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Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Washington's secret nuclear war

By Shaheen Chughtai
Tuesday 14 September 2004, 22:17 Makka Time, 19:17 GMT

The US has dropped tonnes of depleted uranium on Iraq

US secretly removed Iraqi uranium
The ABC of WMD
Iraq's real WMD crime

Illegal weapons of mass destruction have not only been
found in Iraq but have been used against Iraqis and
have even killed US troops.

But 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 in 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.

"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

"They're 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.

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

DU has a "half-life" of 4.5 billion years, meaning it
takes that long for just half of its atoms to decay.

Sick soldiers

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.

A sixth of the Iraq war veterans
have already sought treatment

This does not include personnel still active and
receiving care from the military, or those who have

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

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

Iraqi and Afghan doctors have
seen a rise in deformed foetuses

"Many 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.

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 hazardous.

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."

No remedy

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

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".

Friendly fire

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 territorial rule)
weapons can only be used for the duration of an armed
conflict and must not be used or continue to act
afterwards (the temporal rule)
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).
Illegal weapons

"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.

"Use of DU weaponry violates the grave breach
provisions of the Geneva Conventions"

Karen Parker,
human rights lawyer

Lastly, DU cannot be used without unduly damaging the
natural environment.

"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

White House denials are part of a long-standing
cover-up policy that has been exposed before, she

President Bush insists warnings
about DU are merely propaganda

"For 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."

Moret says: "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 website.

"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," he says.

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.

It said the level of radiation associated with DU
debris was not particularly hazardous, but it accepted
that high exposure could pose a health risk.

Scientific studies

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 findings.

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 unfounded".

"[WHO's] report was deliberately suppressed"

Dr Keith Baverstock,
co-author of WHO report on DU

The 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.

Bush's claim that the UN Environmental Programme
(UNEP) gives DU pollution a clean bill of health is
also disingenuous.

UNEP 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

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

Known killer

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".

DU targets human DNA and may
thus affect future generations

In 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

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.

Death sentence

"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 happening.

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," says Moret. "But DU is the key
factor. People will slowly die."



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