White House Discusses Faulty Masks and Gulf War Illnesses

White House Transcript

White House Press Briefing with Ari Fleischer

Wednesday, February 19, 2003 – 12:15pm

by Russell Mokhiber

Mokhiber: You said last week that, “Every step will be taken to protect civilian and innocent life in Iraq.” But Pentagon officials have said that under a battle plan called ‘shock and awe,’ “there will not be a safe place in Baghdad when we attack.” Baghdad is a city the size of Paris, with five million residents. If there will not be a safe place in Baghdad when we attack, then how do you plan to protect every civilian life?

Ari Fleischer: First of all, I think that any construing of any statements that are made by anybody at the Pentagon to suggest that the Pentagon does not and will not take every step to protect innocent lives is an unfair representation of what the Pentagon would say. It’s well-known how the United States conducts itself in military affairs. We are very proud of the fact that any time force is reluctantly used, the force is applied to military targets and innocents are protected.

Mokhiber: Second question. You have admitted that Saddam may attack our invading troops with chemical and biological weapons. On Sunday, 60 Minutes reported that many military leaders believe that our troops have neither the proper equipment, nor the proper training to survive a chemical and biological attack. The report quoted an Army audit that found that 62 percent of the gas masks examined “had critical defects that could cause leakage.”

Now, since 100,000 U.S. veterans in the Gulf War may still be suffering from Gulf War [illnesses] — many of them believe that this is from inhaling toxic fumes. Tens of thousands of them were exposed to sarin gas when we bombed a Iraqi munitions dump. How can the President send troops into harm’s way knowing that they are not adequately protected from a chemical and biological attack?

Ari Fleischer: The President has full faith and confidence in the Department of Defense and in their planning for the worst. And I think premised in your question is the fact that perhaps you now are coming around to the realization that Iraq does indeed have weapons of mass destruction and a willingness to use them. It’s not anybody in the United States government who has admitted — in your word — that Iraq might use these weapons — it’s that Iraq has such weapons, they’ve used them in the past. And hence the danger not only to the troops who are in the region, but to people abroad, people in the United States, and friends and allies and civilians in the region who remain vulnerable to Saddam using such weapons on innocents.

Mokhiber: What about the 60 Minutes report that we’re not prepared —

Ari Fleischer: As I indicated to you, the President has full faith and confidence in DOD’s measures to protect our troops in all circumstances.

…VCS COMMENT FOR THE RECORD: the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency knew about the Khamisiyah, Iraq chemical munitions dump before the Gulf War started. However, during the mop-up operations after the ground war, no one told the front line combat troops about the ammo dump. The U.S. military demolished it, releasing an unknown amount of sarin and cyclosarin into the air to poison as many as 140,000 U.S. troops with low-level exposures. The Iraqi army didn’t “use” chemical weapons. The U.S. and other nations sold the agents to Iraq and the U.S. blew them up in an enormous “friendly fire” incident.

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