from 26 january 2003
blue vol II, #67
Opinion Archive

America: Killing Its Own Soldiers

Depleted Uranium Makes All Wars Nuclear

by John Kaminski

Never in my wildest dreams did I think that the United States would be detonating nuclear shells to poison its own soldiers and the surrounding civilian populations with radioactive isotopes.
- Dr. Helen Caldicott, Metal of Dishonor

No one with any brains should ever consider enlisting in the U.S. armed forces because the people in charge of America's defenses have clearly demonstrated they have absolutely no regard for the health and welfare of their troops. A study of the irresponsible and continuing use of depleted uranium ammunition proves this beyond a shadow of a doubt.

For the past decade, America's leaders have fought to prevent depleted uranium (DU) ammunition from being declared a weapon of mass destruction by the United Nations, despite knowing that exposure to this poisonous substance guarantees cancer, birth defects and a host of other lethal health hazards. Despite tens of thousands of Gulf War veterans in bad health that many have blamed on DU and many veterans of the conflict in Yugoslavia now urinating uranium, the politicians and generals have refused to ban this deadly substance because it is simply too effective a weapon. And they continue to deny appropriate health care to U.S. military veterans who have suffered because of it.

Now a new invasion is set to unfold in the one place in the world where depleted uranium contamination is worst - southern Iraq. American soldiers will be sent into battle with inadequate protections against a proven health hazard that will almost certainly doom them to lives diminished by a variety of cancers caused by uranium 238, which means they may transmit these illnesses to their family and friends - and birth defects to their children - when and if they return home.

In recent days, an evocative fourplex of stories has been posted on the website that vividly portrays the danger and depravity of the depleted uranium issue. This is not an attempt to steal the thunder from those writers (especially the great profile by Travis Dunn of Disaster, but is a recommendation to all to read these four pieces (the URLs are listed at the bottom), Or, for those who don't have the two hours to read all four stories, this is simply a briefer synopsis. In addition, the web is full of stories about the dangers of depleted uranium and the coverup of those dangers by U.S. authorities.

When you read them, it will become clear that American officials far more interested in taking lives than saving them are jeopardizing the lives and futures of all personnel now serving in the U.S. military.

Dr. Doug Rokke is the man the U.S. government put in charge of trying to clean up and assess certain aspects of contamination after the first Gulf War. When he finally reached his conclusions, the Army ignored them, hid his medical records from him, and insisted he didn't get sick as a result of his work. A later examination revealed Rokke had 5000 times the normal amount of radiation in his body.

Rokke ran the U.S. Army's depleted uranium project in the mid-90s, and he was in charge of the Army's effort to clean up DU after the Persian Gulf War. He also directed the Edwin R. Bradley Radiological Laboratories at Fort McClellan, Ala.

What Rokke found after the Persian Gulf massacre terrified him. "'Oh my God' is the only way to describe it," Rokke said. "Contamination was all over". And it still is, and will be for 4.5 million years.

Rokke and his crew were measuring significant levels of radiation up to 50 meters away from affected tanks: up to 300 millirems an hour in beta and gamma radiation, and alpha radiation from the thousands to the millions in counts per minute (CPM) on a Geiger counter. "That whole area is still trashed," he said. "It's hotter than heck over there still. This stuff doesn't go away".

This is the situation new U.S. troops now face as George W. Bush masses American troops for another invasion of Iraq, this attack having even less moral justification than the first Gulf War in 1990.

Rokke's team took three months to clean up 24 tanks for transport back to the U.S. The Army, Rokke said, took another three years to fully decontaminate the same 24 tanks. But the contaminated tanks weren't the only problem. Within 72 hours of their inspections, Rokke and his crew started getting sick. In the past decade, Rokke said 30 men out of 100 who were closely involved in these operations dropped dead.

Rokke's lungs and kidneys are damaged. He believes that uranium oxide dust is permanently trapped inside his lungs. He has lesions on his brain, pustules on his skin. He suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome. He has reactive airway disease, which means he can't stop wheezing and coughing, and experiences a loss of breath when he exercises. He also has fibromyalgia, a condition that causes chronic pain in his muscles, ligaments and tendons.

The VA tested Rokke for uranium levels in his body in 1994. He got the results back two and a half years later. His urine had 5000 times the amount of permissible uranium. After years of fighting with the VA, Rokke said he managed to get a 40 percent disability, but there is no official acknowledgement that his illnesses were caused by his work with DU.

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the Army and the Pentagon continue to insist that DU is safe. U.S. authorities continue to cover up the DU scandal for two reasons: first, because DU coated shells are far more powerful than ordinary ordnance, and second, because the policy of making DU weaponry provides the beleaguered U.S. nuclear industry with a handy and lucrative way to dispose of its waste material.

The problem with DU, Rokke points out, is the dust that's given off when a round is fired. The projectile begins burning immediately, and up to 70 percent of it oxidizes. "This aerosolized power - uranium oxide - is the really dangerous stuff," Rokke said, "particularly when it is inhaled".

Dr. Helen Caldicott, probably the world's foremost critic of nuclear power, agrees: "...depleted uranium spontaneously burns on impact, creating tiny aerosolized particles less than five microns in diameter, small enough to be inhaled. At least seventy percent of the uranium in these weapons is released in this form on impact, and these tiny particles travel long distances when airborne".

About one quarter of the 700,000 troops sent to the Persian Gulf War have reported some sort of Gulf War-related illness, and Rokke is convinced that DU has something to do with it, along with the host of other chemicals to which troops were exposed, including low levels of sarin gas, smoke from oil fires, countless pesticides as well as anti-nerve gas tablets which troops were required to ingest.

Rokke: "Today, at least one decade after thousands and maybe millions of individuals were exposed to DU contamination and who should have received medical care per our original 1991 recommendations and as specified in the October 14, 1993 directive, less than 500 individuals have ever been provided the required radio-bioassay testing and consequent medical care. We must note that if United States personnel should receive medical care then all exposed individuals also must receive medical care".

Just imagine the top brass in Washington actually caring about what their Dr. Strangelove contraptions have done to the million or so sick people in the Persian Gulf.

But the problem is not just in faraway Iraq. Similar health effects also have been documented in uranium processing facility employees of and residents living near Paducah, Kentucky; Portsmouth, Ohio; Los Alamos, New Mexico; Oak Ridge, Tennessee; and Hanford, Washington, where the DU weaponry was made. Employees at uranium manufacturing or processing facilities in New York, Tennessee, Iowa, Massachusetts, and the four corners area of southwest Colorado also have repeatedly reported health effects similar to those reported by verified Gulf War DU casualties. Iraqi and other humanitarian agency physicians are reporting the same health effects in exposed populations. Scottish scientists recently verified that residents of the Balkans were excreting uranium in their urine.

Recently, the U.S. Navy willfully used DU munitions during peacetime exercises on the Puerto Rican Island of Vieques in violation of laws and regulations, jeopardizing U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico. Still there is no accountability for these actions that spread radioactive waste that causes indiscriminate harm to all that are exposed for 4.5 billion years unless contamination is cleaned up.

Depleted uranium was only one of the verified exposures in the Persian Gulf theater which also included chemical warfare agents, biological warfare agents, pesticides, industrial chemicals, endemic diseases, sand (El Eskan disease), food borne illnesses, water borne illness, organic and inorganic byproduct compounds from oil well fires, airborne particulates, asbestos, cleaning compounds, low level radioactive materials, and then the deliberate immunizations and drugs designed to protect individuals from verified threats.

If your son or daughter is in the military today, opposition from the hapless Iraqi army is not the greatest threat.

Apart from DU, Rokke listed other hazards facing America's military personnel.

"Today, we know that the anthrax manufacturing process was never inspected and approved by the FDA before 1993 and today the FDA still has not approved the facility. We also know that there are adverse short term and probably long-term effects. The anthrax vaccine that we administered was licensed for prevention of cutaneous and not respiratory anthrax. Then just within the last month, Department of Defense officials finally admitted after continued denials that an illegal adjuvant, squalene was used instead of alum in some vaccine batches. Consequently, we probably reduced the ability of the immune system to fight off the multitude of exposures that occurred.

"Troops were also immunized against a whole host of diseases and biological warfare toxins such as anthrax and botulism. If immunizations been maintained rather than giving individuals 4 or 5 or even more simultaneous immunizations we could have reduced adverse effects on the immune system. But we did not; we gave individuals numerous shots at the same time and then did not keep track of what was given or what adverse reactions occurred. We messed up immune systems before deployment. Basically, after we declared war we had to immunize everyone. As I administered hundreds of anthrax and botulinum shots in Saudi Arabia, I could only wonder why we were ordered not to record any information. Once more, our actions to protect individuals against a verified threat ignored common sense"

This is the way America's military leaders protect the welfare of their troops. And there's more.

Rokke: "The confirmed nerve agent threat resulted in the use of PB, which is actually a reversible bond nerve agent, in an attempt to reduce the effects of chemical warfare nerve agents such as Sarin, VX, Soman, Novachuks, and Multiple 7. PB can be compared to spraying gumdrops with Raid or Black Flag and then eating them. We expected adverse reactions from consumption of PB because it is a carbamate pesticide compound. Therefore, we made sure that NBC operations and medical personnel knew of potential adverse effects.

"Again, we knew there would be health effects and yet commanders decided to ignore our warnings and force individuals to eat PB tablets. As part of our discussions we also identified and warned about the anticipated interactions between pesticides, nerve agents, and drugs such as PB (pyridiostigmine bromide / mestinon). Official Department of Army medical records confirm that over 50 % of the individuals who took the PB got sick with nerve agent effects. American officials ignored the problem.

"Today, many of us; including scientists, physicians, pastors, and others; who decided to speak up about what occurred, why it occurred, what should have been done years ago, and what should be done now have lost jobs, experienced retaliation, and been threatened by Department of Defense, Department of the Army, and Department of Veterans Affairs officials. The direct and indirect threats, warnings, and attacks also have been directed to our family members to bring pressure on us to stop demanding accountability. This is all about liability! Therefore the truth must be suppressed! If what happened is acknowledged, then specific individuals within our government and other governments will be required to accept responsibility for the consequences of deliberate actions.

"The health and environmental problems are not limited to Iraq or surrounding areas. Similar adverse health and environmental effects have been identified within and around U.S. military installations or Department of Energy facilities in Alabama, Washington, California, Alaska, Tennessee, Korea, Panama, Germany, Philippines, Maryland, Nevada, Florida, California, and especially surrounding the U.S. Navy range on the Vieques, Puerto Rico. I recently had the father of a warrior stationed in California come up to me while I was eating supper in a restaurant outside Chicago to ask for help in obtaining medical care for his family who was sick from exposures.

"Another dangerous location is Calhoun County (Fort McClellan) Alabama. Extensive PCB contamination mixed with contamination from DOD activities and the potential release of nerve and mustard agents during weapons incineration without any effective emergency response threatens the residents and the environment. DOD and Army representatives have told the residents of Calhoun County to just close their doors and windows and hold their breath in the event of releases. OH MY GOD!!!!!"

Why is DU such a good weapon? Because it hardens the tank shells and makes them more effective. Also, the material is readily available from America's vast stockpiles of nuclear waste. As an alternative, Germany uses tungsten to coat its shells, eliminating the radioactivity but having a far great cost because tungsten has to be mined while uranium waste is lying around everywhere.

A majority of international experts agrees that DU is already a banned weapon because it is incompatible with existing humanitarian law and qualifies as a weapon of mass destruction.

In 1996 this issue was brought before the Human Rights Tribunal in Geneva and the Tribunal condemned it as warfare. They actually called depleted uranium a weapon of mass destruction, one that destroys the user as well as the used, the abuser and well as the abused.

The top brass in Washington continue to say our soldiers - your children, or husbands and wives - are perfectly safe.

- John Kaminski

John Kaminski is a writer who lives on the coast of Florida.

Information for this story was culled from:

Rense - terr
Rense - donot
Rense - depl
Rense - DU
and other websites

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