Expert Says US Used Chemical Weapons In Gulf War

[Original headline: US used hallucinogenics in Gulf War]

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Pretoria - Chemical warfare expert Dr Wouter Basson on Friday claimed that America had used hallucinogenic weapons against Iraq in the Gulf War.

Basson was testifying about the 1993 destruction of hundreds of kilograms of drugs such as cocaine, Mandrax and Ecstasy, manufactured or bought by the SA Defence Force for possible use in crowd control.

He said although most countries denied using such drugs as weapons, he had proof that America used it in the Gulf War in the early 1990s. He claimed television material showed elite troops from Iraq simply giving over in masses - drooling, their pupils enlarged and with no expression whatsoever.

"Analysis of video material showing surrendering troops emerging from their underground bunkers show that they had dilated pupils, were drooling and had vacant stares. It appeared like the clinical profile of a BZ variant.

"The variant was also tested in laboratory animals in South Africa but it was stopped because it caused permanent damage to the subject.

"I had good reason to believe that America used a BZ variant against Iraq during the Gulf War."

Basson described "BZ" as a hallucinogenic, which changed a person's ability to act rationally. It would either make a person totally passive (where he would not be able to recognise and react to great danger) or would make him uncontrollably aggressive, so that he would attack his own colleagues.

Basson claimed South Africa and the Swiss Military Intelligence Service had in 1992 negotiated a deal with the Russians to buy some 500kg of Mandrax, which the SADF wanted to weaponise for crowd control.

The Swiss, he said, was also negotiating a much larger deal with the Russians for the acquisition of nuclear materials at the time.

At that stage, Basson was ordered by his superiors to step up the programme involving the drugs BZ, Mandrax and Ecstasy as it became clear that funding for the chemical and biological warfare programme was about to be cut off.

In the end, the Mandrax was only in the SADF's possession for a few weeks before it was thrown into the sea because of a political decision.

Basson gave details of a highly complicated deal in which the Mandrax was eventually bought in Croatia.

He claimed a Swiss Intelligence Agent, one Jurg Jacomet, had stolen more than $1.5 million that should have been paid for the drug, bringing him under the impression that the Croatian Government had frozen the money.

In the process, Basson was arrested twice in Switzerland and spent almost three weeks in a Swiss jail for trying to exchange false Vatican bearer bonds at a Swiss bank.

He said the bearer bonds were stolen with the help of a shady Danish agent because he was desperate to get back the SADF's money and wanted to use it as a negotiating tool to force the Croatian Government to release the money (which turned out not to have been frozen in the first place).

Basson, who also spent time in a jail in Libya, said the impression that the Swiss honoured human rights was wrong.

"My time in the Swiss jail was the worst of my life. Those weeks were harder than in any other jail that I've been in - and I've been in one or two. In Libya I at least received food and got some sleep," he said.

According to Basson, he had threatened to reveal the role played by Switzerland in the Croatian deal, which resulted in that country's top intelligence official, Peter Regli, visiting South Africa and asking the SADF's Surgeon General to stop the investigation into the deal.

By early 1993, Basson had already been fired by the then South African State President FW de Klerk (he described it as his "Christmas present” as he was fired the day before Christmas 1992), was told by the Minister of Defence to close down the chemical and biological warfare programme Project Coast and destroy all of the project's drugs and projectiles, and was ordered to retrieve the money lost in the Mandrax deal.

Most of 1993 was spent travelling to Croatia and Switzerland in an attempt to trace Jacomet and find the money. This resulted in Basson only seeing his newborn baby son for a few weeks that year.

Basson expressed great bitterness about the fact that his work of 10 years on the chemical and biological warfare programme was simply destroyed in one fell swoop.

"It was not just the destruction of the substances. It was the whole situation. The State President had just fired me under circumstances where people who were supposed to protect me decided not to do it, but where I was kept busy on the side and paid to solve their problems.

"The Chief of Staff Information and the Minister of Defence who made the decision did not even know about the existence of Coast.

"I was angry in general. It was a huge disappointment not to see the drugs being weaponised. I would have liked to see the weaponisation - not for actual use, but because of the technical challenge of it.

"On behalf of all of those involved in the project, I was angry and depressed," he said.

The trial will continue on Monday, when Basson is expected to conclude his evidence in chief.