The New York Times has an enlightening article on the plight of American service members who uncovered old, decaying chemical weapons in Iraq who were systematically marginalized and even denied treatment.
I recommend reading the entire piece, but here’s the gist:
From 2004 to 2011, American and American-trained Iraqi troops repeatedly encountered, and on at least six occasions were wounded by, chemical weapons remaining from years earlier in Saddam Hussein’s rule. [...]
The American government withheld word about its discoveries even from troops it sent into harm’s way and from military doctors. The government’s secrecy, victims and participants said, prevented troops in some of the war’s most dangerous jobs from receiving proper medical care and official recognition of their wounds.
“I felt more like a guinea pig than a wounded soldier,” said a former Army sergeant who suffered mustard burns in 2007 and was denied hospital treatment and medical evacuation to the United States despite requests from his commander. [...]
Congress, too, was only partly informed, while troops and officers were instructed to be silent or give deceptive accounts of what they had found. “ ’Nothing of significance’ is what I was ordered to say,” said Jarrod Lampier, a recently retired Army major who was present for the largest chemical weapons discovery of the war: more than 2,400 nerve-agent rockets unearthed in 2006 at a former Republican Guard compound.
According to interviews and information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Times, military personnel discovered at least 5,000 chemical warheads, shells and other munitions.
To be clear, these are not the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) the invasion was based on. According to the Times, these weapons were manufactured prior to Operation Desert Storm in 1991 during Iraq’s war with Iran. Furthermore, these weapons were manufactured with our help.
In five of six incidents in which troops were wounded by chemical agents, the munitions appeared to have been designed in the United States, manufactured in Europe and filled in chemical agent production lines built in Iraq by Western companies.
I don’t know if blindly sending men into the field to recover chemical weapons and then concealing their existence is evidence of a cover up or incompetence, or both, but it is entirely characteristic of the Bush administration doctrine of flying by the seat of your pants.
The timeline provided by the New York Times goes beyond the Bush administration (2004) into the early years of Obama administration (2011) and I get the impression that the full extent of the legacy of poor treatment of veterans left behind by the Bush administration (and exacerbated by austerity) is beyond the scope of what we currently know.
We deployed men and women to a war zone, and in some cases to chemical weapon dumps, without body armor or protective gear, and when they returned home they were greeted with bumper sticker ribbons and little else.
“Support the troops” my ass.
This story seems prescient given the GOP’s recent hardon for redeploying ground combat troops to Iraq which would undoubtedly reignite the quagmire that President Obama ended.