Depleted Uranium: Pentagon Poison

by Minnie Bruce Pratt

2004-05-30 | New York

Deadly radioactivity is drifting in the sands and fertile fields of Iraq, in rain falling in Europe, in breezes that toss palm trees in Vieques, Puerto Rico, in the water of South Korea - the toxic debris of exploded U.S. depleted uranium (DU) shells.

The International Action Center continued its historic exposé of this terrible danger with a forum in New York City on May 25, "Poison Dust - Another U.S. War Crime: the Use of Radioactive Weapons in the Gulf."

DU is a byproduct of the process used to make nuclear bombs and reactor fuel. Because this metal is 1.8 times denser than lead and burns on impact with steel, bullets and shells made of DU can cut through tank armor like butter.

U.S. tanks, Bradley fighting machines, A-10 attack jets and "Apache" helicopters routinely fire DU rounds. When a DU shell hits a target, as much as 70 percent burns on impact, releasing invisible and insoluble uranium oxide, a radioactive dust that people inhale and ingest.

'Metal of Dishonor'

To the political hip-hop of Movement in Motion arts collective chanting "Drop beats, not bombs," 200 people crowded the United Nations Church Center for the meeting on "Poison Dust." The meeting was co-chaired by Naomi Santos of Move ment in Motion and IAC co-director Sara Flounders.

Flounders alerted the gathering that over half of the 700,000 veterans of the first U.S. invasion of Iraq in 1991 have the chronic illness dubbed "Gulf War Syndrome."

Millions of Iraqis died of preventable diseases from the obliteration of water and health systems by bombing and 12 years of sanctions starting in 1990. More recently, Iraqi doctors began to note an ominous increase in cancer and diseases of the immune systems.

Sharon Eolis, a health care worker who traveled to Iraq in 1998 and 2000, confirmed that both U.S. documents and independent scientists strongly link this pattern of sickness and death to DU.

IAC founder and former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark first raised the issue of DU shortly after the 1991 Gulf War. The IAC has continued to inform the public through its DU Education Project with such publications as "Metal of Dishonor: How the Pentagon Radiates Soldiers and Civilians with DU Weapons."

The project also challenged U.S. government denials of DU's impact in a video, also called "Metal of Dishonor," produced by the People's Video Network. At the meeting Sue Harris of PVN announced development of a new video, "Poison Dust," which will go on tour to military bases and communities. The film is necessary, she said, "because the situation is getting worse."

The U.S. dropped 375 tons of DU on Iraq during the first Gulf War, and 2,200 tons during the current invasion. The U.S. has also used DU weapons during its assaults on Afghanistan and the former Yugoslavia, in training exercises in Vieques, Okinawa and South Korea, and doubtless in numerous U.S. military testing grounds. Other countries also use DU weapons.

Clark: 'DU is war against the poor'

Ramsey Clark traced his journey toward understanding the murderous impact of DU on the people of Iraq. He noted that the first signs came two years after heavy U.S. bombing of the desert near Kuwait in 1991. Nomadic Bedouin people, seeking help, began to bring newly born deformed babies into urban hospitals.

In March 2001, Dr. Aws Albait, an Iraqi physician who worked in Baghdad from 1990-1999, said that leukemia and lymphomas in Iraqi children had increased 12-fold, and in adults, six-fold.

Illness and genetic damage is also occurring in the children of U.S. soldiers. Children of male Gulf War veterans are born with twice the usual rate of birth defects. In female veterans, the rate is three times normal, with double the rate of miscarriages.

A study in the April 2003 New Scientist magazine suggests DU toxicity combines synergistically with its radioactivity to produce much more serious effects than either poison alone.

Clark stressed that the impact of DU unfolds over many years, and that the movement must be committed to an equally long struggle: "We have to reach out, be unified, with every ounce of energy. This is a war against the poor with the U.S. military there only to protect and increase the wealth of the few."

'A huge catastrophe'

Juan Gonzalez, president of the Nation al Association of Hispanic Journ alists and a co-producer of the "Democracy Now!" radio show, is currently running a series of columns on DU in the New York Daily News. He acknowledged that he was standing on the shoulders of the IAC and other activists, saying: "A huge, huge catastrophe has been visited upon the planet by use of these weapons and the spread of low-level radiation."

Gonzalez broke the story on DU after the mother of a U.S. soldier on leave from Iraq came to him for help. Her son, serving with a New York State National Guard unit, was suffering from serious respiratory problems--and being forced to return to combat. The mother added that many other members of his unit in Iraq were also so sick with high temperatures, kidney ailments and respiratory problems that they'd been sent home to Fort Dix.

Gonzalez saw a connection to the effects of DU, and arranged for independent testing of the soldiers. Of nine tested, four were absolutely positive for DU contamination, and three were probable.

Denied testing at Walter Reed Military Hospital, they were examined in a German clinic under the supervision of Dr. Asaf Durakovic, professor of radiology and nuclear medicine at Georgetown Univer sity in Washington, D.C., and a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves. Dr. Durakovic, who is the Veterans Administration's nuclear-medicine expert, has characterized DU as a "threat to humanity."

DU is the latest manifestation of the dangerous low-level radiation that is a byproduct of U.S. military use of nuclear weapons. Gonzalez cited a January 2000 federal report on occupational sickness of Department of Energy personnel that documented 50 years of deliberate government exposure of military and civilian personnel to radiation.

A 1990 report on the effects of DU, from the U.S. Army Armaments, Munitions and Chemical Command, was clear: "[L]ong term effects of low doses [of DU] have been implicated in cancer ... There is no dose so low that the probability of effect is zero."

Gonzalez was emphatic: "These weapons have to be eliminated or the whole planet will be contaminated."

Resisting war crimes

Navy veteran Dustin Langley of SNAFU (Support Network for an Armed Forces Union) stated that DU was just one more crime of the U.S. against its own soldiers, in a line stretching back to exposing troops to atomic testing during the Cold War and Agent Orange in Vietnam.

He described how soldiers - working people forced to enlist by the "poverty draft" - come home with contaminated equipment, store it in the garage or laundry room, and sicken their own families. "DU doesn't wash off with Tide," he said.

Langley urged the crowd to join the IAC and SNAFU in turning out for the June 5 March on Washington to end the U.S. occu pation of Iraq, Palestine, Haiti, the Philippines, Korea and everywhere. He indicted the Bush administration as a regime that is "stockpiling weapons of mass destruction, using them against its own people, and funding a worldwide network of terrorism" through U.S. military aggression. But by "regime change," he said, he didn't mean the Democrats or Ralph Nader's campaign.

The solution? "A global mass movement - a multinational, multi-gendered anti-war movement that will shock and awe the war-makers in Washington."

For inspiration, he pointed to the heroic resistance in Falluja and to the growing number of U.S. soldiers who refuse to com mit war crimes, like Marine Corps resister Stephen Funk and Staff Sgt. Camilo Mejia, a Nicaraguan immigrant sentenced on May 21 to a year's imprisonment. Mejia would not return to his unit in Iraq, saying, "This is an oil-driven war."

More inspiration for resistance came from Frank Velgara of the Vieques Sup port Campaign, who told how on May 3, 2003, a decades-long struggle by determined Puerto Rican activists shut down the U.S. Navy bombing range in Vieques, a "victory against the most powerful military in the world."

Kadouri al-Kaysi, an International Action Center member from Basra, Iraq, seconded that determination, focusing the evening on action: "Iraqis want the U.S. out of Iraq. The fight is still going on, and they will never give up. Most important is to come to Washington on June 5 to say to the Iraqis: We are with you, not with the U.S. government!"

Minnie Bruce Pratt
Reprinted from the June 3, 2004, issue of Workers World newspaper

Source: http://www.unobserver.com/layout5.php?id=1704&blz=1

Informant: Davey Garland


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