Army Apologizes to Troops Exposed to US-Designed Chemical Weapons in Iraq

Originally published on March 27, 2015, at NationofChange.org

In response to a New York Times investigation, the undersecretary of the Army apologized this week for the military’s mishandling of more than 600 service members who reportedly suffered from chemical exposure in Iraq. After being exposed to potentially lethal amounts of sulfur mustard and sarin gas, US troops often received inadequate medical treatment, gag orders, and found themselves ineligible for Purple Heart medals. Due to the fact that many of the chemical weapons were American-designed artillery shells manufactured in European countries, the Pentagon neglected to inform the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence of the proliferation of dangerous chemical munitions being uncovered in Iraq.

On May 15, 2004, then-Staff Sgt. James Burns of the 752nd Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company and Pfc. Michael Yandell were exposed to sarin gas from a 152-millimeter binary sarin shell. After receiving substandard medical treatment, Sgt. Burns and Pfc. Yandell returned to the field and began suffering long-term symptoms of nerve agent exposure. Burns’ medical records from late 2004 described memory lapses, reading difficulties, problems with balance, and tingling in his legs.

“They put a gag order on all of us — the security detail, us, the clinic, everyone,” Burns recalled. “We were briefed to tell family members that we were exposed to ‘industrial chemicals,’ because our case was classified top secret.”

In July 2008, six Marines reported exposure to mustard gas from an artillery shell. On August 16, 2008, five soldiers had been exposed to mustard gas while destroying a weapons cache. The blisters on their skin were the size of their hands. In April 2010, seven Iraqi police officers became exposed to a dozen M110 mustard shells found near the Tigris River.

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Senate Torture Report Ignores CIA’s Most Brutal Crimes

Originally published on December 10, 2014, at NationofChange.org

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a scathing report condemning some of the abuses and torture committed by the CIA’s Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation (RDI) program, but failed to expose the CIA’s most heinous human rights violations. According to the report, the CIA lied to the Committee regarding prisoners’ deaths, the backgrounds of CIA interrogators, threats to detainees’ family members, and the effectiveness of torture.

On November 9, 2005, CIA Director of National Clandestine Service Jose Rodriguez, Jr. authorized the burning of 92 videotapes depicting the harsh interrogations of Abu Zubaydah and ’Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. In response to the destruction of those tapes, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence voted to review the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation program on March 5, 2009. With access to over six million pages of CIA documents, the Committee merely provided a superficial summary without bothering to interview any participants or victims of the RDI program.

Following the tragic events of 9/11, the Justice Department constructed a series of legal memos authorizing the Bush administration’s use of torture against enemy combatants. In 2002 and 2003, Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo authored the torture memos, which were signed by Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee. The Authorization for Use of Military Force, the Military Commissions Act of 2006, and Executive Order 13440 became legal justifications for the utilization of enhanced interrogation techniques and a total disregard for the Geneva Conventions.

Under pseudonyms within the heavily redacted report, two retired Air Force psychologists, Dr. Bruce Jessen and Dr. James Mitchell, received contracts to develop the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques. They decided to reverse-engineer the Air Force’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) counter-interrogation training by inflicting both physical and psychological torture upon detainees. According to the report, they personally participated in waterboarding and interrogating prisoners.

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