US nurses, back from Lebanon, say US shells hit civilian areas
Washington — Two American nurses who worked in Lebanon say that the use of United States Navy guns in support of the Lebanese army turned many Druze Muslims against the United States.
The two registered nurses, Irene Borowski and Marita Gutoski, who worked as volunteers, charged that US-backed Lebanese army units together with rightist Phalange militia forces intentionally shelled hospitals.
The two said that many of the Druze were originally well-disposed toward the American marines.
A Defense Department spokesman said on Monday that the Department was not publicly addressing the subject of damage caused by US naval gunfire. The spokesman said that some targets allegedly hit by the Navy could have been hit by the Lebanese army artillerymen.
''We do have intelligence,'' the spokesman said. ''We're not shooting blindly.''
But the spokesman said that to give a detailed assessment of damage caused by American shelling might endanger sensitive intelligence sources.
Last Dec. 14, after the battleship New Jersey opened fire for the first time against targets in Lebanon, a top Defense Department spokesman was asked by reporters for an assessment of the damage which the ship's guns had caused. He said that cloud cover had hampered an assessment but that the department would ''use all means available'' to try to get the information. On Dec. 20, however, the same spokesman said that the sources for damage assessments were such that the information could not be shared.
Defense spokesmen have since then consistently declined to be pinned down as to the sources of information which would lead them to believe that their firing had been accurate. Adding to the confusion has been the difficulty which reporters have encountered in reaching some parts of the mountainous Shouf region under wartime conditions.
Irene Borowski and Marita Gutoski said that they saw no Americans during their several months' stay in the Shouf, aside from one occasion when they were visited by members of an ABC television crew. The nurses met while working at a cancer research center in Tacoma, Wash.
They left their positions in May 1983, to volunteer their services to the Medical Network for Lebanon Relief, a project of Grassroots International, a nonprofit relief group based in Cambridge, Mass.
The two nurses initially served in separate positions in southern Lebanon but were transferred to the Qabr Chmoun Hospital in the Shouf region in June. After being refused visa extensions by the Lebanese authorities, they left Lebanon and returned to the US in December.
On Sept. 5, 1983, as the Israeli forces withdrew from the Shouf, the two nurses found themselves in the middle of a war.
At first, they said, the US-supported Lebanese army was welcomed into the Shouf. But the army was quickly followed by right-wing Phalange militiamen, who spread terror wherever they went. On Sept. 5, the hospital staff at Qabr Chmoun had to evacuate under fire from what they assumed to be Lebanese army guns. The two nurses said that no military installations were located in the area.
A hotel at the nearby village of Ainab was transformed into a makeshift hospital, they said. But shelling once again caused the staff to evacuate. The two said that after they had been forced, together with patients, to move once again, US Navy ships began shelling the area. Marita Gutoski, who was then working in a private hospital in the town of Aleih said that people began asking why the US was shelling and ''taking sides.''
An American marine spokesman in Beirut, Maj. Robert Jordan, had said that on Sept. 19 and 20 two American warships had bombarded antigovernment artillery and missile batteries in the mountains southeast of Beirut. Jordan said the Navy opened up for a second day after the residence of the US ambassador in the hills overlooking Beirut had been fired at but missed by a multiple rocket launcher.
According to the New York Times, reporters counted at least 40 rounds fired by the two ships, the cruiser Virginia and the destroyer John Rodgers. On Sept. 19, according to Western military sources, the two ships fired more than 300 rounds.
The New York Times said that according to Western military sources, the Lebanese army did a poor job on Sept. 19 of calling in the bombing coordinates for gunners on the Virginia and John Rodgers. As a result the Americans almost hit some villages that were not occupied by antigovernment forces, the sources said.
According to Gutoski, one could distinguish US Navy shelling from that of the Lebanese Army because it was more systematic and intense. The two nurses said they do not have casualty figures from American shelling as they were constantly occupied with caring for patients, sometimes working day and night.
At Ainab, nurse Borowski said, there were direct artillery hits on the hospital which they believed were delivered by Lebanese Army guns.
''I remember being really amazed that we were shelled, because I thought we were in a relatively secluded place,'' said nurse Borowski, who is a former captain in the US Army Nurse Corps.