November 30, 2000

In the north coast city of Gijon in the Asturias province on Nov. 25-26, 2000, some 500 progressives from around Spain joined about 30 international delegates in a seminar to open a serious struggle in the country against the use of depleted- uranium weapons.

Among the participants was a former United Nations official in Iraq, Dr. Hans Graf von Sponeck, who resigned his post rather than direct the so-called "Oil for Food" program backed by the United States, which he saw as continuing the murder of Iraqi children.

Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, unable to participate because of a trip to revolutionary-controlled areas of Colombia, sent a message of solidarity and a call to ban DU arms internationally.

Since relatively few people in the Spanish progressive movement were well acquainted with the use and dangers from DU  arms, international experts introduced these subjects. Others, including Spanish scientists and organizers, also spoke on the political implications of DU use.

A special contribution came from those speakers representing the victims of DU weapons. There was a strong delegation from Iraq, a speaker from Yugoslavia, and U.S. and British veterans who suffer from "Gulf War Syndrome," for which they believe DU poisoning is responsible.

The Committee in Solidarity with the Arab Cause and the Spanish Campaign for Lifting the Sanctions on Iraq organized the conference. Gijon and other communities of Asturias hosted the meeting. The University of Olviedo also supported it. Asturias has provided medical care for hundreds of Iraqi children suffering the effects of 10 years of U.S.-led sanctions.


DU is a waste product of the process that produces enriched uranium for use in atomic weapons and nuclear power plants. Much like natural uranium, it is both toxic and radioactive. Over a billion pounds of DU exists in the United States and must be safely stored or disposed of by the Department of Energy. With its half-life of 4.5 billion years, DU's radioactivity effectively lasts forever.

DU is so abundant the government gives it away to arms manufacturers. Because it is extremely dense--1.7 times as dense as lead--when turned into a metal DU can be used to make a shell that easily penetrates steel. In addition it is pyrophoric--that is, when it strikes steel, heat from the friction causes it to burn.

When DU burns, it spews tiny particles of poisonous and radioactive uranium oxide in aerosol form, which can then travel for miles in the wind. Humans can ingest or inhale the small particles. Even one particle, when lodged in a vital organ--which is most likely to happen from inhalation-- can cause illnesses from headaches to cancer.

The Pentagon tested DU shells at various sites around the U.S. and used it in combat for the first time against Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War. It was very effective in destroying Iraqi tanks, as well as their occupants and anyone in the area. At least 600,000 pounds of DU and uranium dust was left around Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia by U.S. and British forces during that war.

Although the U.S. government and military continue to minimize the environmental and health dangers from depleted- uranium weapons, even they have to admit these dangers exist.

DU is also considered at least a contributing cause to the 130,000 reported cases of "Gulf War Syndrome." The chronic symptoms of this ailment range from sharp increases in cancers to memory loss, chronic pain, fatigue and birth defects in veterans' children.

Canadian DU expert Dr. Rosalie Bertell explained the similarity between DU used in combat and uranium from a nuclear disaster like that at Chernobyl. The high temperature forms tiny particles of uranium oxide in ceramic form, she said, which can then be more easily transported long distances in the air and inhaled.


The damage to the Iraqi people was even more severe. Dr. Akram Abdel Muhsen, physician and director of the University Hospital of Basra, Iraq, reported on the higher rates of childhood leukemia and other cancers found in people living around Basra. These findings were first made public in a 1998 symposium

Dr. Mona Kammas is a professor of pathology at Baghdad University and director of a study of the environmental impact of U.S. aggression against Iraq. At the Gijon symposium, she reported on a paper that showed an almost five-fold increase in cancers, a more than three-fold increase in spontaneous abortions, and a nearly three-fold increase in congenital anomalies in a study group of those exposed to combat.

The paper also reported on environmental damage due to the Pentagon's destruction of the water-supply and sanitation systems and the destruction of oil refineries and factories that used toxic chemicals in the production process.

Iraqi researchers believe that the different relative frequency of various types of cancer now as compared with before 1990 in the Basra region was a significant indication of a major change, and that this pattern continuing long after the war indicated that DU's impact was long-lasting.

Dr. Slavko Knezevic, a physician and professor at Belgrade University in Yugoslavia, reported on the virtual ecocide that NATO bombers committed against his country by bombing chemical plants and oil refineries in Kragujevac, Pancevo, Novi Sad and other industrial centers.

He also said that Yugoslav researchers found evidence that the U.S. and NATO fired much more than the 31,000 rounds of DU shells they admitted to after the 1999 aggression against Yugoslavia.


A speaker from the International Action Center in New York, John Catalinotto, told of the Pentagon's wanton testing of DU in Vieques, Puerto Rico, Okinawa, Japan, south Korea and Panama, and how the movement against U.S. occupation in each country protested angrily against DU use.

Catalinotto is co-editor and a contributor to the IAC's book about depleted uranium, "Metal of Dishonor." Five other participants at the Gijon seminar, including Dr. Bertell, Dr. Siegwart-Horst Guenther, Dr. Ashraf al-Bayoumi and U.S. Gulf War veterans Carole H. Picou and Dan Fahey, contributed to the book.

In each of the above countries, Catalinotto said, the Pentagon first denied charges that it used DU. As protests grew, U.S. spokespeople were forced to admit its use and in some cases even to apologize and promise cleanups.

Catalinotto then raised the question of Israeli use of DU weapons in its attempt to suppress the current Palestinian uprising. He said this was likely given Israeli possession of DU ammunition and its use of DU-capable tanks and helicopters supplied by the U.S. The IAC has called for an investigation of Israeli DU use and a movement to stop it, which would be a way of showing solidarity with the Palestinian struggle.

The IAC has prepared a paper on the likely use of DU by the Israeli armed forces, available on the IAC Web site at .

A session on the media distortion of DU use and war included British Labor Party Member of Parliament George Galloway and Madrid television journalist Jose Manuel Martin Medem. Galloway pointed out that the first world leader to use chemical weapons against a civilian population was Winston Churchill.

Perhaps the strongest evidence of DU's dangers came from Picou, a retired U.S. Army sergeant who suffers many DU- typical symptoms, and British Gulf War veteran Ray Bristol, who spoke from a wheelchair. For both of these veterans, the suppression of their stories by the military hierarchy virtually forced them to seek out aid from the progressive movement and from Iraq, where they developed a strong solidarity with Iraqi victims.


In the closing session, the emphasis shifted to the grim results of the 10-year sanctions against the Iraqi people, with a short message first from Iraqi anti-sanctions leader Dr. Harith Al-Khashali.

Dr. von Sponeck was warmly welcomed as one of the few officials--UN or otherwise--who resigned an important post rather than continue to serve in a criminal, anti-human situation. He pledged to continue his fight against sanctions, which he described as a real "weapon of mass destruction."

Carlos Varea, a leader of the organizations responsible for the conference, read the final declaration. It included demands that the use of munitions made with DU be considered a war crime and a crime against humanity, that the sanctions on Iraq be lifted, that the UN secretary general take steps to analyze the effects of DU armaments on health and the environment and prohibit the use of these weapons.

It also declared full solidarity and support to those persons affected by the use of DU weapons in Iraq and Yugoslavia including war veterans. The meeting also extended its solidarity to the Palestinian people.

Other contributors to the conference included Nacho Garcia Alonso, professor at the Oviedo University; Paz Andres Saez de Santa Maria, professor of public international law at Oviedo University; Bernice Boermans, executive director of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms in Holland; and Jose Ramón L. Patterson, journalist and director of the TVE Asturias Territorial Center in Oviedo, Spain.


Final Declaration: Depleted Uranium: Health, Ecological, Economic and Legal aspects of the use of radioactive conventional weapons  also in Spanish

Depleted Uranium



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