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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Vershbow Says Secrecy May Have Cost Lives

U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow said Tuesday that the failure to disclose information on the gas used in ending the siege may have cost lives.

"We regret that the lack of information contributed to the confusion after the immediate operation to free the hostages was over," Alexander Vershbow told reporters.

"It's clear that with perhaps a little more information, at least a few more of the hostages may have survived," he said.

His criticism came after several days of U.S. praise for Putin's decisive handling of the siege, which left 118 hostages dead.

Vershbow repeated U.S. assertions that the gas was an opiate, a class of drugs that includes morphine and heroin.

"To the best of our knowledge, based on our own doctors who visited some of the American hostages and were able to do their own assessment and talk to some of the Russian medical officials, we do think that it was an opiate," he said.

He said he believed the opiate was known as fentanyl, long used as an anesthetic in hospitals in many countries.

In Washington, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Tuesday that Russian authorities have still not responded to U.S. requests to identify the gas.

Fleischer said he does not know of any consultation by the Russians with U.S. security officials before the use of the gas.

"Of course, once the hostages were taken, the Russians were in communication with us but I'm not aware of anything indicating they were in communication with us about the exact tactics they used," Fleischer said.

Russian doctors treating the hostages told U.S. Embassy workers that they tried atropine, an antidote to many nerve agents, and that did not work, a Bush administration official said.

Narcan, a drug that reverses effects of opiates, did appear to help, the official said.

Opiates not only kill pain and dull the senses but also can cause coma and death by shutting down breathing and circulation.

A Munich doctor treating two German hostages described the drug as a powerful anesthetic.

"It was an anesthetic. And the forensic experts have a indication of which one it is," Thomas Zilker, head of the toxicology department of a Munich university clinic, said by telephone Tuesday.

Zilker said he believed no mistake had been made in measuring the dosage because it was essential the gas take effect instantly.

"I don't think the Russians could have done a better job in measuring the exact doses of the gas," he said. "They had to use a high dosage for the hostage-takers to fall asleep immediately and to prevent them from pulling triggers on their explosives."

He said the deaths could have hardly been prevented. "They would have had to be very lucky."

He said the special forces' decision to use the gas had been a "good idea."

"We wouldn't have come up with anything more clever," he added.

The two German hostages left the hospital Tuesday. Neither have any permanent damage, Zilker said.

(Reuters, AP)