1| The Struggle for an Independent Inquiry

We need a commission of those with real interest in finding the cause of Gulf War Syndrome: suffering U.S. vets, independent scientists, Iraqis, and past victims—atomic veterans and their families, veterans exposed to Agent Orange, and Native miners and community organizations.

Sara Flounders

Today in discussing the possible causes of the Gulf War Syndrome that affects over 90,000 U.S. veterans, there is an elephant in the room. The entire debate is taking place with everyone pretending the elephant doesn't exist.

This book is about the elephant—radioactive conventional weapons.

A new generation of weapons is in place around the world. These weapons contain a dense material—depleted uranium. DU weapons make all others so much scrap metal, giving the U.S. military machine and military contractors a huge advantage.

It matters little to the Pentagon in its race for unrestrained military dominance in every type of warfare that this new weapon not only kills those it targets, it poisons soldiers who handle it, civilians for hundreds of miles surrounding the battlefields who breathe the air and drink the water, and unborn generations.

DU is a delayed response weapon. It will take decades and generations before we know the true casualties as more veterans and their children cope with rare and unknown conditions, cancers, deformities and congenital diseases.

In the U.S. racism impacts on every social issue. Black, Latino and other Third World troops have been disproportionately at risk on the front lines. During the Vietnam War this meant more deaths, injuries and long term delayed combat stress syndrome. According to Department of Defense personnel data (September 30, 1992), during the Gulf War almost half the troops stationed in the Gulf region were Black or Latino, although they make up only twenty percent of the population. This means that Gulf War Syndrome had the greatest impact in communities already oppressed and impoverished.

Gulf War Syndrome's symptoms—chronic fatigue, chronic headache and joint pain, gastrointestinal distress, insomnia and memory loss—make holding a job, stabilizing a family and obtaining medical help much more difficult. Many thousands of seriously ill and demoralized, disoriented or homeless veterans are not part of the count of those suffering from Gulf War Syndrome. That one third of the homeless in the U.S. today are veterans speaks to the hidden costs of the Gulf and Vietnam wars.

Is DU the sole cause of Gulf War Syndrome? Or does DU's low-level radiation suppress people's immune system and make them more susceptible to disease? To answer either question deserves more than the passing mention and out-of-hand dismissal the Presidential Commission and the Department of Defense's public statements on Gulf War Syndrome give DU. However, even the Defense Department's own internal studies show how well it knows the dangers. We quote these studies extensively here to prove the government has too much at stake to judge DU objectively.

Those who really want to know what has happened to the health of tens of thousands of young women and men who just a few years ago were in the prime of health must raise their voices and organize to demand a genuinely independent commission to investigate this issue.

I first became aware of the dangerous radioactive impact of depleted-uranium weapons in 1991 when I was researching for Ramsey Clark's book on the Gulf War, The Fire This Time. His book predicted that "the people of the Gulf region will have to face the effects of radiation poisoning for years to come."

What raised our concern was a secret report by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) prepared in April 1991, a month after the end of the war. Leaked to the London Independent and published that November, this early report described the potential problems of radioactive dust spreading over the battlefields and getting into the food chain and the water. At that time it warned that forty tons of radioactive debris left from DU weapons could cause over five hundred thousand deaths. Now we find the amount of radioactive debris left behind is over three hundred tons.

 

Iraqi Children with Cancers

In 1994 I traveled to Iraq to see the consequences of the Gulf War and the continuing sanctions. I saw infants with obvious genetic deformities who wouldn't live long and wards of children wasting away from cancers such as leukemia, lymphomas and Hodgkin's disease. Because of the sanctions, Iraqi doctors lacked even basic medicines and were helpless to intervene. They could only note the escalating numbers.

And the Iraqis are not the only ones who need to know the truth about DU and want to see that truth published. Gulf War veterans and their families are desperate to understand what has happened to their health since they returned from the Gulf.

This book attempts to explain the uses of depleted uranium in weapons and to present what is already known about exposure to low-level radiation and its threat to the environment and to all of humanity. Most important, this collection of articles is a resource for those ready to challenge the long history of government coverups and denials regarding military toxics and poisons.

For two generations the Pentagon and the entire scientific community have studied the dangers of radiation while Congress allocated a trillion dollars to build the world's largest nuclear arsenal.

Thousands of studies and hundreds of books explain the dangers of radioactivity. Millions of people worldwide have marched and organized to oppose the danger nuclear weapons pose to the future of the planet.

Billions of dollars have been put into federal funds to clean up nuclear waste sites. Now we learn that the Environmental Restoration Branch of the Department of Energy has used these funds to ship nuclear waste to countries all over the world to be recycled into weapons production.

The U.S. Department of Defense has more than a billion pounds of nuclear waste in storage from fifty years of nuclear weapons production. Part of its clean-up program is to give the depleted uranium away free to munitions manufacturers. Knowing the dangers, the military-industrial complex has moved straight ahead designing, testing and manufacturing a new generation of weapons using radioactive waste material.

 

Metal of Dishonor Exposes the Deception

As the contributors to Metal of Dishonor expose the dangers of low-level radiation, they demonstrate that even "depleted" uranium weapons are radioactive and highly toxic. They trace a history of government lies and coverups regarding the dangers of radioactivity, with policies that have denied compensation to veterans and to Native populations hurt most by these dangers. They show the Pentagon's motives for using DU weapons, the military industry's drive to manufacture them, and the passion of both to cover up the truth.

The chapters by Helen Caldicott, Michio Kaku, Leonard A. Dietz, Rosalie Bertell and Jay M. Gould scientifically delineate the perils of low-level radiation and meticulously document the extensive knowledge the military possessed about DU's long-term consequences long before the Gulf War.

Dietz explains with mathematical detail how uranium metal burns rapidly on impact and forms tiny airborne particles that can travel tens of miles to be inhaled or ingested into the body where they lodge in vital organs. Caldicott makes the necessary but daring leap to correctly characterize the Gulf War as a nuclear war.

Kaku writes, "Our troops were used as human guinea pigs for the Pentagon. Thousands must have walked through almost invisible clouds of uranium dioxide mist, not realizing that micro-sized particles were entering into their lungs."

Gould links increases in cancers and auto-immune diseases to the impact of low-level radiation on the population surrounding nuclear weapons complexes, test sites and nuclear reactors. Bertell lists the major scientific studies that have defined the danger for many years.

A look at the experiences of earlier victims of U.S. war preparations helps expose how cover-ups, stonewalling, and fraudulent promises of compensation for unfortunate mistakes are standard operating procedures.

Pat Broudy's husband was one of the approximately eight hundred thousand GIs purposely exposed to nuclear radiation during atomic tests in the Southwest or in the Pacific. Her article exposes the Defense Department's criminal coverup.

Anna Rondon, a Navajo activist from the South West Indigenous Uranium Forum, and Manuel Pino, from the Acoma Pueblo, explain the bitter experiences of the Native nations with uranium mining and testing.

Despite Congressional hearings, media coverage and special legislation, only 455 Atomic Veterans and fifty Native miners' widows received compensation. And only seventeen families have been compensated of the twenty-three thousand Americans, mainly prisoners, poor people or disabled people, who were directly injected without their knowledge or consent with highly radioactive materials since 1945.

To these we can add the thousands of Marshall Islanders consciously used as human guinea pigs, moved back to the "most contaminated places in the world," the islands hit by fallout from sixty-seven atomic and hydrogen bombs. Glenn Alcalay describes this catastrophe in his article.

Every piece of information in this whole criminal history had to be leaked or pried out by independent efforts. The government has never willingly provided any relevant information. It is hidden under "top secret" classifications.

How can we expect anything different from government studies of Gulf War Syndrome or DU?

Dolores Lymburner exposes a leaked Army Environmental Policy Institute report that acknowledges "if DU enters the body it has the potential to generate significant medical consequences. The risks associated with DU in the body are both chemical and radiological." The Army first denied this report's existence.

With thorough documentation, Dan Fahey explains how the density, speed and impact of DU weapons greatly increased the kill range of U.S. tanks. He also shows just how well the military planners understood DU's dangers.

Former Army Nurse Carol Picou, who volunteered for front-line duty, describes her horror at passing the thousands of burning Iraqi vehicles—many destroyed by DU projectiles—on the "highway of death." Then she describes the devastating deterioration and ruin of her own health and of the others in her unit from contact with the toxins in the region, as well as the government's stonewalling and denial of responsibility.

In the Gulf War, Iraqi casualties were enormous. Over one hundred thousand troops were killed and eighty-five thousand captured. In January 1992 a Greenpeace investigation estimated that ninety thousand of the three hundred thousand injured Iraqi troops had died.

In contrast, the U.S. military suffered 147 combat deaths, more than half due to friendly fire. The low casualties were the selling point of these new, high-tech weapons. U.S. troops had become seemingly invincible. That is the lie. The ninety thousand chronically ill U.S. soldiers make up the real casualty figures. Tens of thousands of British, French, Saudi, Egyptian, Australian, Canadian and other soldiers who served in the Gulf in early 1991 are also sick.

As John Catalinotto explains, 147 combat deaths is a very important figure to the military planners and to the major corporations who profit from military production. Lower casualty figures may mean less domestic resistance to future conflicts. If the real casualty figures become a topic of debate, if long-term illness, genetic deformities to future generations and environmental damage become issues, opposition to new military adventures will surely grow.

All the government hearings, commissions and reports outdo each other talking about concern for the health of all the military personnel, protecting our soldiers, finding the cause, etc. The real casualty figures expose what the generals and military corporations think of the rank-and-file GI—an expendable item. DU's victims need to organize themselves independently of those who have the biggest stake in arranging a cover-up.

No easy task. Lenore Foerstel examines the corporate connections between the media and the military industries. The Pentagon orchestrates the news through press pools and staged events. Even after the war, the media has continued to cover up the dangers from DU and its role in Gulf War Syndrome.

High-intensity Conflict

The forty-three-day war against Iraq in 1991 was the highest intensity conflict in military history, fought for control of the richest mineral reserves in the world. The U.S.-led coalition poured unprecedented volumes of firepower, money and technology—including seven billion tons of military materiel—into the Gulf area. They fought the war with an electronic battlefield of stealth bombers, satellites and cruise missiles.

Despite all the propaganda attacking so-called Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, most analysts agree that Iraq has not one weapon in its entire arsenal that is capable of destroying a U.S. bomber, aircraft carrier or even a U.S. tank. Ramsey Clark, Eric Hoskins, Siegwart-Horst Guenther, Barbara Nimri Aziz and Suzy T. Kane discuss the impact of a war that was actually an attack on a country that was defenseless against the new weapons of mass destruction. We also publish a report on the impact of allied radioactive weapons that the Iraqi UN Mission presented to the United Nations Center for Human Rights in Geneva.

The Gulf War showed that those countries that already held nuclear monopolies also dominated in so-called conventional warfare. Furthermore, it showed that nuclear weapons have become obsolete as a distinct category. Now weapons composed of radioactive material are classified as conventional weapons and are deployed around the world by U.S. and NATO forces in Bosnia, Somalia and Haiti. These weapons are flooding the world arms market. U.S. industry provides seventy-five percent of all weapons sold worldwide. Desert Storm was a great advertisement for the DU weapons it sells.

A Field of Wheat

Dr. Barbara Nimri Aziz describes the war's impact on a field of wheat, a flock of chickens, on the children. The sanctions keep information on the scope of the catastrophe from reaching the world. Dr. Siegwart Guenther boldly brought a spent DU bullet from Iraq to Germany, where he was arrested for transporting radioactive material. But what about the tons of NATO weapons containing DU that are stored, tested and transported throughout Europe? Or the radioactive NATO shells and land mines exploded in Bosnia?

The Pentagon has issued a fumbling series of denials, cover-ups and finally partial admissions that Gulf War Syndrome exists. Yet it has omitted any mention of radioactive weapons. This omission is no accident. The Pentagon has never come forward to admit the human consequences of its actions, unless a mighty struggle forced out the truth.

Some scientists have proposed alternatives to depleted uranium weapons, claiming that fast, hard missiles could be made at greater expense by using other, perhaps less toxic heavy metals, such as tungsten or a tungsten alloy. Has this not occurred to military contractors? Is this just an oversight, a mistake in the heat of battle?

The military industry is built on super profits. How can they resist, no matter how dangerous, a raw material that is available free of charge? The Department of Defense and the major military contractors control most of the supply. The largest corporations in the U.S. today are corporations whose very existence depends on military contracts, an issue that goes to the very heart of the U.S. economy.

The Pentagon and the military corporations clearly consider contamination of their own soldiers, of the environment and of millions of civilians as an acceptable cost. As we learn from the experience of past veterans, this has always been true.

Lockheed Martin, Boeing (now merged with McDonnell Douglas), General Electric, Raytheon and AT&T have been involved for decades in the production of weapons that threaten the health of millions. How can these corporations resist a super weapon, made out of cheap material, that creates a demand for a whole new round of weapons?

Military contracts are a source of growing demand on the federal budget. The billions of dollars that they consume come at the cost of cutbacks in every social program from jobs programs to education, health care, infant immunization programs, subsidized housing, rebuilding infrastructure or environmental cleanup. People's needs are never part of the calculation.

Weapons are U.S. industry's most profitable export items. These military industries are truly merchants of death.

The U.S. military machine is larger than all of its potential competitors put together—and it is not shrinking. President Clinton has pledged a forty-percent increase in funds for new weapons development. Congress has voted to extend the Strategic Defense Initiative, or Star Wars. Nuclear weapons testing has been banned in the air, under sea and under ground, but it persists in the Pentagon's sophisticated laboratories.

The military acts like it has license to threaten the health and livelihood of millions globally and then hide it under national security. Can we challenge the military's behavior?

Today, the Pentagon fears no military weapon. The Pentagon fears only one thing: people in motion—informed, mobilized and angry. Mass protest stopped nuclear testing, stopped the use of Agent Orange, helped end the Vietnam War.

It has become impossible for generals, in the interests of corporate profit, to send tens of thousands of youth directly into machine gun fire as they did in earlier wars. But it is essential to expose that DU is a delayed response bullet that shoots both ways.

Part of changing what happens is to change the way millions of people perceive an issue. Do they have information? Do they see a way to intervene? With bold ideas, a few individuals and small groups can lay the groundwork and push the struggle forward.

We hope this book will provide the evidence and demonstrate the urgent need for an independent inquiry.

 

Demand an Independent Inquiry

Because of their involvement in the development of these poisonous weapons, the Department of Defense and the major military contractors cannot be trusted to give an honest review of the possible causes of Gulf War Syndrome.

The Presidential Advisory Commission whitewashes the truth, Tod Ensign shows, when it concludes: "It is unlikely that health effects reported by Gulf War veterans today are the result of exposure to depleted uranium during the Gulf War." The commission was supposedly an independent blue-ribbon panel of scientists and others who are above self-interest in their conclusion. Hardly the case.

An honest, aboveboard and exhaustive inquiry is urgently needed. The commission must be made up of those with a real interest in finding the cause of Gulf War Syndrome. And the inquiry must prominently include veterans suffering from Gulf War Syndrome. They have the most compelling incentive in truly finding the cause.

An independent commission should also include the veterans of past wars and nuclear testing who have suffered mysterious illnesses and government coverups. Atomic veterans and their families, veterans suffering from Agent Orange poisoning would help get to the bottom of what is going on. Organizations of Native peoples whose land has been poisoned should be part of the inquiry. Community organizations surrounding uranium mines, weapons-production sites, and proving and testing grounds could lend their expertise.

Since African American and Latino troops make up such a large proportion of those in the field of combat—and thus suffer disproportionately from Gulf War Syndrome—groups from these communities must also be represented in the commission.

Scientists who are independent of the nuclear industry and the military should be called on to testify, along with medical doctors, epidemiologists and geneticists, and trade unionists who work in atomic and especially DU weapons production.

To understand the full dimensions of Gulf War Syndrome, it is essential to bring into the light of day what was done to Iraq's population. Medical teams must be able to visit Iraq, and Iraqi doctors should be able to testify on the medical catastrophe they face.

Such an inquiry could give enormous impetus to an international campaign to ban DU.

Grassroots campaigns can have enormous creative dynamism if the local organizers have information. No matter how dangerous DU weapons are shown to be, the military will not of its own accord stop their production. In the past, every step in preventing use of deadly materials came about because an aroused, organized population made it unfeasible for the military to use the weapon.

An International Ban on DU

The many groups worldwide that understand the enormous dangers of radiation must begin to organize and demand a ban on the use of depleted uranium, its containment and a cleanup of all radioactive waste. We have included a proposed ban that former U.S. Attorney General and well known human rights activist Ramsey Clark drafted. This ban proposal can be used in many ways. It can be utilized in international forums and tested in international law. With the articles by Victor Sidel, Philippa Winkler and Alyn Ware, we have also included experiences of other groups that have opposed the threat from nuclear weapons or shown how to use international law to combat specific weapons.

Most developments in technology sneak up on us. Change spreads rapidly, making earlier methods obsolete overnight. The implications can reshape our lives before we are even aware of them. But the same is true of ideas.

Former slave and great abolitionist organizer Frederick Douglass explained, "Power concedes nothing without a struggle." Every step forward in human rights seemed in the beginning like an impossible task. Whether the struggle was against slavery, for civil rights, for the right of workers to unionize, for women's suffrage, for the eight-hour day, to oppose bigotry against lesbian and gay people, or the movement against nuclear war and testing—in the beginning it always seems that all law, culture and tradition defend life the way it was at that very moment. But in the face of new ideas and a bold challenge, even entrenched power can lose its undisputed position.

Information is power. When mobilized it can undergo a transformation and become outrage. Then it has explosive potential. It has the potential to force great sweeping changes. That is our secret weapon against the Pentagon.

METAL OF DISHONOR TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

 

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