Published on Tuesday, September 12, 2000 in the Toronto Globe & Mail
It's Time For Answers
Evidence is mounting that allied soldiers may have been fighting more than Saddam Hussein
by Scott Taylor
For the past 10 years the medical staff at the Basra Pediatric Hospital have compiled a very disturbing photographic record, which catalogues thousands of patients born with "congenital anomalies." Due to its strategic location -- just north of Kuwait -- Basra was one of the most heavily targeted Iraqi cities during the Coalition Forces' aerial bombardments of the Gulf War.
In the decade since Operation Desert Storm, the lethal legacy of that conflict continues unabated in the form of widespread cancer, an epidemic of renal disease and a tremendous increase in genetic birth defects. The collection of photos which line the walls of the Basra Hospital "memorial gallery" are horrific: grotesque babies born with two heads; tiny infants with internal organs protruding through their chest cavities; numerous limbless children; and an alarming number of newborns who reached full term without developing any skin.
Iraqi doctors are firmly convinced that many of their populace's current health woes stem from the U.S. military's use of depleted uranium munitions during Desert Storm. The results of a 1999 World Health Organization initial probe into the health risks posed by depleted uranium in Iraq concluded that full-scale study was warranted. To date such an initiative has been blocked by the U.S. government.
Ever since tens of thousands of Coalition troops returned from service in the Persian Gulf and began complaining of various illnesses, U.S., British and Canadian military medical authorities have vehemently denounced the existence of a Gulf War Syndrome. There can be no denying that a tremendous proportion of these veterans are suffering from "symptoms," such as chronic fatigue, respiratory disease and chronic dysfunction. Numerous official studies conducted to date have examined possible links between such health problems and Gulf War veterans' exposure to various vaccines, poison gas and depleted uranium. All have tabled results deemed to be "inconclusive."
Despite claims by military medical officials that these studies represent "exhaustive" research, this is not the case. Virtually all of the testing done in these studies has been conducted under the auspices of the Pentagon and British Ministry of Defence, through their departments of Veterans Affairs. So far the Canadian government has not funded any separate research, but instead relies on the U.S. and British results.
Many of those veterans who are suffering from Gulf War "symptoms" feel that any such probe should not be conducted by those who would be the most implicated by a positive result.
In the latest inconclusive study results tabled on Sept. 8 by the National Academy of Sciences, the accompanying data revealed that the majority of those examined weren't even Gulf War veterans.
In contrast to official results, independent research laboratories have turned up some startling evidence. Following the April, 1999, death of Canadian Gulf War veteran Terry Riordan, his widow had the body tested by the Uranium Metal Project -- a private research initiative. In February of this year, it was confirmed that Mr. Riordan's tissue, hair and bones contained levels of isotope 236 -- weapons-grade depleted uranium.
Two weeks ago, Dr. Asaf Durakovic, the head of the Uranium Metal Project (and a former U.S. army colonel), tabled some preliminary findings at the European Association of Nuclear Medicine. Dr. Durakovic's team of Canadian and American scientists had tested 17 Gulf War veterans and detected disturbing amounts of depleted uranium in more than 70 per cent of their case studies. These statistics run in stark contrast to urine testing which was conducted this past spring by the Canadian military's medical branch.
In February, 2000, in response to public pressure following the startling revelations of Terry Riordan's toxic results, Defence Minister Art Eggleton established a forces-wide program to test Gulf War veterans. Some 69 soldiers volunteered to provide samples, which were then tested at two "government approved" labs.
"The 'inconclusive' results of these tests were a foregone conclusion," according to Louise Richard, a former Canadian Navy lieutenant who has been suffering from a wide range of debilitating ailments (tuberculosis, incontinence, hair loss, etc.) ever since serving as a field nurse during Desert Storm. "All you had to do was to read the official disclaimer which accompanied each of the test kits," she told me.
Those instructions read in part "Based on a careful review of all known science concerning depleted uranium, there is essentially no chance that depleted uranium is [affecting] the health of Canadian Forces members who served in the Gulf." It was subsequently announced by Col. Ken Scott, the individual responsible for the depleted uranium testing, that the levels of uranium detected were so low he deemed further testing "unnecessary."
In response to Col. Scott's claims that these service members had lower levels of depleted uranium than the general population, Dr. Durakovic urged Canadian veterans to seek additional testing at "independent" laboratories. Dr. Durakovic denounced Col. Scott's statement as being "total and complete nonsense."
In a sternly worded Sept. 9 letter to the Fredericton Daily Gleaner, Col. Scott asked the rhetorical question: "Canadians served in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and with the Naval blockade in Sector Charlie of the Gulf. Canadians returned home within a few weeks of the end of hostilities. If depleted uranium was a factor in their illnesses, why are civilians who live in these countries not similarly unwell?"
Of course Col. Scott is aware that these civilians, unlike our service members, did not deploy into, nor did they fly over, the bomb-impacted areas. Most interesting is the fact that Col. Scott, along with his U.S. counterparts, consistently fails to mention the impact the bombardment has had on Iraqi citizens. How can anyone proclaim an examination of Gulf War Syndrome to be exhaustive -- without a single test being conducted at Ground Zero?
If the Canadian government is to be seen as serious in its claims of concern for the health and welfare of these ailing soldiers, it must establish an independent, scientific, medical commission. Rather than continuing to rely upon "inconclusive results" from our allies who employ these depleted uranium munitions, perhaps it is time for Canada to take a leading role in studying the deadly effects of such weapons.
Scott Taylor is the editor of Esprit de Corps Magazine. He has just returned from two weeks in Iraq.
Copyright © 2000 Globe Interactive