Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Dear Common Dreams Readers:
Corporations and billionaires have their own media. Shouldn't we? When you “follow the money” that funds our independent journalism, it all leads back to this: people like you. Our supporters are what allows us to produce journalism in the public interest that is beholden only to people, our planet, and the common good. Please support our Mid-Year Campaign so that we always have a newsroom for the people that is funded by the people. Thank you for your support. --Jon Queally, managing editor

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

A U.S. military burn pit at forward operating base Zeebrudge in Helmand province, Afghanistan pictured in March 2013. (Photo: Sgt. Anthony L. Ortiz)

A U.S. military burn pit at forward operating base Zeebrudge in Helmand province, Afghanistan pictured in March 2013. (Photo: Sgt. Anthony L. Ortiz)

Study Reveals Corporate Media's Refusal to Acknowledge Civilian Victims of US Wars

New research finds, through their silence, mainstream news outlets are 'legitimating' U.S. military's burn pits on civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan

Sarah Lazare

Mainstream media outlets are systematically disregarding the hazardous health impacts of widespread U.S. military burn pits on civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, thereby playing a direct role in "legitimating the environmental injustices of war," a harrowing new scholarly report concludes.

"During the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the US Department of Defense burned the majority of its solid waste in open-air pits or trenches, producing large amounts of potentially hazardous emissions," noted Eric Bonds, assistant professor of sociology at University of Mary Washington, in his investigation, published in the journal Environmental Politics.

"It is well known that the uncontrolled burning of plastics, Styrofoam, electronics, unexploded weapons, and other manufactured and highly processed materials releases harmful toxins and particulate matter into the air," Bonds continued.

"This echoes the other history of Agent Orange when the U.S. government turned its back on the people of Vietnam and walked away, cleaning up just a handful of contaminated places but never acknowledging harm done to Vietnamese civilians or compensating them for their suffering." 
—Eric Bonds, University of Mary Washington

However, when he surveyed major U.S. newspaper stories from 2007 to 2014, Bonds found that discussions of the negative health impacts of these burn pits overwhelmingly focused on the plight faced by U.S. military service members and veterans—but the actual civilians nearby were almost entirely missing from the picture.

"The search produced 49 distinct stories. While five of these stories made passing reference to civilian impacts, and one story mentioned potential impacts to civilians on par with impacts to soldiers, the vast majority of news stories made no mention that Iraqi and Afghan civilians might also have been harmed by the U.S. military's burning of waste," he wrote.

What's more, Bonds noted, "When journalists describe the pollution itself, how it billowed over military bases and covered living quarters with ash and soot, such accounts never mention that this pollution would not have stopped at the cement barricades and concertina wire at base boundaries, but must have also settled over civilians' homes and the surrounding landscapes."

From Balad air base in Iraq to Shindad base in Afghanistan, these sites are in fact located in close proximity to "farmsteads, townships, cities, cropland, orchards, and rivers."

As Common Dreams previously reported, Dr. Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, independent environmental toxicologist based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has identified a correlation between burn pits and spikes in birth defects among Iraqi communities nearby.

According to Bonds, by failing to tell the stories of the Iraqi and Afghan people impacted, the media has a hand in the injustices committed against them.

"This echoes the other history of Agent Orange when the U.S. government turned its back on the people of Vietnam and walked away, cleaning up just a handful of contaminated places but never acknowledging harm done to Vietnamese civilians or compensating them for their suffering," Bonds told Common Dreams.

As in Vietnam, people in Iraq and Afghanistan are demanding acknowledgment of—and reparations for—the harm done by U.S. burn pits and toxic munitions.

Iraqi civil society groups including the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq and the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq have organized within their communities and levied international demands for the U.S. to clean up its burn pits, depleted uranium, white phosphorous, and other toxic waste which is creating an ongoing public health crisis in Iraq.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Just a few days left in our crucial Mid-Year Campaign and we might not make it without your help.
Who funds our independent journalism? Readers like you who believe in our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. No corporate advertisers. No billionaire founder. Our non-partisan, nonprofit media model has only one source of revenue: The people who read and value this work and our mission. That's it.
And the model is simple: If everyone just gives whatever amount they can afford and think is reasonable—$3, $9, $29, or more—we can continue. If not enough do, we go dark.

All the small gifts add up to something otherwise impossible. Please join us today. Donate to Common Dreams. This is crunch time. We need you now.

'I Don't F—ing Care That They Have Weapons': Trump Wanted Security to Let Armed Supporters March on Capitol

"They're not here to hurt me," Trump said on the day of the January 6 insurrection, testified a former aide to ex-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

Jake Johnson ·


'Morally Bankrupt' G7 Slammed for 'Caving' to Fossil Fuel Lobby on Climate

"People in poverty around the world will pay the highest price for this backtrack by some of the wealthiest countries," one activist warned of the group's new statement on gas investments.

Jessica Corbett ·


Police Brutality on Display as Protesters Rail Against Post-Roe World

"Both the Dobbs decision and state repression of protest against it violate human rights," said the president of the National Lawyers Guild.

Brett Wilkins ·


'Yeah, And?': Ocasio-Cortez Embraces GOP Freakout Over Helping Women Skirt Abortion Bans

"Republicans are mad because I am sharing this information," said Rep. Ocasio-Cortez. "Too bad!"

Julia Conley ·


WATCH LIVE: Top Meadows Aide Cassidy Hutchinson Testifies at Surprise Jan. 6 Hearing

Hutchinson, who has spent more than 20 hours in deposition with the House panel, is expected to provide more damning evidence of the role that Meadows played in Trump's coup attempt.

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo