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Military Abused Its Authority In Anthrax Vaccine Program



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Army Times - November 15, 2004

Military abused its authority in anthrax vaccine program

By Russell Dingle and Thomas Rempfer

In 1776, our Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, in part due to abuses of authority whereby the occupying military power had become “independent of and superior to the Civil Power.”

The founders ensured through the Constitution that our new nation’s military would remain firmly under civilian control. As the scope and technology of our armed forces evolved, civilian leaders became increasingly reliant on the military leadership’s integrity and expertise in the profession of arms.

This reliance was based on the leaders’ commitment to give unbiased assessments of threats, weaponry and force protection. Anything less from the military is a dangerous trend — one our forefathers decisively rejected.

The military’s anthrax vaccine program, however, is a case study of inaccurate assessments to our civilian leaders. Military officials often unknowingly misled appointed civilian superiors with dogmatic rhetoric, delaying the proper execution of Congress’ oversight role.

Regardless of where accountability lies for the misinformation, the fact is the military implemented the immunization program based on false assumptions about the safety, efficacy and legality of the vaccine. Adverse reactions were a hundred times higher than originally professed, and the vaccine’s experimental status rendered the mandatory program illegal. These facts were not communicated with candor.

Despite delays in the oversight process due to this lack of forthrightness, civilian control of the military remained steadfast. In February 2000, Congress released a report finding that the vaccine was indeed experimental. It recommended developing a modern vaccine while making inoculations voluntary, in line with federal law. The Government Accountability Office, formerly the General Accounting Office, also published more than a dozen critical reports.

In December 2003, a federal court upheld the anthrax vaccine to be an “investigational drug … being used for an unapproved purpose,” and affirmed that the Pentagon “is in violation of 10 USC 1107, Executive Order 13139, and DoD Directive 6200.2.” The court commented on the assertion that the vaccine was not experimental, stating: “The documents submitted to this court under seal suggest otherwise.” The court accurately recognized that the Defense Department had considered the vaccine “experimental.”

Regardless of a belated attempt to complete the anthrax vaccine’s licensure by the FDA after the court’s ruling, the program’s past illegality stands as case law to this day. On Oct. 27, the federal judge reaffirmed his decision that the anthrax vaccine program is illegal absent informed consent or a presidential waiver.

The Pentagon’s internal documents, the congressional report and the federal court ruling confirmed the vaccine’s known experimental status. The law explicitly required either a service member’s informed consent for such a vaccine or the president’s waiving of this right.

Unfortunately, the Defense Department did not modify the anthrax vaccine program in its early stages, when the illegal program affected only a small portion of the armed forces. Instead, federal regulations, U.S. law and attempts at civilian control were dismissed.

Today almost 5 million doses of vaccine have been mandated for more than 1.2 million troops.

So is civilian control of the military at peril with regard to the anthrax vaccine program? Clearly, the answer is no. The congressional reports and legal opinions attest to ongoing efforts that will ultimately reaffirm civilian control of this program. The oversight is not as expeditious as many who have lost their careers or health due to the vaccine mandate might have hoped, but the process continues.

For example, legislation was recently introduced in Congress to make the anthrax vaccine program voluntary and order the correction of records for troops previously punished over their concerns about the vaccine. Exoneration for those fined, dishonorably discharged or even jailed should be an academic exercise based on documented historic violations of law.

Ultimately, the military itself should hold accountable the officers who misled our civilian authorities and armed forces about the anthrax vaccine mandate — enforced at the expense of thousands of punished and ill service members.

Retired Lt. Col. Russell Dingle and Maj. Thomas Rempfer were members of a 1998 Connecticut Air National Guard investigative team that helped identify legal and ethical issues regarding the anthrax vaccine. Their views do not represent official Defense Department policy.

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