We've Got Those WMDs Right Here

by Brian Cohn

"Laws are silent in times of war." ~ Cicero

It is now becoming clearer each day that Iraq descends further into chaos and destruction, and no Saddam or WMDs can be found, that the current administration in Washington is either completely incompetent or grossly dishonest. I suspect that the truth is a combination of both, heavy on the dishonesty. It would seem to be obvious that our government looks pretty bad right about now, to anyone who is intellectually honest. Yet, conservatives, dulled as they are by Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, are oblivious to the sorry state of the State.

I have to admit, my patience with the American "right" is pretty much gone; kaput. When people give up their critical thinking abilities simply because it's uncomfortable to believe that their government, their guys might be lying to them and murdering on a massive scale, we are in a world of hurt. Blatant national hypocrisy is easy to ignore when you're as narcissistic a culture as we are, but it is inescapable to our former allies and to those that suffer from our particular Leviathan's actions.

It would seem then to be impossible to sink any lower than the Bush Administration has. Yet, unfortunately it can. Thanks to a ridiculously ill-advised scheme to beef up "force protection" and layers upon layers of denials, half-admissions, outright dismissals, and character assassinations, we have a government that has poisoned its own armed forces, cast aside those who would call it to account, and done the best it can to keep the issue as low-profile as possible.

The modest-sounding Anthrax Vaccination Immunization Program (AVIP) in its current form is the brainchild of William Cohen, but has its roots far back in the First Gulf War. Not much was known in the general public about this issue for several years. After all, what's one more military acronym among millions when there's Whitewater and Lewinsky-Gate to whip the Republicans into self-righteous wrath? That all changed with a 1999 article in Vanity Fair by Gary Matsumoto which exposed the links between the vaccination program in 1990–91 and Gulf War Syndrome.

The piece is a devastating broadside to the Defense Department establishment, and not surprisingly, produced a generous amount of typically vague, distracting criticism. Far from ever actually answering the factual assertions, most of the Pentagon and their willing, adoring public admirers simply raged about how untrue the whole thing was, the apparent idiocy of anyone who questioned what had been going on, and the fact that "experts" said that the vaccine was perfectly safe. What got them in a tizzy was that Mr. Matsumoto had gotten hold of Army documents detailing the creation of a secret task force named "Project Badger" during the Desert Shield buildup; this group's sole purpose was to "surge" the production of anthrax and botulinum vaccines. He also was able to contact Dr. Pamela Asa, a microbiologist specializing in immunology. Dr. Asa was the first to actually determine the link between the secret actions of Project Badger and the thousands of veterans suffering from Gulf War Syndrome – or the thousands of people who were psychotic malingerers that just happened to all have remarkably similar non-existent diseases – if you believe the Pentagon.

That link is a vaccine adjuvant – a toxic substance that boosts the efficacy of a vaccine. It's obvious why such a course of action would be pursued by the DoD: the anthrax vaccine as it was originally developed in the early 1970s (to protect veterinarians against skin anthrax) was slow-acting. It required a six-shot series over 18 months, plus an annual booster to maintain effectiveness. What Dr. Asa found was the presence of extremely high levels of antibodies to squalene, an oil-based adjuvant known to cause autoimmune diseases, in almost 100% of her GWS patients. Squalene is commonly used as a health supplement when taken orally, but as an injected vaccine adjuvant, it has been shown to cause autoimmune diseases. The adjuvant link also explains a curious characteristic of GWS that heretofore has been a mystery: why there are a significant number of sufferers who never deployed to the Gulf, and who therefore could not have been exposed to any possible chemical weapons.

These diseases are incredibly debilitating, and include lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, ALS and multiple sclerosis. Patients suffer from blackouts, joint pain, rashes, swollen lymph nodes, memory loss, cramps, and anemia. Healthy people are incapacitated after receiving these shots. Jeff Rawls, a Marine tanker in Gulf War I, was experiencing progressive cerebral shrinkage until he was finally treated for autoimmune diseases. This is hardly a litany of minor side-effects common to any vaccine.

The problems don't end there. FDA-tested batches of the vaccine at its production site in Michigan revealed traces of squalene in several of the lots. These batches are being administered today, under the current program. The Pentagon dismissed the finding, saying the levels found were so low as to be impossible to cause autoimmune reactions. What they failed to say was that squalene is subject to oxidation and peroxidation over time, so levels found after several years would by definition be lower than original levels. Also, according to congressional testimony by Dr. Robert Garry of Tulane University on January 24, 2002, the "anthrax bacillus is incapable of producing squalene" because anthrax lipid chains are no more than 17 carbons and monounsaturated, while squalene contains 30 carbons and is highly polyunsaturated. In other words, it didn't just appear in the vaccine out of nowhere – it was deliberately added. Complicating the matter, not every lot has squalene, and not every manufactured lot has been tested, so in a sense, the vaccine recipient is playing Russian roulette with his or her life.

The production of the vaccine itself is also fraught with problems. There is a single production facility, Bioport of Michigan. Bioport is the third incarnation of the company that first produced the original NIH-approved vaccine in 1970, Michigan Department of Public Health. On September 20, 1996 MDPH, then Michigan Biologic Products, Inc. (MBPI), filed an Investigational New Drug (IND) application with the FDA. This was necessary for the FDA to approve the Pentagon's planned use of the vaccine, since it was never intended to be used against inhalation anthrax, has not been shown to even work against that form of the disease, and according to a GAO report dated April 29, 1999 the vaccine was not even the same drug that had been originally produced in the early 1970s. To date, the IND application has not been approved by the FDA.

The importance of this is paramount. Under federal law (10 U.S.C. 1107), and executive order (13,139), the informed consent of the recipient is required, making the mandatory nature of the program somewhat problematic. The Pentagon, in order to make people forget that thorny little issue, has trotted out letters from the FDA, as well as the rubber stamp of a Yale University physician, Dr. Gerard Burrow, who was asked to review the program. The Defense Department neglected to mention that Dr. Burrow was an OB/GYN, and by his own admission, "had no expertise in Anthrax and they [the Pentagon] were very clear they were looking for a general oversight of the vaccination program." Hardly a ringing endorsement, let alone the approval that federal law required.

The propaganda effort to counter this problem is truly massive in scope, if low on visibility. The environment of the federal government fosters a sort of blind loyalism to begin with, and there is no shortage of people in the armed services who will wholly accept whatever they are told by superiors. The strategy used is to vaguely acknowledge that there were some problems in the past, but that "they" have fixed them now. The hard fact is nothing has been fixed; the average person, however, has neither the time nor the inclination to do the research necessary to find this out.

Military commanders have also received legal memos instructing them to conduct "education campaigns" to combat what they termed "misinformation" about the program. The official DoD AVIP website declares in overtly propagandistic tones that the vaccine is safe, citing "panel after panel" of experts that say so, while providing no documentation or links to these panels or studies. Pictures of happy personnel and their happy families abound, no doubt to "reassure" us that it's all safe and okay. It has outright, but subtle lies about squalene, implying that we actually need squalene to live, so if it happens to be found in that vial that's about to be shot in your arm, it's all good! It is one thing to ingest something orally, quite another to have it injected directly into the bloodstream.

For those who would resist, who would refuse the vaccine, court-martial awaits. This is the ground that the government has so fiercely defended, and defended well. The order to take the vaccine explicitly violates the law concerning IND-status drugs. Consent must be given to participate in any experiment. The Pentagon, intent on program conformity, has ignored this requirement and pressed on, citing the FDA letters (which were non-binding statements of employee opinion) and Dr. Burrow's generic approval. One would think then, that the legal hurdle would be a hard one for the government to overcome. Unfortunately, that doesn't stop the federal government from getting what it wants.

The strategy pursued is both extremely simple and extremely effective. In a highly critical review of the program in the Duke Law Journal, Randall Katz lays out the two-part process followed in every court-martial that has occurred (no exact figures are available for how many have refused the vaccine, but the number of people brought to trial is reliably thought to be several hundred). In every case, the government makes two motions: First, that the lawfulness of the order is an issue of law for the judge to decide, rather than a question of fact to be brought before the jury; and second, that all evidence regarding the safety and efficacy of the vaccine be excluded. Since the entire defense in such trials rests on this, that the drug is an IND and it is therefore illegal to force such a drug on non-consenting participants, the defendant is literally left without a case before the trial even begins. To date, there has not been one recorded case of any military judge denying the government's motion, and therefore not one successful defense.

Military judges, as Katz points out, are not lifetime appointees, but are appointed by the Judge Advocates General, and are not as independent as one would like. This brings us to the crux of the legal matter, what Katz calls the Pandora's Box that lies at the heart of the Pentagon's cover-up:

"Allowing the presumption of lawfulness to be rebutted would surely open a Pandora's Box of sorts. One decision by one military judge in one branch of the service could be the beginning of the end for AVIP; a promising career could come to a screeching halt for the military judge who interferes with a decision made by the Secretary of Defense and high-ranking Pentagon Officials."

There is a good reason for the government to try and keep this issue under wraps. It spans Democratic and Republican administrations. Congress has abdicated its responsibility to check the executive branch, and has let the whole issue slip in the wake of 9/11. Large numbers of officials have participated in the defense of the program, while knowing the dangers and seeing the effects it was having on people. If this one court decision were to ever occur, it would not only throw the entire program back into the public eye, but it would be an indictment of all the participants of a project that has poisoned thousands of people for over a decade. After candidate Bush promised on the campaign trail to seriously review the program, he has continued the vaccination program – still using the contaminated lots.

Predictably, Congress has made some dutiful noise, but nothing that has been effective, or that hasn't died under "patriotic" post-9/11 pressure. The House Government Reform Committee, then chaired by Republican Dan Burton, issued a fairly harsh report in April 2000, accusing the Pentagon of being "more concerned with public relations than effective force protection." In October 2000 congressman Burton stated that the Pentagon "has established a practice of speaking out of both sides of their mouths." Since a Republican administration has taken over, Congress has been curiously quiet on the issue.

It is unlikely that these things will make much of a ripple in the American public consciousness. We don't like the waters disturbed, as a general rule. It is my hope, though, that there are some people who have not been so dulled by constant propaganda that they will be outraged at crimes such as these. Ronda Wilson, a former Army helicopter pilot who is a shell of her former self after only two shots, epitomizes the frustration that we should feel at those responsible for needlessly ordering others into harm's way: "I would have died for my country. But I didn't think I would die like this." Our government has betrayed both the constitution and those who swore to defend it and added insult to injury by steadfastly denying any responsibility. Officials and bureaucrats are following the time-tested path of government cover-up: deny everything until nobody can remember what happened. Then let it all quietly pass into history, which public school textbooks will never recall. We cannot let it go, cannot grant the government its terms when it murders, poisons and slanders; not if we are ever to reclaim our nation.