Can The Incidental Killing Of Military Doctors Never Be Excessive – It was in August 2008 near Taji, Iraq. They had just exploded a pile of old Iraqi artillery shells buried by a murky lake. The explosion, which was part of an effort to destroy ammunition that could be used in makeshift bombs, revealed more grenades.
Two munitions disposal technicians entered the hole. Water from the lake seeped in. One of them, specialist Andrew T. Goldman, noticed a pungent odor, something he said he had never smelled before.
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Can The Incidental Killing Of Military Doctors Never Be Excessive
He picked up the grenade. Oil paste was leaking from the crack. “It doesn’t look like pond water,” said his team leader, Staff Sgt. Eric J. Duling.
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The specialist wiped the shell with chemical detection paper. It turned red – indicating sulfur mustard, a chemical warfare agent designed to burn a victim’s airways, skin and eyes.
Five years after President George W. Bush sent troops to Iraq, those troops entered a vast but largely secret chapter in America’s long and bitter involvement in Iraq.
Between 2004 and 2011, American and American-trained Iraqi troops repeatedly encountered and were injured at least six times by chemical weapons left over from years earlier under Saddam Hussein.
In total, the U.S. military secretly reported finding about 5,000 chemical warheads, grenades or aerial bombs, according to interviews with dozens of participants, Iraqi and U.S. officials and heavily redacted intelligence documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
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The United States went to war declaring that it had to destroy an active program of weapons of mass destruction. Instead, American troops gradually found and eventually suffered the remnants of long-abandoned programs built in close cooperation with the West.
The New York Times found 17 U.S. service members and seven Iraqi police officers exposed to nerve or mustard agents after 2003. U.S. officials said the actual number of troops exposed was slightly higher, but the official government count was secret.
Andrew T. Goldman in North Topsail Beach, NC In August 2008, Mr. Goldman was part of a team near Taji, Iraq, attempting to destroy munitions that could be used in makeshift bombs. As he held the cracked shell, he noticed a strange smell. Tyler Hicks / The New York Times
The secret fits the pattern. Since the beginning of the war, the extent of the United States’ encounter with chemical weapons in Iraq has not been publicly shared or widely disseminated within the military. The encounters have troubling implications now that the Islamic State, a Qaeda splinter group, controls much of the territory where the weapons were found.
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The US government withheld information about its discoveries even from the soldiers it sent into harm’s way and from military doctors. Government insiders, victims and participants, said soldiers in some of the war’s most dangerous positions received proper medical care and official recognition of their injuries.
Eric J. Duling at his home in Niceville, Florida. The cache that contaminated his explosives disposal team in 2008 was not the first discovery of chemical weapons in war. Tyler Hicks / The New York Times
“I felt more like a guinea pig than a wounded soldier,” said the former Army sergeant, who suffered mustard burns in 2007 and was denied hospital treatment and medical evacuation to the United States despite pleas from his commander.
Congress was also only partially informed, while soldiers and officers were instructed to remain silent or to report falsely about what they found. “‘Nothing significant’ is what I should have said,” said Jarrod Lampier, a recently retired Army major who was present at the biggest chemical weapons discovery of the war: more than 2,400 nerve agent missiles discovered in 2006. the former area of the Republican Guard.
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Jarrod L. Taylor, a former Army sergeant in disposing of mustard gas shells that burned two soldiers in his infantry company, joked about “wounds that never happened” from “things that didn’t exist.” According to him, the public has been deceived for ten years. “I love hearing, ‘Oh, there were no chemical weapons in Iraq,'” he said. “There were enough of them.
Between 2004 and 2011, US forces in Iraq encountered thousands of chemical munitions. In several cases, soldiers were exposed to chemicals.
Sources: Wikileaks and New York Times coverage (location of chemical munitions); Institute for the Study of War (Area of Islamic State Control)
SOME EXPOSURES DETAILED IN THIS ARTICLE MAY 1, 2004 Two soldiers exposed to sarin from a grenade near Baghdad’s Yarmouk neighborhood. 2 SUMMER 2006 More than 2,400 rockets containing nerve agents were found in this former Republican Guard compound. JULY 3, 2008 Six Marines exposed to mustard agent from an artillery shell in an abandoned bunker. AUGUST 4, 2008 Five US soldiers were exposed to a mustard agent while destroying a weapons cache. 5 2010 OR EARLY 2011 Hundreds of mustard rounds were discovered in the container of this Iraqi security complex.
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Rear Admiral John Kirby, a spokesman for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, declined to address the specific incidents detailed in the Times investigation or discuss the medical care and denial of medals for the soldiers who were exposed. But he said the military’s health care system and awarding practices were under review and that Mr. Hagel expected the services to address any deficiencies.
“The secretary believes that all service members deserve the best possible medical and administrative support,” he said. “He is of course concerned by any suggestion or allegation that they have not received such support. He expects leaders at all levels to seek to correct mistakes when and where they happen.”
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Mr. Bush insisted that Mr. Hussein was hiding an active weapons of mass destruction program, against international will and at the world’s risk. UN inspectors said they could find no evidence for these claims.
Then, during the long occupation, American troops began to encounter old chemical munitions in hidden caches and roadside bombs. Typically 155-millimeter artillery shells or 122-millimeter rockets, these were remnants of a weapons program that Iraq had put into production in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq War.
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All were made before 1991, participants said. Dirty, rusty or corroded, much of it could not be easily identified as chemical weapons. Some were empty, although many still contained a strong mustard agent or residual sarin. Most could not be used as designed, and when they ruptured, they dispersed the chemicals over a limited area, according to those who collected most of them.
Case by case, participants said, the analysis of those warheads and shells reaffirmed intelligence failures. First, the US government didn’t find what it was looking for at the start of the war, then it failed to prepare its soldiers and medical corps for the old weapons it found.
As Iraq has been rocked once again by violence and past security gains crumbled amid Sunni-Shiite bloodshed and the rise of the Islamic State, this long-hidden chronicle illuminates the lingering dangers of the country’s abandoned chemical weapons.
Many chemical weapons incidents have clustered around the ruins of the Muthanna State Facility, the center of Iraqi chemical production in the 1980s.
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Since June, the compound has been held by the Islamic State, the most radical and violent jihadist group in the world. In a letter sent to the United Nations this summer, the Iraqi government said about 2,500 corroded chemical missiles remained at the site and that Iraqi officials witnessed intruders looting the equipment before militants turned off surveillance cameras.
Soldiers in chemical protective gear, including Sgt. Eric J. Duling and Specialist Andrew T. Goldman examine suspected chemical munitions at a site near Camp Taji, Iraq, on August 16, 2008. The New York Times
The United States government says the abandoned weapons no longer pose a threat. But nearly a decade of wartime experience has shown that Iraq’s old chemical munitions often remain dangerous when converted to local attacks in makeshift bombs, as insurgents have done since 2004.
Those involved in the chemical weapons discoveries said the United States suppressed knowledge of the findings for a number of reasons, including because the government bristled at yet another admission that it was wrong. “They needed to say something that after 9/11, Saddam used chemical weapons,” Mr. Lampier said. “And that was all from before 1991.
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Others pointed to further embarrassments. In five of the six incidents in which soldiers were injured by chemical agents, the munitions appeared to have been designed in the United States, manufactured in Europe and loaded into chemical production lines built in Iraq by Western companies.
Staff Sgt. Eric J. Duling, left, Specialist Andrew T. Goldman, far right, and another member of the munitions disposal team treated for chemical exposure in August 2008. via Andrew T. Goldman
Nonproliferation officials said the Pentagon’s handling of many of the recovered warheads and shells appeared to violate the Chemical Weapons Convention. Under this convention, chemical weapons must be secured, reported and destroyed in a demanding and time-consuming manner.
The US government did not find what it was looking for at the start of the war, then failed to prepare its soldiers and medical corps for antiquated weapons.
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