Pentagon Closes Book on Tailwind

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WASHINGTON: With soldiers from Operation Tailwind in the room as living corroboration, Secretary of Defense William Cohen spoke slowly and clearly: "We have found absolutely no evidence to support CNN-TIME's assertions" that the operation involved the use of deadly sarin nerve gas on American defectors. The statement was hardly surprising -- the Pentagon has denied the substance of the report ever since it originally aired on CNN on June 7 -- but a defensive Cohen acknowledged the difficulty of stuffing the report back in its Pandora's Box.

"Can you ever prove to every individual that [the use of sarin] was not the case? Probably not," Cohen said from the Pentagon. But "the retractions of both CNN and TIME should say it all." After mentioning pointedly that the story was welcome grist for Saddam Hussein in his propaganda campaign against the U.S., Cohen repeatedly praised the participants of Operation Tailwind for their valor and said that he hoped their reputations could be fully restored. Cohen looked relieved when the questioning moved on to other topics -- and he is certainly not alone in that sentiment.