Bio-Chemical Tests in Alaska Whitewashed
President Bush extended holiday greetings to
military troops this Christmas, but one gift he’ll never open is the executive
order he signed, which keeps sensitive documents secret about biological and
chemical testing at Fort Greely near Fairbanks, Alaska.
The president, by sealing important documents,
obviously feels military health concerns were of secondary importance to
protecting the Department of Defense (DOD) against potential exposure for
injuries resulting from chemical testing and dumping.
What little is known about chemical and biological
testing at Fort Greely has surfaced from leaked documents, eyewitness accounts
and other general information provided reluctantly by the DOD after health
problems began to surface by those living near the base.
Other information, scratching the surface of what
really happened, has also appeared in Seymour Hersh’s book Chemical and
Biological Testing: America’s Hidden Arsenal, a historical account of the
base by Norman Chase and a March 2003 article entitled “Northern Exposure” in The
Nation magazine by Korey Capozza.
“The real story of what went on is in the
classified documents kept secret by the DOD and President Bush,” said Capozza,
a critic of the recent executive order signed by Bush. “They have yet to give veterans
a clear definition of possible causes of their health problems. The DOD also
refuses to grant any of the veterans health care based on exposure to agents
used in the secret site’s experiments.”
Records show that Fort Greely, as far back as 1952
and continuing to at least 1970, was used for the explicit purpose of testing
chemical and biological weapons. The base, located 100 miles southwest of
Fairbanks on 640,000 acres, originally began operating in 1942 as a staging
area for planes ferried to the Soviet Union during World War II.
However, seven years later a nuclear reactor was
built to serve as the military’s power plant. Then in 1966, the Army began
testing biological, chemical and various other weapons. The reactor was
dismantled in 1973, and in 1995 the base was scheduled for closure.
But recently, under the Bush administration, the
DOD proposed Fort Greely be used as a storage site for interceptor missiles in
support of the space-based missile defense program.
However, what transpired on the base during the
1960s and 1970s is still heavily debated as veterans are now surfacing with
what amounts to “chemical horror” stories.
According to several veterans who spoke to VA
officials, between 1962 and 1967, the Army blasted hundreds of rockets and bombs
containing sarin and VX nerve gas into the region which is densely populated by
forests and wildlife.
Veterans recall canisters of VX nerve agents being
indiscriminately buried approximately a mile from the Alaskan highway or tossed
in a nearby frozen lake in the winter of 1966, where the canisters later sank
to the bottom when the ice melted in the spring. Regular dumping expeditions
were reportedly carried out until 1970, when the testing discontinued.
Now, 30 years later, veterans and civilians are
coming forward with serious health concerns, but since no records are available
due to Fort Greely’s top-secret status, VA officials at first had a hard time
believing the veterans’ credibility.
After heavy pressure was applied by watchdog
groups, the DOD has released some documents revealing the test site may have
been operated with blatant disregard for human and environmental safety.
The documents also suggest that some of the deadly
materials used may still be unaccounted for and buried somewhere beneath the
pristine Alaskan wilderness.
Critics suggest the executive order signed by Bush
was designed to protect the DOD against conclusive evidence, hiding a massive
cover-up of illegal chemical and biological testing.