Page 1


Admission Stirs Action N SECRETARY OF Energy Hazel O’Leary on December 7, 1993, officially acknowledged that the Department of Energy and its predecessors had authorized some 800 radiation experiments on human subjects, it was only the beginning of government activity to make amends after a half-century of secrecy. Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs Jesse Brown promised a full investigation of radiation experiments involving patients at veterans’ hospitals and Brown said the department was prepared to help veterans Who might have suffered. But the announcements also stirred Congressional committees and legislators into action \(All of the the committee chairs are Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, chaired by John Glenn of Ohio, on January 25 heard individuals testify on cases of human testing of radiation. Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, . chaired by Edward Kennedy of MassachusettS, heard testimony on January 12 and is collecting names of people who feel they might have been a part of the experimentsand then passing names on to the Department of Energy. The committee staff estimates it receives five letters a day from people who believe they might have been unknowing victims. House Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by John Dingell of Michigan, is pushing for the rapid declassification of documents that keep secret experiments, like the one exposed by the Albuquerque Tribune, hidden from public scrutiny. Medical follow-ups and corrective action for victims of improper radiation experimentation are being sought, as well. The subject of human testing as a whole also is being discussed and debated. Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Demo crat and senior member of the committee, has been involved in the issue of human testing since 1986. House Committee on Veterans’ Afgomery of Mississippi, in a February 8 hearing examined the Veterans Administration’s involvement in secret radiation testing. Joseph P. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat and member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said that it is time for the government to make amends. “We can accept no less than a comprehensive investigation and a full, independent review demanded of a free society,” Kennedy said. The committee urged the rapid release of relevant information about all VA testing. Rep. Martin Frost, a Dallas Democrat, introduced H.R. 3743, the Radiation Experimentation Compensation Act, on January 26, 1994. His bill proposes payment of $50,000 to each person who was a subject of an intentional radiation experiment without his or her consent. In a letter circulated to all House members, Frost wrote “we can never fully compensate these people for what their government has done to them. ,However, we can provide some measure of relief with this payment and recognition that the United States Government was wrong to conduct secret experiments on its citizens.” Rep. Frost joined Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Dallas Democrat, in sponsoring a resolution to the House of Representatives that denounces government-sponsored radiation experiments on humans. H.R. 337 would put the House of Representatives on record as condemning the experiments and would direct such experiments to cease. Elmer Allen, who was injected with plutonium in 1947, lived in Frost’s Congressional district. Kim Young the 40’s.” Unable to support his family, he returned to his wife’s Texas hometown, where she supported the family by teaching in the public school. He was always in poor physical and mental health. “He thought he was the most insignificant person in the world,” Whitfield said. One-third of the patients injected in the ’40s were either misdiagnosed, or the actual requirements for those who would be subjected to the study were something other than what is has been thus far made public. Four of the 18 were still living in the 1970s, when a follow-up study was conducted. And Elmer Allen, again unaware of what was happening to him, participated in a 1973 follow-up, which included a brief visit to the Argonne National Laboratory at Chicago and two weeks of testing at Rochester, New. York. “I didn’t think anything was going on,” Fredna said during an interview at her home in Italy. “I just thought it was a nice trip. He couldn’t work all those years, he couldn’t do anything for us. He said, ‘I’ve never been able to do anything for you and now I’m going to take you on this trip. I’m doing this for you,’ he said. He thought he was going up there for them to check his metabolism to see why he lived so long.” The Aliens traveled first-class, by train, from Dallas to Chicago and on to Rochester, where Elmer spent 14 days in bed at the Strong Memorial Hospital. “Fredna Allen was so trusting, such a wonderful American, my sense of outrage of what happened to her kept me going,” Welsome said. “It was shameful that they were brought back into a lab on false pretenses. How could they treat a human being that way. How could they be so cold, callous, unfair, inhuman.” Welsome’s trip to Italy provided her editors with an incentive to put more of the newspaper’s resources into the story. Even before her trip to Italy, Welsome said, her editors were reasonable. “How many papers will let a reporter follow a 50-year-old trail. “The DOE didn’t come to the table,” Welsome said, “they were dragged. It was Loretta Garrison, a lawyer with the Cleveland, Ohio, law firm that represents the Scripps-Howard chain, who set out to bring the DOE to the table . “Loretta’s name belongs on this story. It couldn’t have been done without her,” Welsome said, adding that Garrison was moved and angered when she learned what had happened to the Aliens. In July of 1992, using the Freedom of Information Act, Garrison began a paper war with the Department of Energy. “The Tribune had filed some earlier requests, FOIA requests on their own,” Garrison said. “And, they had some conversations with the DOE and there had been an appeal. Based on what Eileen had already received, we were able to ask for very specific documents as well as categories of documents,” she said. “We were trying to do this in a way that would make the DOE respond. In other words, so they couldn’t come back and say ‘Well, this is really ambiguous. We don’t really know what you mean.’ If we asked for a letter dated July 7, 1972, from so-and-so to soand-so, I mean, how can they say they don’t know what the request means? . “We had established that they have the original [medical] records,” Garrison said in an interview a month ago. And they did not want to produce them to us. …Then they made a decision that maybe we weren’t entitled to them at all, because they weren’t really agency records. I mean, we went round and round. Finally, after the story broke, and it became a national news item, those records were ordered to be shipped to the central office.” But the individual medical records, Garrison said, an essential piece of the story, remained in Washington: “Even when Elmerine was testifying, before Congressman [Philip] Sharp’s committee, saying to the panel, ‘The one thing that we have asked for, and that we would want from the Department of Energy, are my father’s medical records,’ those records were sitting there in the DOE’s office.” Elmerine Whitfield not only pressured the Congressional subcommittee for her father’s THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5