JUST A LITTLE HARMLESS DEPLETED URANIUM

13 07 2006

Dr. Jawad Al-Ali, director of the oncology center at the largest hospital in Basra, Iraq, is seeing things he’s never seen before. “Two strange phenomena have come about in Basra which I have never seen before. The first is double and triple cancers in one patient. For example, leukemia and cancer of the stomach. We had one patient with two cancers — one in his stomach and another in his kidney. Months later, primary cancer was developing in his other kidney — he had three different cancer types. The second is the clustering of cancer in families. We have 58 families here with more than one person affected by cancer. . . . My wife has nine members of her family with cancer.” He further states, “Children in particular are susceptible to DU poisoning. They have a much higher absorption rate as their blood is being used to build and nourish their bones and they have a lot of soft tissues. Bone cancer and leukemia used to be diseases affecting them the most. However, cancer of the lymph system, which can develop anywhere on the body and has rarely been seen before the age of 12, is now also common.”

(quoted by Robert Koehler on his website Commonwonders.com)

Dr. Al-Ali is not the only one noticing this disturbing trend in Iraq. A UN commission that studied the aftermath of the first Gulf war found that “Cancer appears to have increased between seven and 10 times and deformities between four and six times,” including such anomalies as anophthalmic children—children born without eyes.

Nor are the Iraqis the only ones suffering from elevated birth defect levels. Neil McKay, writing in the Scotland Sunday Herald, notes that “a study of Gulf war veterans showed that 67% had children with severe illnesses, missing eyes, blood infections, respiratory problems and fused fingers.”

This seems to be traceable to the U.S.’s use of depleted uranium munitions in Iraq, both in the first Gulf War and in our current attempt to subdue the unruly, ungrateful people we have liberated over there. During the first Gulf War, the U.S. Army claims to have used about 300 tons of depleted uranium munitions. So far, the official tally for Gulf War 2 is 1700 tons. That’s 2,000 tons of uranium that’s about half as radioactive as unrefined uranium—depleted uranium has had the most radioactive fraction removed from it—it’s what’s left over after uranium is processed for use in nuclear reactors, or to make bombs. So it’s recycled. Isn’t that nice?

Now there is some controversy over whether this uranium is dangerous or not, but to me it’s kind of like the controversy over global warming—the only people disputing its danger are the ones who have much to gain by claiming it’s safe. There is a body of “official” scientific research by the military that purports to prove that low levels of radiation are not harmful, while at the same time there is plenty of “unofficial” science from people like Dr. Rosalie Bertell indicating that low levels of radiation are, in fact, poisoning us and our planet as we speak.

One of the strongest voices to speak out against depleted Uranium has been the man the Pentagon originally sent in to Iraq to assess the situation. Dr. Doug Rokke, a 36-year Army Veteran, didn’t start out as a peacenik. He gladly bombed Vietnam. It took going to Iraq to snap him into a conversion experience. He said: “When I went in as the director of the DU project, my total intention was to ensure that the military could use uranium munitions in combat, simply because the job is to kill and destroy. And what I found out, when I did the research, is that you can’t use them because you can’t clean up and you can’t do the medical. I reached that conclusion and I told them so. I can guarantee you that they didn’t like that conclusion coming from their expert. They were really, really unhappy.” Now he calls America’s use of radioactive weapons (let’s forget this “depleted uranium” jazz and call a spade a spade) a “war crime.” Because he has refused to be silent about his findings, Dr. Rokke is no longer one of the Army’s top Nuclear Medical Science Officers; he is teaching high school science in Illinois.

Let’s consider for a moment the effects of these radioactive weapons. Uranium is a very dense, but soft, metal, and it has the peculiar quality of being pyrophoric—it burns—that is, oxidizes—at a low enough temperature so that the friction of the shell traveling through the air is enough to ignite it, spreading radioactive ash in its wake. Because it is so dense, it is used for what are called “armor piercing” shells. When the U.S. shot up the Iraqi army’s retreat from Kuwait in 1991, the reason all those vehicles caught fire and burned so intensely is that they were hit with uranium shells. Now the U.S. is using radioactive weapons in a counterinsurgency operation, against people who do not have tanks or armor. What’s going on here? What’s wrong with this picture? Why are they using armor piercing shells on people who don’t have armor?

For the same reason the Bush junta ignores global warming, that’s why. If they admit it’s happening, then they have to do something about it, but they don’t want to do anything about it, because they welcome the catastrophic effects of both global warming and radioactive munitions. They think there are too many people in the world, and this, they think, is a good way to get rid of some of the surplus—not just Iraqis, and any of those unpleasant brown-skinned people who live downwind from them, but also lower-class Americans who have nothing better to do with their lives than join the Army. That’s why they won’t recognize the real nature of Gulf War syndrome, why they treat it pyschiatrically as post-traumatic stress syndrome when they treat it at all, why the VA has had its funds cut and soldiers are having their benefits cut and being denied the right to vote by the same Republifascist legislators who cynically claim that they are the ones who “support our troops.” What lying scum.

But the Bush junta, no matter how clever they think they are, still earn the title of “the gang that can’t think straight.” There is no wall in the air that will protect the continental United States and all its inhabitants, from the President on down, from those two thousand tons of radioactive uranium that we have unleashed. Chris Busby, who is a chemical physicist, a member of the British government’s radiation risk committee and a founder of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, said, “We used to think (DU) traveled up to a hundred miles. It looks like it goes quite around the planet.”

So…they’re not just mistreating a few ragheads in Guantanamo, folks. The Bush-Cheney junta’s callous, criminal disregard for human life is blowing radioactive uranium into your lungs and mine and everybody else’s. Everybody. Every man, woman and child on this planet. The gang that can’t think straight is poisoning its own grandchildren. I don’t think it gets any lower than that.

music: The Waterboys, “His Word Is Not His Bond

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