Children of WarMarch 2003
Title: "The Hidden Killer"
Author: Reese Erlich
Faculty Evaluator: Rick Williams JD
Student Researcher: Darrel Jacks, Jason Spencer
British and American coalition forces are using depleted uranium (DU) shells in the war against Iraq and deliberately flouting a UN resolution which classifies the munitions as illegal weapons of mass destruction.
Nobel Peace Prize candidate, Helen Caldicott, states that the tiny radioactive particles created when a DU weapon hits a target are easily inhaled through gas masks. The particles, which lodge in the lung, can be transferred to the kidney and other vital organs. Gulf War veterans are excreting uranium in their urine and semen, leading to chromosomal damage. DU has a half-life of 4.1 billion years. The negative effects found in one generation of US veterans could be the fate of all future generations of Iraqi people.
An August 2002 UN report states that the use of the DU weapons is in violation of numerous laws and UN conventions. Doug Rokke, ex-director of the Pentagons DU project says "We must do what is right for the citizens of the world- ban DU." Reportedly, more than 9600 Gulf War veterans have died since serving in Iraq during the first gulf war, a statistical anomaly. The Pentagon has blamed the extraordinary number of illnesses and deaths on a variety of factors, including stress, pesticides, vaccines and oil-well fire smoke. However, according to top-level U.S. Army reports and military contractors, "short-term effects of high doses (of DU) can result in death, while long-term effects of low doses have been implicated in cancer." Our own soldiers in the first Gulf War were often required to enter radioactive battlefields unprotected and were never warned of the dangers of DU. In effect, George Bush Sr. used weapons of mass destruction on his own soldiers. The internal cover-up of the dangers of DU has been intentional and widespread.
In addition to Doug Rocke, the Pentagon's original expert on DU, ex-army nurse Carol Picou has been outspoken about the negative effects of DU on herself and other veterans. She has compiled extensive documentation on the birth defects found among the Iraqi people and the children of our own Gulf War veterans. She was threatened in anonymous phone calls on the eve of her testimony to congress. Subsequently, her car, which contained sensitive information on DU, was mysteriously destroyed.
UPDATE BY DAN KAPELOVITZ
Just as "Toxic Troops: What Our Soldiers Can Expect in Gulf War II" hit the newsstands, the U.S. military was dropping a fresh batch of depleted-uranium tipped shells on Iraq. The story couldn't have been timelier; yet the mainstream media blatantly ignored Hustler's coverage of the hazards of depleted uranium (DU) and largely failed to report any DU-related stories.
Rather than being ashamed that a porn magazine was more willing than they were to publish the truth, major media outlets kidded themselves into believing that the story didn't need to be covered, claiming it was "old news." While it's true that there has been some limited coverage of DU ever since the first Gulf War, the average American has not heard of depleted uranium. Those who have most likely saw reports focusing on DU's awesome armor-piercing abilities, not its harmful long-term effects on people and the environment.
Had the mainstream media informed Americans about the hazards to the military men and women caused by our own government, U.S. citizens might not have been so gung-ho to again send our troops to Iraq. Instead, TV pundits constantly told the American people that we attacked the Iraqi people in order to "liberate" them. Thanks to U.S. efforts, the Iraqi population is now free to live in a radioactive battlefield.
As with the first Gulf War, there were relatively few immediate American casualties. But with each passing year, more and more Gulf War veterans are sick and dying, very possibly due to exposure to depleted uranium. The latest Persian Gulf conflict was basically a low-level nuclear war, and our new recruits are destined to suffer DU-related illnesses and fatalities.
While there has been grass-roots activism against the use of depleted uranium, the American military has ignored the concerns and have even discounted their own report, completed six months prior to the first Gulf War, that concluded that DU was indeed dangerous. At least this time around, more soldiers seem to be aware of the possible hazards of DU and are taking precautions to avoid exposure. Some are even placing signs in Arabic to warn Iraqi children not to play with radioactive shells or on contaminated tanks. After the war, the British government, which also used DU weapons, asserted that it should help clean up the radioactive mess that it created. If the American media did its job exposing the truth, perhaps the U.S. government, which was responsible for most of the damage, would be shamed into sharing England's concerns.
International Action Center
The IAC published the book Metal of Dishonor Depleted Uranium:
The New Nuclear Danger: George W. Bush's Military-Industrial Complex by Dr. Helen Caldicott
Military Toxics Project, http://www.miltoxproj.org/
National Gulf War Resource Center, http://www.ngwrc.org
Uranium Medical Research Center, http://www.umrc.net
Campaign Against Depleted Uranium, http://www.cadu.org.uk
Update By Reese Erlich
The Pentagon loves using depleted uranium ammunition because it penetrates and helps blow up enemy targets. They care little about the long-term health effects on enemy soldiers, civilians or even U.S. military vets. As I investigated the issue further, I began to realize the government may well be covering up a health scandal, just as it hid the effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam.
In Basra, before the U.S. invasion of 2003, doctors showed me a photo album of horribly deformed children, some born without noses or eyes. They compiled a cancer registry of children suffering from leukemia and other cancers. Children exposed to DU in southern Iraq saw a four fold increase in cancer and birth defects since 1990.
In "Hidden Killers," I combined original reporting from Iraq and Bosnia with interviews of U.S. military veterans. Too many Iraqi and Bosnian civilians exposed to DU are showing up with the same kinds of cancers as American Gulf War vets.
I also learned that the Pentagon doesn't like critics. Military officers and scientists who criticize the Pentagon's position can come under withering attack. After the Gulf War, Maj. Doug Rokke was assigned to develop official procedures for soldiers at sites where DU was used. He and his committee mandated that soldiers wear special protective clothing because of the cancer risk. The Pentagon overruled him, claiming DU is safe. Rokke, who is on disability as a result of his DU exposure, later had his disability benefits cut off.
The topic of depleted uranium ammunition has surfaced in the mainstream media over the years, but strong denials from the military and the complexity of the topic have muted many of the stories. I've had editors at prestigious publications tell me they won't touch the DU story because it's "too controversial." In my opinion, few reporters or editors are willing to risk the career danger inherent in criticizing the Pentagon, or taking on a popular president during "wartime."
Since "Hidden Killers" came out, the Uranium Medical Research Center (www.umrc.net) has published studies showing the devastating impact of DU in the Afghanistan War, and the Christian Science Monitor (5/15/03) featured an excellent report on the impact of DU use in urban areas during the Iraq invasion.
I'd like to particularly thank the Stanley Foundation, a non-profit in Muscatine, Iowa, for its support in producing "Children of War: Fighting Dying, Surviving," the public radio documentary in which Hidden Killers was featured.