Army Secrecy Syndrome

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CLEVELAND: Could the Army have prevented Gulf War syndrome? As argument rages over whether the illness even exists, a transcript turned up Sunday by the Cleveland Plain Dealer shows an Army review board expressing doubt over an experimental drug administered to 8,000 soldiers a vaccine, some fear, that caused the widespread post-war health problems in veterans.

The October 1990 meeting of the Army Ethics committee concerned itself with abotulinum toxoid vaccine, and they weren't too pleased with what laboratory research into the drug had turned up. Army physicians weren't confident it would work, and the committee decided it should not be used on troops without "an abbreviated oral informed consent statement." In other words, they should be told. But the Department of Defense nixed that, and went ahead with thousands of warning-free botulism jabs in the run-up to the Gulf War.

It's not hard to see why. Even now that the transcript has come to light, secrecy and obfuscation still pervades in the armed forces. "It would seem morally wrong to gather prospective or retrospective data on the efficacy of unproven drugs in military volunteers facing exposure to biological or chemical weapons," the ethics committee chairman, Col. Arthur Anderson, told the Plain Dealer. Translation: If veterans really contracted Gulf War syndrome via an Army needle, this was one serious screw-up.