon has failed to adequately treat—or even track—over 600 U.S. service members who report that they were exposed to degraded chemical weapons agents while they were deployed to Iraq after the 2003 invasion, the New York Times revealed Friday.

The report—which references long-documented chemical arms stockpiles developed by Saddam Hussein’s government during the 1980s in collaboration with the United States and other western states—reveals that, in addition to Iraqi and Iranian civilians, U.S. service members have likely been placed in harm’s way with little recourse.

The chemical weapons stockpiles referenced in the article are not the same as the non-existent “weapons of mass destruction (WMDs)” former President George W. Bush used to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq, of which Bush and top aides told nearly one-thousand documented lies.

The Times article is a follow-up to a previous investigation, published in October, which disclosed 17 cases of service members’ injuries due to contact with sarin or a sulfur mustard agent and revealed that the U.S. military had suppressed information about the exposure. Since the October investigation, hundreds of service members have reported to the military that they believe they were exposed, according to a review of Pentagon data ordered by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the Times reported Friday.


The chemical weapons were supplied to Iraq during the 1980s—a time when the U.S. and other western nations backed Saddam Hussein’s program to develop Iraq’s chemical arms program to aid in the war with Iran. As Murtaza Hussain points out in The Intercept, the United States has long been aware of the degraded arms’ existence and location.

The Times report does not investigate the vast impact of these chemical weapons on Iraqi or Iranian civilians or combatants, which includes at least 50,000 Iranian casualties and lingering public health impacts.

Furthermore, it does not address direct use of toxic weapons by the U.S. in Iraq, including depleted uranium in the 1991 Gulf War and chemical weapon white phosphorous used in the 2004 U.S. attack on Fallujah. Iraqi civil society organizations have repeatedly warned of the dangers presented to local populations by U.S. weapons, including high rates of cancer and birth defects.

Meanwhile, analysts warn that hawkish forces are seizing on the Times’ new reporting of the chemical weapons to retroactively justify the 2003 invasion. “The fact that people thoroughly invested in supporting the war apparently had no idea about this is in many ways emblematic of their complete cluelessness about the country which they helped destroy,” wrote Murtaza Hussain.

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