By MIKE BILLINGTON

WASHINGTON, June 23 (UPI) - A panel of experts and former soldiers has
raised serious objections to a CNN/Time Magazine story alleging that
U.S.commandos used deadly sarin nerve gas in 1970 to kill American
defectors in Laos.

Panelist Chip Beck, a retired CIA officer who served in Indochina from
1969 to 1975, said, ``In this case, after a careful examination of the
facts, we are united in our assessment that the wrongdoing in this case
was not on the part of the U.S. military but on the part of CNN and Time
journalists.''

The panel, which included two retired generals, was assembled by Soldier
of Fortune magazine. The magazine had hoped to stage a debate between
the panelists and Peter Arnett and April Oliver, the CNN reporter and
producer who did the original story. Although invited, neither Arnett
nor Oliver attended today's event at the National Press Club.

The magazine also produced documents attacking the story, including a
letter from former U.S. ambassador to Laos G. McMurtrie Godley, who
acknowledged that during his tenure as ambassador from 1969 through
1973, he approved covert CIA and U.S. military operations in Laos.
However, he said, the use of sarin gas was never authorized.

He also said that while the embassy was aware that there were
occasionally U.S. prisoners of war being held in Laos, there was never
any suggestion that American deserters or defectors were living there.

Panelist retired Army general Perry Smith, who served as CNN's top
military adviser, sent a resignation letter to CNN in which he told CEO
Tom Johnson he should apologize to the former Air Force pilots who
``tried so very hard to help (Oliver) find the truth only to be totally
ignored or, worse, accused of lying.''

He also said Johnson should apologize to Gene McCarley, who commanded
the mission where the sarin gas was allegedly used.

Smith says McCarley spent more than six hours with Oliver explaining the
purpose of ``Operation Tailwind.'' During that time, Smith says McCarley
told her repeatedly the Air Force dropped tear gas to help his commando
team escape and told her there were no defectors in Laos.

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