By Ginny NiCarthy
Sat Jul 21, 2007 21:44

By Ginny NiCarthy

I must have known, before I traveled to Iraq in October, 2002, that United States Gulf War weaponry included Depleted Uranium (DU). And I'm sure I read that some U.S. soldiers who fought in the Gulf War developed debilitating conditions, maybe from anthrax vaccines, maybe DU, maybe both. But Depleted Uranium sounds so benign, it was easy to tune out the fact that it's a product of nuclear waste. So I didn't identify DU as the probable cause of disease and early death in many U.S. Gulf War veterans and their children, and in Iraqi civilians -- long after the war supposedly ended. I didn't know that in Iraq the incidence of leukemia and other kinds of cancer is seven times greater than before 1991. Nor did I connect the dots indicating that birth defects in both countries have risen to previously unseen heights.

Then, as part of an American peace team, I entered a Baghdad hospital cancer ward. I looked into the eyes of four- and six- and thirteen-year-old children, and of the mothers sitting stoically by their beds, and I could not deny that some of these children will die, primarily as a consequence of my country's policies.

A Baghdad pathologist showed our team photographs of birth defects: infants without eyes, without limbs, or whose brains had no covering, or whose intestines were outside their bodies, or whose noses were above their eyes instead of below. He, as well as many other scientists, believes the birth defects are caused by the fathers' inhaling of DU on the battlefield. The incidence of such births is still about two in each thousand. But the increase since the before 1991 has been so dramatic, and the deformities so grotesque, that for many women, pregnancy is rife with fear. A new mother's first question used to be, "Is it a boy or a girl?" Now she wants to know, "Is it normal or abnormal?"

Dr. Jawad Al-Ali, oncologist at Saddam Teaching Hospital in Basra, showed pictures of types of cancer unknown before 1991. Many of them take the form of grotesque growths. Because of the belief that certain chemicals might be used to make weapons of mass destruction, U.N. sanctions deprive leukemia patients of needed chemotherapy treatment. Sanctions also make it impossible to get the best medical texts, most of which come from the U.S. or U.K. The lines in Dr. Al-Ali's face deepened as he referred to his habit of making friends of his patients. He has tried to offer them encouragement, he said, even knowing they will soon die. Every death is a personal loss to him.

At the "Highway of Death," as some call it, in southern Iraq near the city of Basra and the Kuwait border, stands a field of rusted-out Gulf War hardware.

A scientist placed a Geiger counter on one tank after another, and I watched the Geiger counter needle shoot off the scale, indicating the presence of more than a thousand times the amount of DU normally found in the atmosphere. DU is valued by military personnel for its extreme density and superior capacity to penetrate tanks, but on impact it breaks up into very small particles. Varying amounts of DU are embedded in the desert sand, and dust storms blow it around. In the winter, sheep graze on desert grasses, and DU -- in the form of shish kebab, perhaps -- travels up the food chain. During Desert Storm, DU was breathed in by American and Iraqi soldiers, and by Americans engaged in "cleanup" operations following it. No adequate tests have been conducted to see how much of it got to Iraqi (and Kuwaiti) soldiers or noncombatants.

During the past twelve years, many of the thousands of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers who served on the border during the Gulf War have become seriously ill. The wives of both groups have given birth to infants whose deformities have rarely, or never, been seen before. Evidence of the connection between those anomalies and DU is partly anecdotal, but a 1995 United States General Accounting Office report on DU use in Desert Storm had this to say about it: "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 toxicity risk." Taken together, the known hazardous characteristics of DU, plus new and increased diseases, point an accusing finger at U.S. weaponry used in the Gulf.

The half-life of DU is over 4.4 billion years. The United States has already sold DU to over twenty countries, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Taiwan, Kuwait and Israel, so the genie is out of the bottle. In the next wars, Depleted Uranium weaponry will almost certainly be unleashed by all sides.

The precautionary principle calls for at least a moratorium on the use of DU until we have more studies of its short and long term effects. Otherwise, it will continue to enter the global corpus as a stealthy time capsule, continually releasing endless war in the form of untold numbers of birth defects, illnesses, and early deaths. Stopping it requires, first, that we Americans fully understand the perils of its use.

Posted on February 2, 2003.

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