American troops are coming home poisoned -- not by Saddam -- but by their own government's weapons of mass and indiscriminate destruction.
The first reports from soldiers returning from Iraq have come in, and they are testing positive for depleted uranium (DU) in their systems. And these are not just random soldiers many are police officers and fire fighters from New York who serve in the NY Army National Guard. These are the very symbols of what this war was supposedly about.
Depleted uranium is a component of toxic nuclear waste. As such, it is extremely cheap. It is also very effective -- the densest material available on the market, it can smash through tanks as if they were butter. When DU weapons explode, a fine aerosol of radioactive dust (uranium oxide) is formed. This dust -- which remains radioactive for billions of years -- is small enough to be inhaled. Once inhaled, uranium oxides lodge in the body and emit radiation indefinitely. The U.S. military has used hundreds of tons of these weapons - not just in the Iraqi conflict, but also in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia, and in the first Gulf War. This dust attaches itself to tanks, clothing and equipment, becomes absorbed in the soil, plants, and water, and is propelled around every time the wind blows. DU powder does not discriminate; it gets into the lungs of Iraqi men, women, and children, as well as in the lungs of American service people. The recently tested soldiers from New York were not even in combat - imagine the amounts of DU waiting to be found in those who were in the midst of fighting and deploying these weapons. Many of the troops currently in Iraq are suffering from "mysterious" symptoms.
Why is it that so many of the troops do not even know what depleted uranium is? Why were they told to camp in areas where DU weapons were used? Why weren't they told that the destroyed Iraqi tanks they pass on their patrols are highly radioactive?
The rates of birth defects and cancer in Iraq have skyrocketed since the first Gulf War. Thousands of veterans from that war have fallen ill with a range of symptoms that have come to be known as Gulf War Syndrome. Common complaints include chronic fatigue, multiple cancers, musculoskeletal pain, neurological damage, signs and symptoms involving skin (including skin rashes and unusual hair loss), sleep disturbances, menstrual disorders, gastrointestinal problems, abnormal weight loss, upper and lower respiratory problems, memory loss, and chemical sensitivities. Veterans' children suffer increased rates of sickness as well.
Babies whose fathers served in the first Gulf War are 50 percent more likely to have physical abnormalities than those born to soldiers who were not sent to that region, according to a recent study funded by the UK's Ministry of Defense. The study cited increased risks of genital, urinary and renal abnormalities, deformed limbs, bones and muscles. The Gulf War Veterans Association reports that at least 300,000 Gulf War vets have developed incapacitating illnesses. This is the fallout from the supposedly "quick and easy" war that lasted only a few weeks.
While the U.S. military claims Gulf War Syndrome is a mystery, many vets -- and scientists -- believe that depleted uranium is one of the major causes of their ailments. It took the U.S. thirty years to admit that Agent Orange actually did harm our Vietnam vets, so perhaps the military believes it can put off admitting what is already known about DU for many years to come. In the meantime, service people are denied proper care.
Major Doug Rokke (Ret.) led the Pentagon's depleted uranium assessment team, which spent several months in the Persian Gulf in 1990-91 involved in DU cleanup, research, and follow-up medical care for U.S. personnel exposed to DU. Rokke has since become seriously ill, and many on his team have already died. He published his research in an Army pamphlet which, according to Rokke, was never distributed to NATO troops operating in the Balkans or to civilians living in areas bombarded by DU shells. Rokke's research concluded that anyone who comes in contact with DU must get medical attention, including those who fired the weapons, as well as anyone who has been near equipment or structures struck with DU shells.
In 1999 a United Nations subcommittee called for an initiative banning the use of DU worldwide. The initiative died in committee where it was blocked by the U.S. In 2003 the European Parliament called for a moratorium on the use of depleted uranium. Despite the fact that the U.S. Army acknowledges the hazards of DU in a training manual, the Pentagon continues to deny that DU is dangerous.
Saddam's WMDs were not found. But, America's DU weapons continue to contaminate our soldiers and are likely to contaminate the planet for billions of years to come. Our troops have not been informed of the danger they face from DU. The American corporate media remains silent. The politicians are looking the other way. These weapons are being used in our name; these are our tax dollars at work. Who is keeping watch here?
Sally Carless is the founder and director of Global Village School for Peace and Diversity Studies, an international K-12 distance-learning diploma program dedicated to teaching about peace and justice. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional resources as well as articles documenting the facts stated in this article can be found at www.globalvillageschool.org/resources.html and www.globalvillageschool.org/troops.html.