Washington's secret nuclear war
by Shaheen Chughtai
Tuesday 07 September 2004 5:52 PM GMT
The US has dropped tonnes of depleted uranium on Iraq
weapons of mass destruction have not only been found in Iraq but have
been used against Iraqis and have even killed US troops.
Washington and its allies have tried to cover up this outrage because
the chief culprit is the US itself, argue American and other experts
trying to expose what they say is a war crime.
The WMD in question is depleted uranium (DU). A
radioactive by-product of uranium enrichment, DU is used to coat
ammunition such as tank shells and "bunker busting" missiles because
its density makes it ideal for piercing armour.
Thousands of DU shells and bombs have been used in
Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and - both during the 1990-91 Gulf war
and the ongoing conflict - in Iraq.
using it now, they're using it in Falluja, Baghdad is
chock-a-block with DU - it's all over the place," says Major Doug
Rokke, director of the US army's DU project in 1994-95.
"They're using it in Falluja, Baghdad is chock-a-block with DU - it's all over the place"
Major Doug Rokke,
ex-head of US army DU project
Scientists say even a tiny particle can have
disastrous results once ingested, including various cancers and
degenerative diseases, paralysis, birth deformities and death.
And as tiny DU particles are blown across the Middle
East and beyond like a radioactive poison gas, the long-term
implications for the world are deeply disturbing.
DU has a "half-life" of 4.5 billion years, meaning it takes that long for just half of its atoms to decay.
Only 467 US soldiers were officially wounded during the 1990-91 Gulf war.
But according to Terry Jemison at the US Department
of Veterans Affairs (VA), of the more than 592,560 discharged personnel
who served there, at least 179,310 - one third - are
receiving disability compensation and over 24,760 cases were pending by
in September 2004.
This does not include personnel still active and receiving care from the military, or those who have died.
A sixth of the Iraq war veterans
have already sought treatment
And among 168,528 veterans of the current conflict in
Iraq who have left active duty, 16% (27,571) had already sought
treatment from the VA by July 2004.
"That's astronomical," says Rokke, whose team studied
how to provide medical care for victims, how to clean contaminated
sites, and how to train those using DU weapons.
Rokke admits the exact cause for these casualties cannot be confirmed. But he insists the evidence pointing to DU is compelling.
"There were no chemical or biological weapons there, no big oil well fires," he says. "So what's left?"
Cradle to grave
Dr Jenan Ali, a senior Iraqi doctor at Basra
hospital's College of Medicine, says her studies show a 100% rise
in child leukaemia in the region in the decade after the first
Gulf war, with a 242% increase in all types of malignancies.
The director of the Afghan DU and Recovery Fund, Dr
Daud Miraki, says his field researchers found evidence of DU's
effect on civilians in eastern and southeastern Afghanistan in 2003
although local conditions make rigorous statistical analysis difficult.
children are born with no eyes, no limbs, or tumours protruding from
their mouths and eyes," Miraki told Aljazeera.net. Some newborns are
barely recognisable as human, he says. Many do not survive.
Iraqi and Afghan doctors have
seen a rise in deformed foetuses
Afghan and Iraqi children continue to play amid
radioactive debris. But the US army will not even label contaminated
equipment or sites because doing so would be an admission that DU is
This "deceitful failure", says Rokke, contradicts the
US army's own rules, such as regulation AR 700-48, which stipulates its
responsibilities to isolate, label and decontaminate radioactive
equipment and sites as well as to render prompt and effective medical care for all exposed individuals.
"This is a war crime," Rokke says. "The president is
obliged to ensure the army complies with these regulations but they're
deliberately violating the law. It's that simple."
But these blatant violations are practically
irrelevant because Rokke's Iraq mission found that DU cannot be cleaned
up and there is no known medical remedy.
US President George Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony
Blair used Saddam Hussein's alleged possession of illegal weapons to
justify invading Iraq. But several prominent jurists hold Bush and
Blair guilty of war crimes for waging DU warfare.
The vice-president of the Indian Lawyers Association,
Niloufer Bhagwat, sat on an international panel of judges for the
unofficial International Criminal Tribunal for Afghanistan.
Bhagwat and her fellow judges ruled that
the US had used "weapons of extermination of present and future
generations, genocidal in properties".
And not just against defenceless Afghan civilians.
Critics say George Bush (R) and
Tony Blair are 'war criminals'
"Bush was guilty of knowingly using DU weaponry
against his own troops," Bhagwat told Aljazeera.net, "because the
president knew the effects of DU could not be controlled".
A prominent US international human-rights lawyer,
Karen Parker, says there are four rules derived from humanitarian laws
and conventions regarding weapons:
- weapons may only be used against legal enemy
military targets and must not have an adverse effect elsewhere (the
- weapons can only be used for the duration of an
armed conflict and must not be used or continue to act afterwards (the
- weapons may not be unduly inhumane (the "humaneness" rule). The Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 speak of "unnecessary suffering" and "superfluous injury" in this regard
- weapons may not have an unduly negative effect on the natural environment (the "environmental" rule).
"DU weaponry fails all four tests," Parker told
Aljazeera.net. First, DU cannot be limited to legal military
targets. Second, it cannot be "turned off" when the war is
over but keeps killing.
Third, DU can kill
through painful conditions such as cancers and organ damage
and can also cause birth defects such as facial deformities
and missing limbs.
Lastly, DU cannot be used without unduly damaging the natural environment.
"Use of DU weaponry violates the grave breach provisions of the Geneva Conventions"
human rights lawyer
"In my view, use of DU weaponry violates the grave
breach provisions of the Geneva Conventions," says Parker. "And so
its use constitutes a war crime, or crime against humanity."
Parker and others took the DU issue before the UN in
1995, and in 1996, the UN Human Rights Commission described
DU munitions as weapons of mass destruction that should be banned.
Despite the evidence, Rokke says Pentagon and Energy
Department officials have campaigned against him and others trying to
expose the horrors of DU.
That charge is echoed by Leuren Moret, a geoscientist
who has worked at the Lawrence Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore nuclear
weapons research laboratories in California.
White House denials are part of a long-standing cover-up policy that has been exposed before, she says.
example, the US denied using DU bombs and missiles against Yugoslavia
in 1999," she told Aljazeera.net. "But scientists in Yugoslavia, Greece
and Bulgaria measured elevated levels of gamma radiation in the first
three days of grid and carpet bombing by the US."
President Bush insists warnings
about DU are merely propaganda
Moret said: "A missile landed in Bulgaria that didn't
explode and scientists identified a DU warhead. Then, Lord [George]
Robertson, the head of NATO, admitted in public that DU had been used."
Even the US army expressed concern about the use of
DU in July 1990, some six months before the outbreak of the first Gulf
war. Those concerns were later echoed by Iraqi officials.
But brushing his own army's report aside - now said
to be "outdated" - US President George Bush has dismissed such
warnings as "propaganda".
"In recent years, the Iraqi regime made false claim
that the depleted uranium rounds fired by coalition forces have caused
cancers and birth defects in Iraq," says Bush on his White House
"But scientists working for the World Health
Organisation, the UN Environmental Programme and the European Union
could find no health effects linked to exposure to depleted uranium,"
Bush can point to a World Health Organisation
(WHO) report in 2001 that said there was no significant risk
of inhaling radioactive particles where DU weapons had been used.
said the level of radiation associated with DU debris was not
particularly hazardous, but it accepted that high exposure could
pose a health risk.
WHO also commissioned a scientific
study shortly before the 2003 invasion of Iraq that warned of the
dangers of US and British use of DU - but refused to publish its
The study's main author, Dr Keith Baverstock, told
Aljazeera.net that "the report was deliberately suppressed" because WHO
was pressed by a more powerful, pro-nuclear UN body - the International
Atomic Energy Agency. WHO has rejected his claims as "totally
study found DU particles were likely to be blown around and inhaled by
Iraqi civilians for years to come. Once inside a human body, the
radioactive particles can trigger the growth of malignant tumours.
"[WHO's] report was deliberately suppressed"
Dr Keith Baverstock,
co-author of WHO report on DU
Bush's claim that the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) gives DU pollution a clean bill of health is also disingenuous.
experts have yet to be allowed into Iraq, its spokesman in Geneva
Michael Williams told Aljazeera.net, citing security concerns.
And a scientific body set up in 1997 by Green EU
parliamentarians - the European Committee on Radiation Risk (ECRR) -
found that DU posed serious health risks.
An eminent Canadian scientist involved with the ECRR,
Dr Rosalie Bertell, says the deadliness of DU derived not just from its
radioactivity but from the durability of particles formed in the
3000-6000C heat produced when a DU weapon is fired.
"The particles produced are like ceramic: not soluble
in body fluid, non-biodegradable and highly toxic," she told
Aljazeera.net. "They tend to concentrate in the lymph nodes, which is
the source of lymphomas and leukaemia".
The US military and political establishment cannot
plead ignorance. As early as October 1943, Manhattan Project
scientists Arthur Compton, James Connant and Harold Urey sent a memo to
their director, General Leslie Groves, saying DU could be used to
create a "radioactive gas".
1961, two nuclear experts, Briton HE Huxley and American Geoffrey
Zubay, informed the scientific community that DU targeted human DNA and
"the Master Code, which controls the expression of DNA", Moret
DU targets human DNA and may
thus affect future generations
In September 2000, Dr Asaf Durakovic, professor of
nuclear medicine at Washington's Georgetown University, told a Paris
conference of prominent scientists that "tens of thousands" of US and
UK troops were dying of DU.
"There has to be a moratorium on the manufacture,
sales, use and storage of DU," geoscientist Moret says, warning that
this will not happen unless more Americans realise what is
The Middle East has been severely contaminated, warns
Moret. "That region is radioactive forever," she says, but
worse is yet to come.
Moret says the air carrying DU particles takes about a year to mix with the rest of the earth's atmosphere.
Radioactive sites continue to kill
and contaminate Iraqi children
The radiation released by DU nuclear warfare is believed to be more than 10 times the amount dispersed by atmospheric testing.
As a result, DU particles have engulfed the world in a radioactive poison gas that promises illness and death for millions.
Rokke went to Iraq a fit and healthy soldier,
but the major is now beset with a variety of illnesses and each
day is a struggle.
He suffers from respiratory problems
and cataracts while his teeth - weakened by DU
radiation - are crumbling. At least 20 of the 100 primary
personnel he worked with on the US army's DU project have died. Most of
the rest are ill.
Meanwhile, WHO says cancer rates worldwide are set to rise by 50% by 2020, although it does not link this publicly to DU.
"They would never say that - they offered various
strange explanations," said Moret. "But DU is the key factor.
People will slowly die."
By Shaheen Chughtai
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