Rising anger hits Pentagon's DU use

By Paddy Colligan

Thousands of people in Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal have recently protested the Pentagon's use of depleted-uranium weapons in Europe. They charge that DU is the cause of a cancer epidemic among European NATO troops who occupied Bosnia and Kosovo, where the U.S. used DU-enhanced weapons.

The Labor Center of Athens called thousands to Athens, Larisa and Karditsa in Greece Feb. 8 and 9 to demand that NATO be abolished, its bases and nuclear weapons expelled from the region, and Greek soldiers returned from Yugoslavia. Under pressure from soldiers worried about the health risks of DU, the Greek government has declared that none of its troops will be forced to stay in Kosovo.

A demonstration was called by the Clark Tribunal in Italy--the group that organized the anti-NATO war crimes tribunal after the war against Yugoslavia. At this Feb. 3 protest, delegations of soldiers and organizations called for the guilty to be removed from power and held responsible for crimes against the Balkans' people and Italy's soldiers

In Brussels, Belgium, a conference titled "Uranium: The Victims Speak" will start March 1. It will bring together soldiers contaminated by DU with people "whose countries have been turned into nuclear and chemical waste dumps." They will strategize with anti-NATO forces about building opposition to DU. For information write to Abolition.ua@caramail.com

In Spain, anti-DU activists are demonstrating before the national army headquarters in Madrid on Feb. 24. For more information, see the web site at www.nodo50.org/csca/.

What is DU?

DU as a byproduct of uranium enrichment and weapons production is a deadly addition to the U.S. arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. It recycles difficult to dispose of low-grade uranium, putting its high-density property to work.

By adding DU to steel armor, tanks are made impenetrable by conventional missiles. Adding DU to the missiles and bullets greatly enhances their armor-piercing capacity. DU may be “relatively safe,” as the Pentagon has claimed, but only as long as it is not used. Once used, however, DU becomes extremely hazardous.

Once its protective coating is removed, for example by heat caused by friction, explosion or burning, DU is transformed into microscopic, hard particles that can be inhaled, blown for dozens of miles, or can lay on the ground for future dispersal by wind, water, and human contact.

DU causes chemical and radiation damage once inside the human body. It is believed that the radiation from DU particularly affects the lungs, the kidneys, and bone marrow where uranium compounds from DU can remain for years. DU, it is now believed by researchers, may be made even more harmful when in combination with impurities retained from its origin in the plutonium enrichment process.

DU in Iraq, Vieques, Balkans

Where DU has been used--southern Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo, and bombing ranges in Vieques, Okinawa and south Korea--it presents an enormous and continuing danger for civilians living in the contaminated areas.

There has been a documented increase in the rates of childhood leukemia and rare forms of cancer in southern Iraq, where the U.S. used huge amounts of DU materials during the 1991 Gulf War.

A lawsuit challenging the U.S. Navy's use of Vieques--a small island off the coast of Puerto Rico--as a bombing range is demanding restitution for people living on the island. Over a third of the island's 9,000 inhabitants suffer from serious illnesses and cancers that doctors have linked to six decades of Pentagon bombing. DU weapons have been tested there.

Lt. Gen. Boris Alekseyev, the Russian Armed Forces' top environmental safety officer, has charged that in occupied Kosovo, U.S. "soldiers are stationed in an uncontaminated area that was not hit by a single bomb or missile containing depleted uranium."

On the other hand, he said, "the Italians are serving in areas where the bombardment with uranium-containing munitions was the most intensive." Russian troops in the area are being screened for signs of illness. (Kommersant, Jan. 10)

The British government admitted "that thousands of British troops serving in Kosovo were placed at risk from the deadly effects of depleted uranium, the substance linked to Gulf War Syndrome, after a health warning failed to reach soldiers during the 1999 NATO conflict." (Guardian, Feb. 8) It has been forced to agree to test any soldier who requests it for DU exposure.

The World Health Organization appealed on Feb. 1 for $2 million to fund research into the effects of DU ammunition in the Balkans and Iraq.

In West Concord, Mass., a demonstration in January targeted Starmet, one of the two DU munitions producers in the United States. Starmet, now bankrupt, is leaving behind a leaking, unlined waste pit in a residential neighborhood where it buried 400,000 pounds of depleted uranium from 1958 to 1985. The bill for the cleanup is $50 million.

Both Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority continue to call for international investigations of Israeli use of DU weapons. Palestinian forces charged the Israeli military with using DU weapons against the latest uprising. At first the Israelis denied the charge. But they were later forced to concede that they had used DU weapons in the past.

The anger sweeping Europe about depleted uranium has provided an outlet for NATO rivals to raise their differences with Washington. It also raises other problems for the Pentagon: Will the women and men in the U.S. occupation forces in the Balkans become concerned about their own health? Will they question why they are risking their lives for yet another ill-conceived U.S. military adventure, cynically sold to them as a humanitarian rescue mission?

Copies of an International Action Center leaflet informing U.S. service people about DU's dangers and the events in Europe, and asking them to investigate the dangers to themselves and others, were distributed at a demonstration against Plan Colombia at Fort Bragg, N.C., on Feb. 10, 2001.

posted: 2/19/01



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