WASHINGTON -- Military logs for an eight-day period in which thousands of U.S. troops might have been exposed to nerve gas and other Iraqi chemical weapons shortly after the Persian Gulf war in 1991 appear to have been removed or lost and cannot be located despite an exhaustive search, Pentagon officials said yesterday.
There are several mysterious gaps in the otherwise meticulous combat logs. The gaps include the period in early March 1991 in which American combat engineers blew up the sprawling Kamisiyah ammunition depot in southern Iraq, an event that might have exposed thousands of U.S. troops to nerve gas.
Because the portions made public so far show that American commanders received and disregarded several reports of chemical detection during the war, the logs are considered vital evidence by ailing gulf war veterans who believe that their health was damaged by exposure to Iraqi chemical or biological weapons.
The gaps have only added to the suspicion among veterans that the Pentagon is hiding information that would explain their health problems. Government studies show that while gulf war veterans have not died or been hospitalized at unusual rates, they are reporting serious health problems, including digestive ailments and chronic fatigue, at rates far higher than troops who did not serve in the gulf.
"This was the historical record of what was supposedly the brightest moment in the last 50 years of American military history, and now they say they've misplaced part of the historical record?" said James Tuite III, who led a Senate investigation of gulf war illnesses in 1993 and 1994 and who is now working with veterans groups. "That's very hard to believe."
Retired Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of U.S. forces in the gulf war, has not responded to repeated requests for an interview in recent months. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the war, Gen. Colin L. Powell, also now retired, said in an interview Monday that chemical alarms sounded repeatedly during the war, but that American commanders in the gulf were unable to confirm them and considered them false alarms.
The Defense Department, which at one time had denied to Congress that such combat logs even existed, released them last year to a Georgia veterans group that sought them under the Freedom of Information Act.
After the veterans group noted that several pages from the logs seemed to be missing for key dates, the Pentagon acknowledged that there were gaps and said earlier this year that it would investigate.
Pentagon officials said yesterday that the investigation, which included a careful search of gulf war military records stored in Suitland by the National Archives, had not turned up additional pages from the logs.
"From our perspective, we've done what we can do," said Lt. Col. Nino Fabiano, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., the element of the Defense Department that conducted the war under Schwarzkopf's command.
The Defense Department said that investigators working for its special Persian Gulf war team at the Pentagon were continuing to search for missing pages from the logs, and that they were trying to interview Central Command officers who had control of the logs during the war.
"The books haven't been closed on this yet," said Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, "but I can say that we're not any further along because we haven't found any additional log pages."
Despite initial suggestions from the Defense Department that there might simply never have been any log entries for the periods in which there are gaps, officials said Pentagon investigators now believe that some pages are indeed missing.
Pub Date: 12/05/96