February 6, 1991
By Paul DeRienzo*
President George Bush says that Saddam Hussein's treatment of U.S. war
prisoners constitutes a violation of the Geneva Conventions. He wants
the Iraqi strongman brought before an international tribunal after the
war, as the deposed Nazi leaders were at Nuremberg. But a lawsuit brought
by the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen claims that the Bush administration
is itself violating the Nuremberg
Principles by testing experimental anti-germ warfare drugs on U.S. service
people in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf without their informed consentEvidence
also points to U.S. complicity in the development of the Iraqi biological
warfare capability, which the Pentagon's testing program is supposed to
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a watchdog group on anti-Semitism and genocide,
cites U.S. Department of Commerce records of transactions in which a Maryland-based
nonprofit group, the American Type Culture Collection, sent approximately
20 biological agents to Iraqi scientists. The center also cites an NBC
News report from April 11, 1990 that the federal Centers for Disease Control
in Atlanta sent three shipments of West Nile Fever virus to Iraq's Salman
Pak bacteriological' research station on the Tigris River in 1985.
On Nov. 16, 1990, President Bush signed Executive Order 12735, reading:
"I, George Bush, President of the United States, find that proliferation
of chemical and biological weapons constitutes an unusual and extraordinary
threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States
and hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat."
On Dec. 21, 1990, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) responded by
issuing an "interim regulation" allowing the FDA commissioner
to "make the determination that obtaining, informed consent from
military personnel for the use of an investigational drug ... is not feasible
in certain battlefield or combat related situations." This regulation
allows the Department of Defense to request exemptions from the informed
consent requirement on a case by case basis.
Shortly thereafter, the Pentagon undertook a mandatory-testing program
of experimental vaccines on troops stationed in the Middle East with Operation
Desert Storm, the code name for the war against Iraq. On Jan. 11, Public
Citizen announced that it was bringing suit in federal court against the
Departments of Defense and Health & Human Services, the FDA's parent
Representing a soldier stationed in Saudi Arabia and his wife, the case
is a class action suit on behalf of all Operation Desert Storm troops.
The soldier and his wife are being named only as John and Mary Doe. Public
Citizen is seeking an injunction to stop the testing, which the Pentagon
will neither confirm nor deny is actually taking place. Depositions have
already begun in federal court.
Public Citizen spokesperson Bob Dreyfuss says that the mandatory testing
program violates both Pentagon and FDA and regulations, and the U.S. Constitution.
Dreyfuss says that the "due process" clause of the Fifth Amendment
secures the right to refuse unwanted medical procedures.
Dreyfuss also says that the program violates the Nuremberg code established
by the victorious Allies in the wake of the Nazi atrocities. "Concentration
camp victims and prisoners of war were routinely experimented on [in Nazi
Germany]. After World War II there was an international understanding
that such experiments were absolutely verboten. Human beings should not
be used as guinea pigs."
Dreyfuss emphasizes that Public Citizen is not advocating that service
people be "barred from receiving potentially lifesaving remedies
to biological warfare agents." We're trying to uphold their rights
by giving them a piece paper to sign outlining the risks and benefits."
A more critical view of the program is being advanced by the Foundation
on Economic Trends (FET), the Washington based lobbying group which closed
down the Pentagon's Utah bio-warfare research station, the Dugway Proving
Grounds, in a, 1986 lawsuit.
FET’s Andrew Kimbrell says that recombinant DNA technology renders
countermeasures against bio-warfare agents completely ineffective. "Genetic
engineering can alter viruses in such infinite varieties that any vaccine
or interventive technique is absurd."
The vaccine that the Pentagon is using is believed to be a defense against
genetically altered anthrax agents, which may be stockpiled by Iraq. Kimbrell
says that anthrax vaccines generally take 18 months to provide any immunities,
and in' this case "it is uncertain that they will provide any."
Like Iraq's altered anthrax viruses, the Pentagon's vaccines are probably
based on recombinant DNA -- and Kimbrell maintains that recombinant vaccines
can actually increase vulnerability by eroding the body’s immune
What, then, is this testing program really about? Kimbrell that a worst
case scenario is that it is a hoax. Under the guise of national security
they are using young men and women as human Guinea pigs. They are using
wartime as an excuse to test medicine on human subjects without their
Kimbrell says that the Nuremberg proscription against such experimenta-tion
is so serious that "there is even controversy as to whether scientists
today should draw on the Nazi experiments in their research."' But
the Nazi experiments were conducted on prisoners of war and concentration
camp inmates. "They didn't anticipate that a country would experiment
on their own citizens.
Prior to the Operation Desert Storm testing program, the federal government
and private concerns have on occasion gone abroad or turned to clandestine
operations to test new drugs and medicines. In 1986, Philadelphia's Wistar
Institute, a research firm which has received federal funds tested a new
genetically altered rabies vaccine on cattle in Azul, Argentina, around
200 miles southwest of Buenos Aires, without the knowledge of the Argentine
In 1977, Senate hearings revealed that between 1965 and 1967 the U.S.
Army conducted top-secret chemical and biological warfare tests in the
San Francisco Bay Area. In one incident, an aerosol borne bacteria was
sprayed from a ship in the mouth of the bay, exposing an estimated 800,000
citizens. The Pentagon claimed that the bacteria, known as Serratica,
is harmless and that the experiments had only been aimed at tracing its
flow through the population. But the release apparently led to an outbreak
of rare Serratica-related pneumonia in the Bay Area.
The Senate hearings also revealed that both the Army and the Central
Intelligence Agency had conducted bacteriological and chemical tests in
the streets and subways of New York City in the late '50s.
The Philadelphia Inquirer recently determined through the Freedom of
information Act that from 1964 to 1968 the Army, in a joint program with
the University of Pennsylvania, tested new drugs on 320 prisoners in Philadelphia's
Holmesburg Prison. These were not defensive drugs, but offensive, aimed
at disorienting war prisoners for interrogation. The mostly African American
inmates were paid $25 per injection.
At a public address in New York City on Sept. 18, 100, CIA Director William
Webster said, "Iraq has a sizeable stockpile of chemical and biological
weapons. " Asked by a reporter to provide more details, Webster said
that he could "not expand or qualify my statement without getting
into classified information."
Kimbrell says it is "the height of hypocrisy to talk about biological
warfare development in Iraq without even mentioning the hundreds of millions
of dollars we are spending on exactly the same thing." Bio-warfare
research in the U.S. today is ostensibly only "defensive," but
Kimbrell believes that this is a smokescreen for offensive technology.
"In the early stages, the research is identical -- you have to develop
the pathogen and the delivery system before you can develop the defense."
New York's WBAI radio has reported hearing from a woman who says her
daughter stationed in Saudi Arabia with Operation Desert Storm was scheduled
to be tested with the experimental vaccine when she last h from her. She
expressed her intent to resist vaccination and has not been in contact
with her family since.