WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon announced Monday that it had asked the Defense Department's inspector general to investigate the disappearance of most of the chemical-detection logs maintained for U.S. military commanders during the 1991 Persian Gulf war.
It is estimated that 80 percent of the logs have disappeared. That has alarmed the ailing veterans who believe that the missing logs could show that their health problems are the result of exposure to chemical or biological weapons during the war.
In a statement, the Pentagon's senior official on gulf war illnesses, Bernard Rostker, said, "I have seen no evidence thus far that anyone intentionally destroyed the log." He made the statement as he prepared to hand over the investigation to the inspector general.
The investigation will now be handled by the inspector general, Eleanor Hill, who is supposed to function as an independent watchdog for the department. The results of Ms. Hill's investigations will be reported to Congress.
In an interim report made public last week, the Defense Department said that its investigators had been able to track down only 36 of the estimated 200 pages of logs that should have recorded the detection of chemical or biological weapons during the war.
The report suggested that some logs had been destroyed by a computer virus in the war, while other copies, on computer disks and on paper, had been misplaced after the war when soldiers changed jobs.
The investigation found that copies of the logs had disappeared from two different locations after the war.
The 36 pages that have been located, which were made public in 1994, show that American military commanders received repeated warnings that Iraqi chemical weapons had been detected on the battlefield but labeled them all false alarms.
Among the missing logs are those for March 4 through March 10, when American troops blew up a huge ammunition depot in southern Iraq that was later determined to have contained tons of chemical weapons.
There is no conclusive evidence to show that American soldiers were made sick by exposure to chemical or biological weapons during the war. But the disappearance of the chemical logs has heightened an air of suspicion among veterans.
Copyright 1997 The New York Times Company