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FW: Felicity gives'em hell

Al-Ahram Weekly On-line 
15 - 21 March 2001 (Cairo) 
Lie of the millennium?
By Felicity Arbuthnot*

On 9 January this year, the United Kingdom's Armed
Forces Minister John Spellar addressed parliament
regarding concerns over the use of depleted uranium
(DU) weapons. For those who have followed the issue
since these weapons were used in the 1991 Gulf War,
his assertions that the harmful impact on the civilian
population attributed to DU were grossly exaggerated
were astonishing. Whether he was dramatically misled
by his advisers or influenced by the "special
relationship" that the UK has with Washington, he was
being extremely economical with the truth.

The UN Sub-Committee on Minorities and Human Rights
has charged three times that these are weapons of mass
destruction, which bolsters the case for eventual
compensation claims -- expected to run into the
billions of dollars -- by countries where they have
been used or tested and by civilians and soldiers for
illnesses linked to DU exposure.

Just 10 months after the Gulf War, Iraqi doctors were
already bewildered by the rise in rare cancers and
birth deformities. At the time, it was not known that
DU weapons had been used in the war, but the doctors
were already comparing their new cases to those they
had seen in textbooks related to nuclear testing in
the Pacific in the 1950s.

In Basra, the main city of southern Iraq which was in
the eye of "desert storm," paediatrician Dr Jenan
Hussein has completed a thesis comparing the cancers
and birth deformities seen in Iraq with those
following the bombing of Hiroshima. Cancers,
leukaemias and malignancies -- all of which have been
linked to DU -- have risen by 70 per cent since 1991.
Experts say that DU has entered the food chain via the
water table and soil.

Death stalks children of Basra from the moment of
birth. The unimaginable can be found: babies with
twisted limbs, or without any limbs, eyes, or brain --
or even without a head. "If you are not prone to
fainting, I will show you a baby born just an hour
ago," Dr Jenan said during one of my visits. The tiny
infant had no eyes, nose, tongue, oesophagus, or
genitalia. The impossibly twisted legs were joined by
a thick web of flesh. "We see many similar cases," she

Having seen the result of their use, it is not
difficult to understand why former US Attorney-General
Ramsey Clark considers the use of DU weapons a
"criminal act."

Gulf War veterans began showing signs of illness just
months after the war. Their search for treatment and
answers has been met with bureaucratic stonewalling
and lies. As the veterans, sick and dying, have
attempted to find answers for themselves in the UK,
their homes have been raided by police from the
Ministry of Defence (MOD).

A 1996 survey of US Gulf War veterans in the small
Mississippi town of McGann showed that out of 267
families questioned, 67 per cent of children conceived
after their fathers had returned from the Gulf had
rare birth deformities.

That both the British and American authorities knew of
the dangers of DU and ignored them is beyond doubt.

DU weapons were born of greed. Depleted uranium is
essentially a waste product of the nuclear industry.
Since no one wants it in their backyard and its
disposal is hugely costly, it was given free to the
weapons industry to be used as core and coating for
bullets, missiles and tanks.

"Depleted uranium is a radioactive waste and, as such,
should be deposited in a licensed repository,"
according to a June 1995 statement by the US Army
Environmental Policy Institute.

At no point does it advise its use on mosques,
schools, hospitals, radio stations or a Chinese

"Basically, DU missiles are just cylinders of nuclear
waste with fins," comments Angus Parker, a sick
veteran and former expert technician at Britain's
Porton Down weapons establishment, who was deployed in
the Gulf with the First Field Laboratory Unit.

A spokesperson for the United Kingdom Atomic Energy
Authority (UKAEA) told Al-Ahram Weekly of its
astonishment upon discovering that these weapons had
been used in the Gulf. Uninformed by the government at
the time of the war, the UKAEA only learned of the use
of DU weapons from reports in the media. So alarmed
was the UKAEA that it sent a report to the Ministry of
Defence in April 1991, warning of a health and
environmental catastrophe. They estimated that if 50
tonnes of DU dust were left over from the impact of DU
weapons, there could be in excess of half a million
deaths from cancer in the region within 10 years.

The Pentagon has confirmed that 320 tonnes of DU dust
remain in Iraq. Some scientists estimate that there
could be as much as 900 tonnes. The UKAEA paper,
entitled "Kuwait -- Depleted Uranium Contamination,"
states: "DU can become a long-term problem if not
dealt with and is a risk to both the military and
civilian population." The UKAEA's calculations
indicate a significant problem. Further localised
contamination of vehicles and soil may exceed
permissible limits and this would be hazardous to both
clean-up teams and the local population. Inhalation of
DU dust particles can lead to unacceptable body
burdens, putting the public at risk. DU is dangerous
whether taken into the body by ingestion or by
contamination of a cut. Furthermore, DU entering the
food chain or water magnifies potential health
problems. DU remains radioactive for 4.5 billion

That the UK government has long been aware of the
unique contamination that DU represents was displayed
in a rare moment of glasnost by UK Armed Forces
Minister Lord Gilbert on 2 March 1998, when he
referred to a letter written on 30 April 1991 -- two
months after the Gulf War -- by P G E Bartholomew,
business development manager at UKAEA. "I promised to
produce a threat paper on the contamination of Kuwait
from depleted uranium used by the US and UK forces in
the recent war. [The paper] covers the threat and
outlines the action we believe is necessary for health
safety," Bartholomew's letter reads. "The whole
subject of the contamination of Kuwait is emotive and
thus must be dealt with in a sensitive manner. It is
necessary to inform the Kuwait government of the
problem in a useful way."

This poisoned chalice," suggests the letter, "should
be handed to the luckless British ambassador in
Kuwait. (The good news is that we've saved you from
Saddam -- the bad news is...)."

Kuwait, it seems, had been saved from Saddam, but,
along with Iraq and the veterans of the war, would
live with the consequences -- sickness and genetic
defects -- for generations.

Leonard Dietz, an eminent nuclear expert based in New
York, has passed another enlightening letter to
Al-Ahram Weekly. Dated 15 August 1991, the letter is a
response to Dietz from the Office of the Director of
Defence Research and Engineering at the Department of
Defence in Washington. "You posed the question of the
probability that lung cancer could develop after the
inhalation of depleted uranium. As you are no doubt
well aware, since the material is a source of ionising
radiation, the potential for carcinogicity is real,"
the letter states. "The same holds true for
nephro-toxicity protection, which requires a much
lower ambient concentration in drinking water or
foodstuffs." The letter, signed by the Military
Assistant for Medical and Life Sciences, concludes:
"Let me assure you that we feel that your concern,
which parallels our own, is real and we thank you for
sharing that with us."

After the Gulf War, it is the turn of the Balkans --
its population and the soldiers who served there -- to
live the DU tragedy. Seven Italian peace-keepers have
already died of leukaemia. Other countries with
military personnel deployed in the Balkans during the
conflict with Yugoslavia all report unusual illnesses
and have begun to screen soldiers.

Dr Chris Busby, head of Britain's Low Level Radiation
Campaign, has estimated that the relative radiation
risk to the Italian peace-keepers in Kosovo (closest
to the most contaminated area) is 17 times the "safe"

On the day ground troops were sent into the Balkans,
this correspondent asked the UK Ministry of Defence
(MOD) if we would soon see an epidemic of "Balkans War
syndrome," since DU weapons were again being used
despite the overwhelming evidence of the danger they
represented. "Absolutely not," responded the MOD
spokesperson. "The armed forces minister has given the
strictest instructions that no service personnel must
approach anything which might have been hit by DU --
and if it were unavoidable they must wear full
radiological protective clothing."

What about the returning refugees? What about Iraq?
Was a different sort of DU being used in the Balkans,
since the MOD had consistently denied any link between
the health disaster in Iraq and the pattern of illness
among Gulf War veterans? For the MOD, refugees were
not its problem and it insisted that DU, Gulf War
syndrome and Iraq were not linked.

Yet peace-keeping troops in Kosovo now have their food
and water flown in.

Refugees have, it seems, returned to a poisoned land
and, as in Iraq and Kuwait, generations yet unborn
will pay the price. Macedonia, the poorest of the
Balkan states, took in a million refugees during the
1998 Balkans War only to find out that 10 tonnes of DU
debris had contaminated their land. The Macedonians
have collected it and are considering returning it to
NATO. Belgrade's Centre for Radiobiology and Radiation
Protection has reported that radiation in Macedonia is
eight times that of pre-1998 levels.

Albania, where two American A-10 helicopters equipped
with DU weapons crashed, can be added to the list of
countries made radioactive and chemically toxic by DU.
It is now another place where parents and their
children have nowhere to hide. Following the Balkans
War, the Albanian president awarded NATO spokesman
Jamie Shea and US Secretary of State Madeleine
Albright the country's highest honours. The ceremony
referred to Shea, who defended NATO actions to a
worldwide audience, as a "face of truth and hope."
Albania may soon want to ask for the trophies back.

The full extent of the contamination of the Balkans is
still unknown -- radiation does not stop at borders.

Meanwhile, in Kuwait City, just a few kilometres from
Basra, on the day Kuwait hosted a reception for senior
US military and government personnel active in the
Gulf War, Kuwait's First Deputy Prime Minister and
Foreign Minister Sheikh Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah said the
Western allied forces had left no nuclear radiation
after the war. "I am sure the Kuwaiti territories are
free of these radiations," Al-Sabah told the Kuwait
News Agency. Professor Doug Rokke, the Pentagon expert
who devised the clean-up for Kuwait, has told Al-Ahram
Weekly that this is simply "impossible" and that the
clean-up was, in fact, never completed. Half of his
team has died of DU-related illnesses and the other
half, including himself, is desperately sick -- with
the exception of the only team member who insisted on
wearing full radiological protective clothing, despite
the heat.

The reasoning behind the ongoing campaign of deception
is made clearer by a Los Alamos National Laboratory
(the same lab that developed the Hiroshima and
Nagasaki bombs) memo entitled "The Effectiveness of
Depleted Uranium Penetrators." Dated 1 March 1991, the
day after the Gulf cease-fire and the day before the
slaughter on the Basra road using DU weapons, the memo
is from a Lt Colonel Larson to a Major Ziehman. "There
is a relatively small amount of lethality data for
uranium penetrators... The recent war has likely
multiplied the number of DU rounds fired at targets by
orders of magnitude. There has been and continues to
be a concern regarding the impact of DU on the
environment," Larson's memo reads. "Therefore if no
one makes the case for the effectiveness of DU on the
battlefield, DU rounds may become politically
unacceptable and [will] therefore be deleted from the
arsenal," it continues. The memo ends: "I believe we
should keep this sensitive issue in mind, when, after
action, reports are written."

Dr Jenan in Basra is more concerned about her patients
than about kill-rates: "I want the world to know what
has happened here."

The time for lying is over. Those responsible should
face up to the enormity of their actions. A clean-up
of this truly genocidal material, wherever it
contaminates, must be undertaken at once. And we must
ensure that it is never used again.



* The writer is a British-based journalist who has
written extensively on the impact of DU and was
nominated by Amnesty International as humanitarian
journalist of the year. She has recently returned from
a fact-finding mission to Iraq

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