Thursday May 1 5:01 PM EDT

Former Sen. Rudman to Lead Gulf Illness Probe

WASHINGTON (Reuter) - Moving to address growing criticism of the Pentagon and CIA, Defense Secretary William Cohen Thursday named a former U.S. senator to watch over an investigation into health problems of Gulf War veterans.

He told reporters that Republican Sen. Warren Rudman of New Hampshire, known for toughness and impartiality, would oversee information from the Pentagon and spy agency on why thousands of U.S. troops who served in the 1991 war are ill with numerous symptoms.

Cohen's announcement came a day after a White House panel said the Pentagon and CIA were not moving quickly enough to determine whether American troops might have been exposed to Iraqi nerve gas or other chemical agents in the Gulf.

"There still continues to be criticism about the level of cooperation that is existing. There is some criticism directed at the department," Cohen told reporters, adding that Rudman, who left the Senate in 1992, would address the credibility problem.

Responding to questions at a Pentagon news conferene with Ukraine's Defense Minister Olexander Kuzmuk, Cohen said Rudman would serve as an "independent overseer" of the collection of facts.

"He (Rudman) will serve ... so that everyone will be satisfied that the information is not being manipulated, information is not being withheld, there is no cover-up," said Cohen.

Rudman, respected by Democrats and Republicans for a tough and impartial approach to issues in the Senate, is currently vice chairman of President Clinton's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.

But Rudman is a lawyer in Washington and Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said that he would be working on the matter on a part-time basis without pay, despite the broad scope of the investigation.

Tens of thousands of U.S. military Gulf War veterans have complained of physical and mental problems ranging from joint aches to memory loss, but no common cause of the complaints has been found.

Gulf veterans have charged that many of them might have suffered exposure to Iraqi chemical weapons in the 1991 U.S. destruction of a southern Iraq ammunition dump at Kamisiyah and that the CIA and Pentagon are covering up evidence.

In a report to the White House Wednesday, the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Illnesses said the Pentagon was too cautious in making conclusions about incidents in which troops might have been exposed to Iraqi chemical weapons.

But Bernard Rostker, a doctor who is heading the Pentagon investigation, told reporters Thursday that simple "common sense" was being used to evaluate each case and that he was disappointed in the panel's conclusion.

"We're not in the business of scaring people. We're in the business of giving reasonable results," said Rostker, who was praised by Cohen for his work on the investigation.

The CIA recently said it had information ahead of the destruction that shells and rockets containing Sarin and possibly other agents were present at Kamisiyah but that military officials were not warned.

The Pentagon is in the process of checking more than 15,000 troops who served in the 82nd Airborne Division and other units and who may have been within range of a cloud produced by the blasts that destroyed the dump.

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