If U.S. soldiers are killed by chemical or biological weapons in Iraq, the Pentagon is developing contingency plans to bury them in mass graves or burn them to save the lives of surviving troops,
according to a proposal at the Pentagon.
Army spokesmen told the Denver Post the option to bury or even burn bodies contaminated by chemical or biological weapons is being considered, along with the possibility of placing
contaminated corpses in airtight body bags and sending them home for closed-casket funerals.
”All due care is taken to honor the remains of our fallen comrades,” said Maj. Chris Conway, an Army spokesman. ”It’s
just too premature to speculate on any plan or policy.”
Iraq admitted to United Nations inspectors in 1995 that it had produced large amounts of chemical and biological weapons during the 1980s and 1990s. American and British intelligence agencies say Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has continued to produce the deadly weapons covertly since then, despite Iraqi denials.
U.N. inspectors have found no proof Iraq is hiding weapons, but the U.S. insists they are there and is massing troops in the Persian Gulf for a possible war.
Bodies infected with chemical agents such as VX and mustard gas, which are very persistent, could also contaminate others, said Jonathan Tucker, a Washington-based senior scholar at the
Monterey Institute of International Studies who has written extensively about chemical and biological agents.
Mass burial is ”a sensitive issue, and we don’t want to think about it because our hopes and prayers are that it won’t happen,” said Tom Corey, president of the Vietnam Veterans of America
who was wounded in Vietnam and now uses a wheelchair.
Chemical weapons generally contaminate relatively small areas, while biological weapons such as smallpox, which is highly contagious and lethal, can spread for long distances if contaminated people, bodies, gear or equipment are moved around, Tucker said.
Every U.S. soldier deployed to a potential combat zone carries an advanced gas mask and at least one air-tight, charcoal-lined protective suit, reported the Denver Post. But such gear is useless if ripped open by bullets or shrapnel, or if troops are caught without all their garb on. Experts worry that the troops might be tempted to remove some or all of the bulky, uncomfortable equipment, particularly in the searing heat of the gulf region.
U.S. troops also carry auto-injecting needles that can inject atropine and oxine to counteract the effects of chemical nerve agents. But those must be applied immediately after contamination to be effective.