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[casi] The Sweeney returns: J'accuse .....

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Goodness me, who rattled his cage. This seems to be the season for throwing
the toys out of the pram - Campbell, Sweeney ...  best, f.

28 June 2003   Frontpag
Your Problems Solved
The first casualty of Pilger...
John Sweeney says that John Pilger blames the Americans alone for birth
defects in Iraq, and overlooks evidence that implicates Saddam Hussein
The Americans are making a hash of rebuilding Iraq, but one of the not so
bad things they have done is to give Iraqis the freedom to scribble. On the
wall outside the Baathist ministry of health the other day, a graffiti
artist had scrawled in perfect English, ŒWe need a health ministry free of

For years John Pilger ‹ Œone of the worldıs most renowned investigative
journalistsı, it says on the back of his latest book ‹ has been insisting
that the West, not Saddam, is to blame for the crisis in Iraqıs public
health; that 5,200 Iraqi children were dying every month; that Western
depleted-uranium weapons were to blame for an epidemic of cancers; that
sanctions crippled Iraqıs doctors. Funnily enough, Pilgerıs journalism
echoed what the Baathist regime wanted people to hear.

But very recently in Baghdad what some might call the Pilger­Baathist line
was put to a very public test by yet another American blunder. They
handpicked a new acting health minister, Dr Ali Shenan al-Janabi, who was
number three at the health ministry under Saddam. According to virtually
every Iraqi doctor I spoke to, he was an unacceptable choice. The Iraqi
doctors were not keen to say so to the BBC on camera. To criticise the Baath
party on the record is, even now, something that no Iraqi will do lightly.
Then two surgeons at Al Kindi teaching hospital in Baghdad, Dr Rahim Ismael
and Dlair Omar, mulled it over and said, ŒOK, weıll do it.ı They damned the
health ministry under Saddam as a corrupt and brutal instrument of state
oppression. They said that many medicines had been held back in warehouses.
The ministry was trying to make healthcare worse in Iraq, the goal being to
blacken the name of UN sanctions, which Saddam detested as a brake on his
power. The fewer drugs, the worse the equipment and the more dead babies,
the better it was for the regime. Any Iraqi doctors who didnıt toe the line
were punished.

At a press conference to launch the new acting health minister, Dr Ali
Shenan replied that what his critics were really complaining about were
Western-led United Nations sanctions against Iraq. As the words came out of
his mouth, I thought to myself, ŒHeıs talking John Pilger.ı But Dr Ali
Shenan was sacked, thanks to the doctors, while John Pilger is still in

In Victorian London the biggest killer was not the absence of medicines. It
was unclean water, untreated sewage and uncollected rubbish. In Saddamıs
Iraq dirty water, untreated sewage and uncollected rubbish from the Shia
slums of Baghdad and Basra were state policy for a regime that earned $12
billion in oil revenue every year. Yet Pilger makes no mention of Saddamıs
neglect of public health. Why?

And then thereıs the ŒHiroshima effectı of depleted uranium. Pilger wrote in
the Daily Mirror just before the war, ŒDepleted uranium [is] a sinister
component of tank shells and airborne missiles. In truth, it is a form of
nuclear warfare, and all the evidence suggests that its use in the Gulf war
in 1991 has caused an epidemic in southern Iraq: what the doctors there call
³the Hiroshima effect², especially among children.ı That the cancer rates
from 1991 onwards are the fault of the Westıs depleted-uranium weapons alone
was one of Saddamıs central messages.

In his television documentary film, Paying the Price, broadcast three years
ago, Pilger did the rounds of a Basra hospital. He spoke to a paediatrician,
Dr Ginan Ghalib Hassen. He wrote it all up in his book The New Rulers of the
World: ŒIn the next bed, a child lay in his shrouded motherıs arms. One side
of his head was severely swollen. ³This is neuroplastoma,² said Dr Hassen.
³It is a very unusual tumour. Before 1991, we saw only one case of this
tumour in two years. Now we have many cases. I am a doctor; I am not
supposed to cry, but I cry every day, because this is torture.²ı Pilger
asked her, ŒWhat do you say to those in the West who deny the connection
between depleted uranium and the deformities of these children?ı ŒThat is
not true. How much proof do they want? There is every relation between
congenital malformation and depleted uranium. Before 1991, we saw nothing
like this at all.ı

Felicity Arbuthnot, Pilgerıs senior researcher for the film, wrote in a
magazine article published in September 1999, ŒBy early 1992, doctors in
Iraq were bewildered by the rise in birth deformities ‹ some so grotesque
and unusual that they expected to see them only in textbooks and perhaps
once or twice in a lifetime. They compared them to those recorded in the
Pacific Islands after the nuclear testing in the 1950s. Cancers, too, were
rising, especially among the young, the most susceptible to radiation.ı

Hang on a minute. Cancers donıt happen overnight. They develop after a
latency period of at least four years. The Iraqis reported a rash of cancers
in the south from 1992 onwards. The cancers that happened in 1992 cannot,
scientifically, have been caused in 1992 ‹ or 1991 when the depleted uranium
was used ‹ but at least four years before that. ŒTo say any different is
ridiculous; it would deny the evidence from Hiroshima and Nagasaki,ı Dr Nick
Plowman, the head of oncology at Barts, told me.

In the mid-1980s Iranian human-wave offensives almost took Basra, but they
were stopped by Saddamıs chemical weapons. The UN found incontrovertible
evidence that Saddam used mustard gas against the Iranians every year
between 1984 and 1988. When the Iranians came close to Basra, the Iraqis
dropped gas on their own people, too. Nearly all of the war was fought in
Iraq, not Iran, so thatıs where Saddam dropped his chemical weapons.

Mustard gas ‹ sulphur mustard ‹ is carcinogenic and mutagenic. That is,
sulphur mustard causes cancers, leukaemias and birth defects. The children
of Iranian soldiers who were gassed by Saddamıs men have developed terrible
cancers and birth defects. No depleted-uranium weapons were used on them.
The children of Halabja, the Kurdish town gassed by Saddam, have developed
cancers and birth defects. Again, no depleted uranium was used on them.

Pilger knows all about chemical weapons. He wrote in the Mirror in January,
ŒI often came upon terribly deformed Vietnamese children in villages where
American aircraft had sprayed a herbicide called Agent Orange. This terrible
chemical weapon was dumped on almost half of South Vietnam. Today, as the
poison continues to move through water and soil and food, children continue
to be born without palates and chins and scrotums or are stillborn. Many
have leukaemia.ı If chemical weapons cause cancers in Vietnam, why donıt
they do the same in Iraq? The answer seems a simple one: chemical weapons
cause cancer so long as they are dropped by the Americans.

Shortly after Pilgerıs programme was broadcast in 2000, Arbuthnot phoned
Gwynne Roberts, the only journalist brave enough to go to Iraq in 1988 and
dig up soil contaminated by Saddamıs chemical weapons. Portland Down found
mustard gas in Robertsıs soil samples. Arbuthnot was puzzled: how could the
cancers in Iraq have started in 1992? Robertsıs view, like mine, is that ‹
without letting the West off the hook on the question of depleted uranium ‹
the contribution that Saddamıs chemical weapons may have made to the
Hiroshima Effect should be seriously investigated.

I emailed John Pilger, asking him, ŒYou know about Saddamıs use of chemical
weapons, so why didnıt you raise the possibility of that being the cause of
the cancers and birth defects?ı He replied, ŒYou apparently think my film
was made in 1991. It wasnıt. It was made in 1999, eight years after the 1991
Gulf war, or twice the time it takes for deformities to develop, according
to you. In the film I clearly put to one of the doctors the doubts that
depleted uranium is the cause of the deformities. Her answer was a good one.
Another specialist himself raises the doubts and addresses them. At no point
in the film do I say that DU is, on its own, responsible for the
extraordinary rise in cancers over, I repeat, a period of eight years up to
when the film was made.ı

This is artful. If Pilger and Arbuthnot accept that DU cannot have caused
cancers observed in 1992, why havenıt they made this clear? None of the
cancers and birth defects that Pilgerıs researcher dates back to 1992 can be
the fault of depleted uranium. To omit the possibility that some of the
cancers were caused by Saddamıs chemical weapons is to misrepresent the
facts. To imply by that omission that depleted uranium is solely responsible
for the cancers and birth defects in Iraq as he does in his book, his film
and in the Daily Mirror is a disgrace to journalism.

I accuse John Pilger of cheating the public and favouring a dictator.

John Sweeney is special correspondent for the BBC.
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