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Clinton Seeks Answers to Handling of Chem Weapons Info

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 3, 1997 – When did the Army know about chemical weapons at Khamisiyah, Iraq, and what did it do about them?

President Clinton posed these questions in a Feb. 26 memorandum to Dr. Joyce Lashof, chair of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses. His query follows declassification of CIA documents related to the ongoing investigation of U.S. troops' possible exposure to chemical warfare agents.

The documents indicate CIA warned the Army of the possible presence of chemical munitions at the Khamisiyah ammunition depot before soldiers seized the area in February 1991. The documents also reveal that, in November 1991, the CIA prepared a classified message documenting the possible exposure incident.

In his memorandum, Clinton directed the advisory committee's attention to the declassified documents, saying, "You have a vital role in assisting me, the Congress and the American public in understanding their full significance."

Now in the hands of CIA and Army inspectors general for investigation, the documents raise two important questions that must be resolved, Clinton said:

  • "When did we have sufficient evidence to conclude that chemical munitions were present at Khamisiyah and that U.S. forces conducting demolition activities may have been exposed to chemical warfare agents?"
  •  "Once we had that information, what actions were taken by whom to investigate this alarming possibility, and were those actions sufficient?"

The committee's oversight, Clinton said, should take full account of the evidence disclosed by these ongoing investigations, as well as the information being developed by the DoD special assistant for Gulf War illnesses. The president asked Lashof to assess the adequacy of the investigations by April 30.

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