The Pentagon is slated to release a suspected toxicant in Crystal City, Virginia this week, ostensibly to test air sensors.
The operation is just the latest example of the Defense Department’s long history of using service members and civilians as human test subjects, often without their consent or awareness.
Gas chambers in Maryland
Wray C. Forrest learned about the US military’s human-testing program the hard way. In 1973, the Army sent then 23-year-old Forrest to its Edgewood Arsenal chemical-research center in Maryland, promising patriotic service and a four-day work week.
Forrest was given a new identity at Edgewood: Research Subject #6692. He says, "That was the number assigned to me … similar to the numbers assigned to the Jews in the concentration/death camps in Germany during WWII."
The US military tested heart drugs on Forrest, which he says were administered by IV and various types of injections. Forrest was also exposed to "contaminated drinking water, food, and various ground contaminates that permeate Edgewood Arsenal. BZ [a chemical incapacitating agent], napalm, mustard agents, and any number of other contaminates in the ground and drinking water there, from previous testing done there by the military."
The Edgewood Arsenal facility played a role in WWII human subject testing as well. Roughly 4,000 US soldiers were used as human guinea pigs in chemical research which often took place in gas chambers.
US Navy member Nat Schnurman, for example, was sent to an Edgewood gas chamber six times one week in 1942. As The Detroit Free Press reported: "On his last visit, a blend of mustard gas and lewisite was piped in. Schnurman was overcome with toxins, vomited into his mask and begged for release. The request was denied. His next memory is of coming to on a snowbank outside the chamber."
A pattern of abuse and neglect
If the sagas of Forrest and Schnurman were isolated, they would represent a disgraceful yet closed chapter of US military history. Unfortunately, the Pentagon’s human-testing program has extended far beyond Edgewood Arsenal.
Human Experimentation, a 1994 report from the congressional General Accounting Office (GAO), lays out the Defense Department’s sordid history in detail.
Between 1949 and 1969, for example, the Army sprayed bacterial tracers or simulants on unsuspecting populations in hundreds of biological warfare tests. According to the GAO: "Some of the tests involved spraying large areas, such as the cities of St. Louis and San Francisco, and others involved spraying more focused areas, such as the New York City subway system and Washington National Airport."
No coherent attempt was made to warn those affected or to offer follow-up medical care.
Between 1952-1975, the CIA tested LSD and other psychochemical agents on "an undetermined number of people without their knowledge or consent."