The Persian Gulf Syndrome


By Dr. Alan Cantwell

Another AIDS-like disease is spreading among GIs who served in the Persian Gulf War, which ended in 1991. The military is not releasing the actual number of soldiers who have contracted the disease, and the number of veterans who have died from the disease is unknown.

Reports of a mystery illness occurring in Gulf vets first surfaced in the spring of 1992. About sixty Army reservists from the Indianapolis, Indiana area, who had been perfectly well while fighting in the Gulf, became ill after returning home. Their symptoms were puzzling. All complained of chronic fatigue. Many reported muscle aches, swollen and painful joints, headaches and memory loss, fevers and night sweat, aching teeth and gums, and various other symptoms.

By the summer of 1992 new cases of the mystery disease were popping up in other reservists, as well as enlisted personnel, living in various parts of the country.

The sick soldiers were convinced that something had happened to them in the Gulf that was causing their disease. There was speculation that toxic fumes from the Kuwait oil fires, or diesel fluid in the shower water might be the cause. Other soldiers blamed biological warfare agents released by Saddam Hussein.

As early as 1992 there were rumors that spouses of Persian Gulf vets were also coming down with symptoms. Wives were experiencing an alarming number of miscarriages and birth defects in their babies.

Army physicians investigating the initial breakout among Indian reservists concluded that the vets were suffering from "stress," perhaps caused by readjustment back into civilian life. Interviewed by reporter Lyn Sherr of 20/20, one sick reservist complained that "when people were coming back from Vietnam, wringing Agent Orange out of their clothes, they were told they were under stress. The Army took almost 20 years to settle that one, so I don't think they have a real good record of letting the troops know what might be going on."

By 1993, it was estimated that 8000 vets were fighting the illness. People magazine (30/8/93) interviewed Indiana Congressman Steve Buyer, age 34, who developed respiratory symptoms and repeated episodes of the flu after coming home from the Gulf in May 1991. Buyer also suffers from kidney problems, a prostrate infection, a spastic colon, and multiple allergies. His wife claims he was formerly as strong as a horse, but now he is "sick every time I turn around." Congressman Buyer urges all Gulf War vets to have a physical examination, so they can understand what is happening to their bodies.

A Los Angeles Times report (22/11/93) noted that soldiers were also coming down with cancer. The Times claimed that 600 vets with symptoms had already been examined at the Birmingham VA Medical Center, and 110 additional patients were awaiting appointments. When questioned, Pentagon officials estimated the total number of cases was "in the low thousands."

One Alabama veteran said that up to two-thirds of all reserve units have members who have come home sick. Reservist William Kay believes his illness is due to an Iraqi Scud missile "loaded with chemical agents, nerve gas, and a man-made virus." He thinks there is a cover-up, and he is angry that he has to fight another war with the federal government.

Suspicion that chemical warfare agents might be involved was strengthened by Defense Secretary Les Aspin, who admitted that low levels of these agents were detected during the war. However, Aspin insists that these agents are not causing the mystery illness. Pentagon officials say that U.S. forces were hundreds of miles away from an area in northern Iraq where low level amounts of chemical biowarfare agents were recorded by a Czechoslovakian chemical detection team. The Pentagon did admit that vets might have been exposed to other industrial chemical pollutants used in the war.

A special Capitol Hill hearing on the matter convened on November 9, 1993. About fifty ill vets, some in wheelchairs, attended. One vet testified his wife was now ill, and their daughter was born with deformed feet. Another woman swore that her young son was healthy and strong when he went off to fight Desert Storm. When he returned home from the Gulf, he sickened and died.

By 1994, military officials admitted that as many as 20,000 (about 3%) or more of the 700,000 troops who served in the Persian Gulf were exhibiting symptoms of the syndrome.

A Los Angeles Times editorial (May 10, 1994) drew attention to experimental and unapproved vaccines and drugs that were given to all personnel who fought in the Gulf War. These vaccines and drugs were prescribed to protect soldiers against anthrax and a nerve disease called myothenia gravis, as well as for protection against other biological warfare agents that might be used by enemy forces. "In an effort to protect the health and lives of uniformed personnel, the U.S. military may have inadvertently done some of them serious injury," the Times concluded.

In a letter to the Times, VA doctor Basil Clyman admitted that "many Gulf War personnel were exposed inadvertently or otherwise to a variety of potentially toxic agents, some of which were administered in hopes of protecting them from still worse toxicities, namely those posed by biological or chemical warfare." He claims that individual VA facilities "through participation in the Persian Gulf Veterans Registry Project are keenly aware of these medical problems and are endeavoring to evaluate them and provide therapy when appropriate."

On May 25, 1994, an official Pentagon letter sent to all Persian Gulf Veterans declared: "There is no information, classified and unclassified, that indicated chemical or biological weapons were used in the Persian Gulf." However, the Pentagon did admit that experimental vaccines may have led to some veterans' symptoms.

Coinciding with the Pentagon letter was the release of a 160-page congressional report based on testimony of 30 ill vets. The report reaffirmed that vets were exposed to chemical agents, mostly from Iraqi rocket attacks, on more than a dozen occasions in the Gulf.

A month later, a Pentagon panel concluded that "the syndrome may be a group of diseases caused by wartime stress, inhaling fine Kuwaiti sand or alcohol deprivation, among other causes." (Los Angeles Times, 24/6/94).

Finally, in July 1994, Congress authorized a bill to compensate sick Persian Gulf War vets. Disability payments would be paid for three years with automatic extensions, if, at the end of that period, the cause of the syndrome is still not determined.

In November 1994, news reports stressed the growing fear and concern that the syndrome was trans-missable. However, Pentagon spokesman Dennis Boxx urged caution. "We do not have any indication at this point that these things are transmittable to children or spouses, but we have not ruled out this possibility. We simply cannot, because if we cannot diagnose it and describe what it is, we then cannot tell you that it is not transmittable."

Adding to the controversy were wives who complained about miscarriages and "burning semen" after sex with their husbands. Dr. Ellen Silbergeld, a toxicologist at the University of Maryland, agreed that it is possible for men exposed to toxic chemicals to pass the poison directly to their children through their semen. And genetic alterations due to toxic substances can also cause alterations in sperm cells involved in conception.

Vets claim a third of Gulf War babies have abnormalities, ten times the normal rate. Dr. Francis Waickman, an environmental pediatrician, says the syndrome can be passed on, creating an infant whose immune system does not function normally.

In the search for a cause of the syndrome, epidemiologists have been searching for a common factor that could have exposed everyone stationed in the Gulf.

Some sick vets were in the war zone for months, while other ill vets served in the Gulf for as little as nine days! And the disease has affected troops who were stationed in widely scattered geographic areas in the Gulf.

One factor common to all the troops is that they were given experimental drugs and vaccines as part of the requirement to serve in the Gulf.

As early as December 1990, there were warnings about experimenting with US troops. There was great concern about the decision of the FDA to allow the Pentagon to use unapproved experimental drugs and vaccines on soldiers without their consent. Furthermore, the Pentagon refused to identify the types or the number of drugs and injections that they intended to prescribe.

An angry soldier stationed in Saudi Arabia sued the government in January 1991 over the issue. Ever since the Nuremberg trials, which convicted many top-ranking Nazis for crimes against human nature, it has been considered unethical and unlawful to use people as guinea pigs in medical experiments without their informed consent. This ethical requirement was waived when the soldier's lawsuit was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Stanley S. Harris. The judge cited the necessity of the military to protect the health of its troops; the fact that the vaccines and drugs were untested and unapproved by the FDA was deemed irrelevant.

The New York Times concurred in an editorial entitled "The Ethics of Troop Vaccination" (16/1/91), noting that "the military is acting more like Florence Nightingale than (the Nazi doctor) Josef Mengele."

Soldiers who refused injections were given them forcibly. One reservist told a CovertAction reporter she was held down against her will and given the first vaccination. When the second inoculation was given a few weeks later, she claims someone sneaked up behind her and injected her before she realized what had happened.

Sgt. Frank Landy of Nashua, NH testified before a House Veterans Affairs Committee on September 21, 1992. He blames two vaccine injections for his respiratory problems, chronic diarrhea, extreme fatigue, fevers and weight loss. "The type of substandard medical care provided by the military and the lack of adherence to regulations is sinful. My future and that of my family is undetermined due to the effect of the medications and the vaccinations," Landy told the committee.

Physicians who refused to cooperate with the military's forced vaccine program were treated harshly. Dr. Yolanda Huet-Vaughn, an army reservist, protested that it was her duty under the Nuremberg Code of Justice not to vaccinate personnel with experimental vaccines without her consent. At Huet-Vaughn's court-martial trial, a military judge ignored these considerations of international law and medical ethics, and sentenced the mother of three children to 30 months in prison. Under pressure from activist groups, the physician was released from prison after serving eight months.

Allegations that experimental drugs and vaccines are the cause of the vets' illness have been downplayed for obvious reasons. The Pentagon hardly wants to publicize the idea that the Persian Gulf Syndrome is a manmade disease caused by unethical medical experimentation.

The military has a long history of conducting covert medical experiments on its own personnel, as well as civilians. Dozens of secret, planned bioattacks were perpetrated on American cities during the 1950s and 1960s, the most notorious being a six-day bioattack on San Francisco in which the military sprayed massive clouds of potentially harmful bacteria over the entire city.

The health of countless numbers of military personnel and civilians was damaged by years of nuclear bomb detonations at test sites in Nevada and elsewhere in the southwest. In addition, the shocking disclosures of additional post-war nuclear experiments undertaken from the 1950s to the 1980s on unsuspecting civilians has recently come to light with the release of secret documents by the Department of Defense.

When mind-altering drugs were developed in the 1950s, the military secretly administered them to enlisted personnel, resulting in deaths in some cases.

Physicians play a crucial role in covert and unethical experimentation, as chronicled by Gordon Thomas, author of Journey Into Madness: The True Story of Secret CIA Mind Control and Medical Abuse (1989). Thomas is horrified by the inescapable truth that doctors have tortured and still do.

Vaccines can be hazardous. In World War II, more than 50,000 cases of hepatitis were caused when troops were injected with yellow fever vaccine unknowingly contaminated with human blood serum containing infectious hepatitis B virus. Even the mandated "DPT" shot routinely given to babies has known risks. For example, one official DPT brochure recommends that a second DPT injection not be given if "serious problems of the brain have previously occurred within seven days after getting DPT." The brochure also warns parents, "Rarely, brain damage that lasts for the child's life has been reported after getting DPT." Polio vaccines can actually cause polio in rare instances. If serious consequences of compulsory "routine" and "approved" vaccines are freely admitted, what are the health consequences of unapproved, untested, and experimental vaccines?

Experimental and non-experimental vaccine inoculation programs can be a surreptitious way of "introducing" harmful infectious agents into unsuspecting people. Some investigators believe that the polio vaccine programs undertaken in the 1950s by the World Health Organization in Africa may have introduced the AIDS virus (HIV) into the black population. The African green monkey is theorized as the source of the AIDS virus, and the polio vaccine was manufactured using kidney cells of the African green monkey.

Others think the World Health Organization's smallpox vaccine program is connected to the AIDS outbreak in Africa. A front-page London Times report (11/5/87) suggested that "dormant" HIV infection was awakened in the African population by the inoculation of millions of doses of smallpox vaccine by the WHO during the 1970s. This shocking story linking African AIDS to the WHO's smallpox vaccine program was suppressed in the U.S. and never appeared in any major publication.

The "Introduction" of HIV into the homosexual community population in America occurred the same year the hepatitis B vaccine experiment began in 1978 in New York City. In the experiment over a thousand young promiscuous homosexual and bisexual men were used as guinea pigs and injected with the vaccine. A few months after the homosexual experiment began in Manhattan, the first cases of AIDS appeared in a young gay man in Manhattan in 1979. In 1980, thousands of additional gays were injected in subsequent hepatitis B vaccine experiments in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other US cities.

After the gay experiments ended in 1981, the AIDS epidemic became official. The mystery disease was first called "Gay-related immune deficiency disease" because it was diagnosed exclusively in young white homosexuals - the same minority group that volunteered for the vaccine experiments.

Is the Persian Gulf Syndrome another AIDS Holocaust in the making? Like AIDS, the disease traces back to human experiments with untested and unapproved vaccines. Like AIDS, the Gulf syndrome appears to be transmissible through sexual activity, and can be passed on to children. Like AIDS, the vets' disease affects the immune system. Like AIDS, there is no cure.

Unlike AIDS, health officials are silent about the number of people suffering and dying with the new Gulf syndrome. Nor have officials commented on ways to prevent the sexual spread of the disease.

Is the Persian Gulf Syndrome caused by a new infectious agent "introduced" into the military population through forced experimental vaccines?

There is currently no effective treatment or cure for the Gulf Syndrome. If the disease is caused by bad vaccines, it would mean that irresponsible scientists have once again created a man-made disease they are powerless to eradicate.


"Gulf Reservists Suffer Strange Illnesses," Los Angeles Times, March 26, 1992.

"The unforeseen results of fighting in the Gulf," by Walter Goodman. New York Times, August 14, 1992.

"Gulf vets fear US 'cop-out' on baffling ills," by Bethany Kandel, USA Today, September 16, 1992

"Gulf veterans' mystery illness probed by US," by Richard A Serrano, Los Angeles Times, November 22, 1993.

"Chemical arms, ailing Gulf GIs not linked, Aspin says," Richard A Serrano, Los Angeles Times, November 11, 1993.

"Study of Gulf veterans' illnesses urged," by Marlene Cimons, Los Angeles Times, April 30, 1994.

"Heed maladies of Gulf War vets" (Editorial), Los Angeles Times, May 10, 1994.

"Pentagon ignored signs of toxic attacks, report says," by Jeff Leeds, Los Angeles Times, May 26, 1994.

"Birth defects In Gulf vets' babies stir fear, debate," by Richard S. Serrano, Los Angeles Times, November 14, 1994.

"Guinea pigs & disposable GIs," by Tod Ensign, CovertAction, Winter 1992-93.

"Medication rules altered for Gulf troops," San Francisco Chronicle, December 22, 1990.

"Troops may get unlicensed drug," by Gina Kolata, New York Times, January 4, 1991.

"US sued on drugs given in Gulf," by Philip J. Hilts, New York Times, January 12, 1991.

"The ethics of troop vaccination" (Editorial), New York Times, January 16, 1991.

"Our guinea pigs in the Gulf," by George J. Anna and Michael A. Grodin, New York Times, January 18, 1991.

"Troops may be forced to take test drugs," San Gabriel Valley Times, February 1, 1991.

"Origins of HIV," in Queer Blood, by Alan Cantwell, Jr. MD, Aries Rising Press, Los Angeles, 1993, pp. 51-60.

"Smallpox vaccine triggered AIDS virus," by Pearce Wright, London Times, May 11, 1987.

"The origin of AIDS: A startling new theory attempts to answer the questions 'Was it an act of God or an act of man'?" by Tom Curtis, Rolling Stone, March 19, 1982.

"Gulf War Syndrome may be contagious," by Marlene Cimons, Los Angeles Times, October 21, 1994.