Chapter 11. Use of Illegal Weapons

    By Benno Aichele (New York) and Andrew Nye (San Francisco)

    Subsequent agreements, including the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, the Geneva Conventions of 1925 and 1949 and the Nuremberg Charter of 1945 have affirmed that the following acts are prohibited under international law:

    i. use of weapons or tactics which cause unnecessary or aggravated devastation or suffering;

    ii. use of weapons or tactics which cause indiscriminate harm, i.e., to noncombatants;

    iii. use of weapons or tactics which violate the neutral jurisdiction of   nonparticipating states;

    iv. use of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gas, and all analogous substances including bacteriological methods of war;

    v. use of weapons which or tactics which cause widespread, long-term and severe damage to the environment.

    The use of cluster bombs are prohibited acts if war under i and ii above, while the use of Depleted Uranium weapons are prohibited acts of war under all five categories.

    The use of Cluster Bombs and Depleted Uranium weapons are also a violation of Protocol 1 Additional To The Geneva Conventions (1977). Part IV of Protocol 1 Additional is designed to protect the civilian population and civilian objects.

    Article 48. Basic Rule states:

    In order to ensure respect for and protection of the civilian population and civilian objects, the Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operation only against military objectives.

    The indiscriminate nature of cluster bombs and depleted uranium weapons make their use impossible to limit strictly to military personnel and objects. The United States and NATO have openly admitted to using both cluster bombs and depleted uranium weapons in the March-June, 1999 war against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Furthermore, in the 77 days of bombing, the U.S. and NATO had no intention of even trying to limit the use of cluster and DU weapons to military targets.

        1. Depleted Uranium
        2. In the first week of May, Maj. Gen. Chuck Wald admitted at a Pentagon briefing that Air Force A-10 "Warthog" jets were firing "depleted uranium" bullets in Yugoslavia (Kathleen Sullivan. "U.S firing radioactive ammo," San Francisco Examiner, 5/7/99; "Pentagon confirms depleted uranium use," BBC News web site, 5/7/99).

          The A-10 carries a GAU-8/A Avenger 30 millimeter seven-barrel cannon capable of firing 4,200 rounds of DU tipped bullets per minute. One A-10 could release 234 kilograms of DU in a single minute (Rob Edwards. "Too hot to handle," New Scientist 6/5/99).

          "Depleted uranium (DU) is the highly toxic and radioactive byproduct of the uranium enrichment process. "Depleted" uranium is so called because the content of the fissionable U-235 isotope is reduced from 0.7% to 0.2% during the enrichment process. The isotope U-238 makes up over 90% of the content of both natural uranium and depleted uranium. Depleted uranium is roughly 60% as radioactive as naturally occurring uranium, and has a half-life of 4.5 billion years. As a result of 50 years of enriching uranium for use in nuclear weapons and reactors, the U.S. has in excess of 1.1 billion pounds of DU waste" (Dan Fahey. "Collateral Damage: How U.S. Troops Were Exposed to Depleted Uranium During the Persian Gulf War," Metal Of Dishonor. p.25)

          "When a depleted uranium projectile strikes a hard surface, up to 70% of the penetrator is oxidized and scattered as small particles in, on and around the target. A fact sheet issued by the U.S. Army Armament, Munitions, and Chemical Command (AMCCOM) states:

          When a DU penetrator impacts a target surface, a large portion of the kinetic energy is dissipated as heat. The heat of the impact causes the DU to oxidize or burn momentarily. This results in smoke which contains a high concentration of DU particles. These uranium particles can be ingested or inhaled.

          Of the aerosolized particles produced, 60% are particles less than five microns in diameter (less than 10 microns being considered as respirable size). Army field tests have shown that when a vehicle is struck by a DU penetrator, the heaviest contamination occurs within 5 to 7 meters of the vehicle. However, DU particles thrown into the air by the rounds impact, or by resultant fires and explosion, can be carried downwind for 25 miles or more" (Dan Fahey. "Collateral Damage: How U.S. Troops Were Exposed to Depleted Uranium During the Persian Gulf War," Metal Of Dishonor. p.28).

          Aerosolized DU particles endanger not only soldiers in the combat zones where DU weapons are used, but they also endanger civilians in outlying communities. DU particles may also contaminate farm animals, planting soil and water supplies making areas within at least a 25-mile radius of the DU weapons use a toxic wasteland for generations to come.

          Prof. Dr. Siegwart-Horst Guenther has carried out extensive studies on DU toxicity in Iraq where the U.S. used DU weapons during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The results of his studies produced ample evidence that contact with DU weapons has the following consequences, especially for children:

          * A considerable increase in infectious diseases caused by most severe immunodeficiencies in a great part of the population;

          * Frequent occurrence of massive herpes and zoster afflictions, also in children;

          * AIDS-like syndromes;

          * A hitherto unknown syndrome caused by renal and hepatic dysfunctions;

          * Leukemia, aplastic anemia and malignant neoplasms;

          * Congenital deformities caused by genetic defects, which are also to be found in animals.

          Guenther points out in his study that the symptoms listed above are similar to the Gulf-war syndrome in U.S. and British soldiers and their children. He also notes that the congenital deformities caused by genetic defects in the children of U.S. Gulf Veterans and Iraqi children are identical ("How DU Shell Residues Poison Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia," Metal of Dishonor. p.167-68).

          Though the U.S. Military plays down or denies the danger of DU weapons, they are well aware that DU weapons pose serious health risks to both soldiers and civilians around combat zones. The following quotes are from U.S. government documents:

          "The potential for internal and higher levels of external exposure exists if a vehicle's DU armor is damaged, if a vehicle is penetrated by a DU round, or if on-board ammunition ignites and burns. For example, when a DU penetrator cuts through armor and into the vehicle's crew compartment, it fractures, oxidizes, and burns, contaminating the vehicle with DU oxide dust. DU ammunition also oxidizes and contaminates the vehicle in the heat of a vehicle fire. Personnel who later work with the contaminated vehicles can be exposed to this DU oxide Dust" (Operation Desert Storm: Army Not Adequately Prepared to Deal With Depleted Uranium Contamination, United States General Accounting Office (GAO/NSIAD-93-90), January 1993, p.14).

          "Aerosols containing DU oxides may contaminate the area downwind. DU fragments may also contaminate the soil around the vehicle" (Army Environmental Policy Institute (AEPI), Health and Environmental Consequences of Depleted Uranium Use in the U.S. Army, June 1995, p.78).

          "Inhaled insoluble oxides stay in the lungs longer and pose a potential cancer risk due to radiation. Ingested DU dust can also pose both a radioactive and a toxicity risk" (GAO/NSIAD-93-90, pp. 17-18).

          "Health Hazards occur primarily due to internal exposures. Soluble forms present chemical hazards primarily to the kidneys; while insoluble forms present hazards to the lungs from ionizing radiation, with particle size being an important factor. ... Short term effects of high doses can result in death, while long term effects of low doses have been implicated in cancer" (Science Applications International Corporation report, included as Appendix D of AMMCOM's Kinetic Energy Penetrator Long Term Strategy Study, Danesi, July 1990) (SAIC, p. 4-12).

          Though we do not yet know the long-term consequences of U.S/NATO depleted uranium weapons use in Yugoslavia in 1998, we can expect to see parallels in the effects DU has had on Iraq since the Persian Gulf War. In both soldiers and civilians we can expect to see a high increase in the incidence of cancer of the blood, the lungs, the digestive system and the skin, and a notable increase of congenital diseases and fetal deformities. And because DU use results in widespread, long term contamination of the environment, we can expect to see the horrifying consequences of U.S./NATO DU use in generations of Yugoslavians to come.

        3. Cluster Bombs

Not only has the U.S. admitted to using cluster bombs in Yugoslavia, but it has claimed the right to do so. Even after a supposed misfire during which cluster bombs hit a crowded market in Nis and killed 15 civilians, Gen. John Jumper, commander general of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, claimed that cluster bombs have the same accuracy as other non-precision guided weapons (Elizabeth Becker. "Allies Say Assigning Blame Should Wait for an Inquiry," New York Times 5/15/99).

Gen. Jumper's statement is obviously absurd -- the cluster bombs "accuracy" is "non-precision." The U.S Air Force CBU-87 (cluster bomb unit 87) contains 202 bomblets with an overall blast radius of about 800 yards x 400 yards (3 football fields). Each of the 202 bomblet produces up to 2,000 high-velocity shrapnel fragments when it detonates (Paul Rogers. "High Tech War in Kosovo," BBC News Web Site 5/8/99.) Unless used in areas that contain only military personnel, a bomb that spreads shrapnel across a radius of 3 football fields will inevitably result in high civilian casualties. As the following evidence will point out, U.S. and NATO failed to avoid using cluster bombs outside of strict military zones.

"The bombs struck next to the hospital complex and near the market, bringing death and destruction, peppering the streets Serbia's third-largest city with shrapnel and littering the courtyards with yellow bomb casings" ("NATO Attack Misfires – 15 Civilians Die." Chronicle News Service, San Francisco Chronicle 5/8/99).

"The hospitals pathology clinic was damaged, and its walls were pockmarked with small craters that appeared to have been caused by shrapnel. About 10 yellow canisters with parachutes attached were visible on the street near the hospital" (Reuters. "Serbs Say 15 are Killed at Hospital and Market," New York Times 5/8/99).

Robert Frisk in two articles for the London Independent on 4/16/99 and 4/17/99 gives an eyewitness account to the aftermath of April 14th NATO bombings between Prizren and Djakovica which killed 74 Albanian refugees. The descriptions clearly indicate that the convoy was hit by cluster bombs:

"While we were picking our way through the corpses of Terezicki Most, NATO planes dropped bombs less than a mile away – cluster bombs from the sound of them..." (4/16/99).

".... Most of the shrapnel was so sharp that it cut the hands of those who touched it. The corpses showed what happened when the bomb parts shredded them alive (4/17/99).

Paul Watson in an article for the Los Angeles Times 4/28/99 exposes the indiscriminate nature of cluster bombs and their widespread use in Kosovo.

"During five weeks of air strikes witnesses here say, NATO warplanes have dropped cluster bombs that scatter smaller munitions over wide areas.

In military Jargon, the smaller munitions are bomblets. Dr. Rade Grbic, a surgeon and director of Pristina's main hospital, sees proof every day that the almost benign term masks a tragic impact.

.... 'I have been an orthopedist for 15 years now, working in a crisis region where we often have injuries, but neither I nor my colleagues have ever seen such horrific wounds as those caused by cluster bombs, ' he said through a translator Tuesday.

'They are wounds that lead to disabilities to a great extent. The limbs are so crushed that the only remaining option is amputation. It's awful, awful.'

.... Pristina's hospital alone has treated between 300 and 400 people wounded by cluster bombs since NATO's air war began March 24, Grbic said. Roughly half of those victims were civilians, he said.

.... Although NATO and Pentagon spokespersons routinely refuse to say what types of weapons are dropped on Yugoslavia by their warplanes, evidence of cluster bombs isn't hard to find in Kosovo.

One of the most recent indications was the remains of a yellow canister found about 30 yards from where it exploded Saturday. The blast killed five ethnic Albanian children, ages 3 to 15, in the village of Doganovic, about 30 miles south of Pristina.

The boys found the small canister in a field while herding cattle. While two of the boys went to tell an adult, the others apparently tried to pry it open with a knife.

Hours after the blast, the knife lay covered in blood beside a shallow blast crater. The two boys who went for help were about 20 yards away when they were hit by flying shrapnel, Grbic said.

The yellow canister is the same size and color as one of 202 bomblets that fell when a 1,000-pound CBU-87 — a low tech mainstay of the U.S. Air Force's cluster bomb arsenal – releases them in midair.

Although the explosion tore several holes through the canister, the letters A/B and the numbers 20-30 and 104-012 were still legible on the outside.

A telltale metal ring, which is known as a spider and clips over a bomblet's top, also was near the small crater.

The bomblets in a CBU-87, which stands for Cluster Bomb Unit-87, can be set to explode at a certain height or time. They also can be set off by the vibrations of a passing person or vehicle.

The metal casing of each bomblet is scored so that it will break up into as many as 300 pieces of shrapnel when it explodes, according to descriptions in published guides to military munitions.

Inflatable triangles and small parachutes often are attached to cluster bomblets to slow their fall, and journalists have seen numerous types and sizes at bomb sites across Kosovo over the past five weeks" (Paul Watson. "Unexploded Weapons Pose Deadly Threat on Ground," Los Angeles Times 4/28/99).

As Paul Watson's article reveals, unexploded cluster bombs act as antipersonnel landmines. It is usually children (who mistake the bright yellow canisters and parachutes for toys) and unsuspecting civilians who fall victim to unexploded cluster bombs. Furthermore, unexploded cluster bombs pose a threat to civilians after the war is officially declared over:

"Pristina, Yugoslavia – The blast that killed two NATO soldiers and two civilians as the troops cleared explosives from a schoolhouse came not from a Yugoslav booby-trap but from a NATO cluster bomb that accidentally went off, the military said Tuesday" ("NATO's own bomb kills peacekeepers," San Francisco Chronicle 6/22/99).

Why are cluster bombs being removed from schools? Why is it public markets, hospitals, refugee convoys, farms and residential areas which are hit by cluster bombs? Why are 50% of those treated for cluster bomb wounds in Pristina's main hospital civilians? The U.S. and NATO knew that using cluster bombs in areas of high civilian population would inevitably result in high civilian casualties. The U.S. and NATO must be held accountable for intentionally targeting and killing civilians.



Commission of Inquiry
c/o International Action Center
39 West 14th Street, Room 206
New York, NY 10011
phone: 212 633-6646
fax: 212 633-2889


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Table of Contents: Selected Research Findings