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gulf war veterans get a break

  1. FallGuy

    2,070 Posts.

    NEW YORK (CNN) -- Twelve years after the Persian Gulf War began, some American veterans of that conflict are finding new ammunition in their fight to find out who supplied Iraq chemicals that might have made them sick.

    More than 5,000 veterans are plaintiffs in a lawsuit that accuses companies of helping Iraqi President Saddam Hussein build his chemical warfare arsenal. The plaintiffs are among the tens of thousands who came down with "Gulf War Illness," a debilitating series of ailments that can include chronic fatigue, skin rashes, muscle joint pain, memory loss, and brain damage.

    Now, plaintiffs' attorneys have acquired, for the first time, what they believe is strong evidence of which companies supplied Iraq the chemicals that might have been used to produce mustard gas, sarin nerve gas and VX.

    The supplier list, shown to CNN, is included in Iraq's 1998 weapons declaration to the United Nations, parts of which were resubmitted to weapons inspectors last month. Sources tell CNN the list is an authentic document, but attorneys for the companies question its accuracy and say the lawsuit is without merit.

    The lawsuit, originally filed by Pitts in a civil court in Brazoria County, Texas, in 1994, alleges that companies knew "products and/or manufacturing facilities supplied ... were to be used to produce chemical and biological weapons."

    "UNSCOM had a practice of not revealing names of companies of suppliers of equipment to Iraq because they often had the possibility of getting information from these companies, and the best way to get these companies to talk to them was not to publish their names to start with," Hans Blix, the chief weapons inspector, told CNN.

    Former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter, contacted by Pitts, acquired the list for the veterans during a meeting last year with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.

    "I brought out a series of compact discs which contained the totality of the Iraqi declaration," Ritter told CNN. The "full, final and complete" weapons declaration has never been made public. Ritter gave the CDs to Pitts.

    "I am assisting United States veterans, heroes," Ritter said. "People who put on our uniform, defended our country in time of war, who have been abandoned by their government."

    About 209,000 Gulf War veterans have filed claims with the Veterans Administration, and 161,000 of them are receiving disability payments.

    Neither American company listed -- Alcolac International, based in Baltimore, Maryland; and Al-Haddad Trading, based in Nashville, Tennessee -- are still in business.

    Half of the firms listed by Iraq and now targeted by the lawsuit as "major suppliers" are either defunct or were unreachable.

    "We have thousands of American veterans who continue to suffer," Ritter said. I don't give a damn about these companies. If they're innocent, they won't pay a price. If they have done something they need to be ashamed of, then let your shame be public."

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