Lost in the media circus about the Iraq war, supposedly being fought to prevent a tyrant from obtaining weapons of mass destruction, is the salient fact that the United States and Britain are actively waging chemical and nuclear warfare in Iraq – using depleted uranium munitions.
The corporate-controlled press has failed to inform the public that, in spite of years of UN inspections and numerous international treaties, tons of banned weapons of mass destruction (WMD) – used and unused – remain in Iraq. Indeed, both chemical and radioactive WMD have been – and continue to be used against U.S. and coalition soldiers.
The media silence surrounding these banned WMD, and the horrendous consequences of their use, is due to the simple fact that they are being used by the U.S.-led coalition. They are the new “Silver Bullet” in the U.S. arsenal. They are depleted uranium weapons.
Depleted uranium (DU) weapons were first used during the first Gulf War against Iraq in 1991. The Pentagon estimated that between 315 and 350 tons of DU were fired during the first Gulf War. During the 2003 invasion and current occupation of Iraq, U.S. and British troops have reportedly used more than five times as many DU bombs and shells as the total number used during the 1991 war.
While the use of DU weapons and their effect on human health and the environment are subjects of extreme importance the Pentagon is noticeably reluctant to discuss these weapons. Despite numerous calls to specific individuals identified as being the appointed spokesmen on the subject, not one would answer their phone during normal business hours for the purpose of this article.
Dr. Doug Rokke, on the other hand, former director of the U.S. Army’s Depleted Uranium Project, is very willing to talk about the effects of DU. Rokke was involved in the “clean up” of 34 Abrams tanks and Bradley armored vehicles hit by friendly fire during the 1991 Gulf War. Today he suffers from the ill effects of DU in his body.
Rokke told American Free Press that the Pentagon uses DU weapons because they are the most effective at killing and destroying everything they hit. The highest level of the U.S. and British governments have “totally disregarded the consequences” of the use of DU weapons, Rokke said.
The first Gulf War was the largest friendly fire incident in the history of American warfare, Rokke says. “The majority of the casualties were the result of friendly fire,” he told AFP.
DU is used in many forms of ammunition as an armor penetrator because of its extreme weight and density. The uranium used in these missiles and bombs is a by-product of the nuclear enrichment process. Experts say the Department of Energy has 100 million tons of DU and using it in weapons saves the government money on the cost of its disposal.
Rather than disposing of the radioactive waste, it is shaped into penetrator rods used in the billions of rounds being fired in Iraq and Afghanistan . The radioactive waste from the U.S. nuclear weapons industry has, in effect, been forcibly exported and spread in the environments of Iraq , Afghanistan , the former Yugoslavia , Puerto Rico , and elsewhere.
THE REAL “DIRTY BOMBS”
“A flying rod of solid uranium 18-inches long and three-quarters of an inch in diameter,” is what becomes of a DU tank round after it is fired, Rokke said. Because Uranium-238 is pyrophoric, meaning it burns on contact with air, DU rounds are burning as they fly.
When the DU penetrator hits an object it breaks up and causes secondary explosions, Rokke said. “It’s way beyond a dirty bomb,” Rokke said, referring to the terror weapon that uses conventional explosives to spread radioactive material.
Some of the uranium used with DU weapons vaporizes into extremely small particles, which are dispersed into the atmosphere where they remain until they fall to the ground with the rain. As a gas, the chemically toxic and radioactive uranium can easily enter the body through the skin or the lungs and be carried around the world until it falls to earth with the rain.
AFP asked Marion Falk, a retired chemical physicist who built nuclear bombs for more than 20 years at Lawrence Livermore lab, if he thought that DU weapons operate in a similar manner as a dirty bomb. “That’s exactly what they are,” Falk said. “They fit the description of a dirty bomb in every way.”
According to Falk, more than 30 percent of the DU fired from the cannons of U.S. tanks is reduced to particles one-tenth of a micron (one millionth of a meter) in size or smaller on impact.
“The larger the bang” the greater the amount of DU that is dispersed into the atmosphere, Falk said. With the larger missiles and bombs, nearly 100 percent of the DU is reduced to radioactive dust particles of the “micron size” or smaller, he said.
While the Pentagon officially denies the dangers of DU weapons, since at least 1943 the military has been aware of the extreme toxicity of uranium dispersed as a gas. A declassified memo written by James B. Conant and two other physicists working on the U.S. nuclear project during the Second World War, and sent to Brig. Gen. L.R. Groves on October 30, 1943, provides the evidence:
“As a gas warfare instrument the [radioactive] material would be ground into particles of microscopic size to form dust and smoke and distributed by a ground-fired projectile, land vehicles, or aerial bombs,” the 1943 memo reads. “In this form it would be inhaled by personnel. The amount necessary to cause death to a person inhaling the material is extremely small. It has been estimated that one millionth of a gram accumulation in a person’s body would be fatal. There are no known methods of treatment for such a casualty.”
The use of radioactive materials “as a terrain contaminant” to “deny terrain to either side except at the expense of exposing personnel to harmful radiations” is also discussed in the Groves memo of 1943.
“Anybody, civilian or soldier, who breathes these particles has a permanent dose, and it’s not going to decrease very much over time,” Leonard Dietz, a retired nuclear physicist with 33 years experience told the New York Daily News . “In the long run . veterans exposed to ceramic uranium oxide have a major problem.”
Inhaled particles of radioactive uranium oxide dust will either lodge in the lungs or travel through the body, depending on their size. The smallest particles can be carried through cell walls and “affect the master code – the __expression of the DNA,” Falk told AFP.
Inhaled DU can “fool around with the keys” and do damage to “practically anything,” Falk said. “It affects the body in so many ways and there are so many different symptoms that they want to give it different names,” Falk said about the wide variety of ailments afflicting Gulf War veterans.
Today, more than one out of every three veterans from the first Gulf War are permanently disabled. Terry Jemison of the Dept. of Veterans Affairs said that of the 592,561 discharged veterans from the 1991 war in Iraq , 179,310 are receiving disability compensation and another 24,763 cases are pending.
The “epigenetic damage” done by DU has resulted in many grossly deformed children born in areas such as southern Iraq where tons of DU have contaminated the environment and local population. An untold number of Americans have also been born with severe birth defects as a result of DU contamination.
The New York Daily News conducted a study on nine recently returned soldiers from the New York National Guard. Four of the nine were found to have “almost certainly” inhaled radioactive dust from exploded DU shells.
Laboratory tests revealed two manmade forms of uranium in urine samples from four of the 9 soldiers. The four soldiers are the first confirmed cases of inhaled DU from the current Iraq war.
“These are amazing results, especially since these soldiers were military police not exposed to the heat of battle,” said Dr. Asaf Duracovic, who examined the soldiers and performed the testing. “Other American soldiers who were in combat must have more DU exposure,” Duracovic said. Duracovic is a colonel in the Army reserves and served in the 1991 Gulf War.
The test results showing that four of nine New York guardsmen test positive for DU “suggest the potential for more extensive radiation exposure among coalition troops and Iraqi civilians,” the Daily News reported.
“A large number of American soldiers [in Iraq ] may have had significant exposure to uranium oxide dust,” Dr. Thomas Fasey, a pathologist at Mount Sinai Medical Center and an expert on depleted uranium said, “And the health impact is worrisome for the future.”
HOTTER THAN HELL
“I’m hotter than hell,” Rokke told AFP. The Dept. of Energy tested Rokke in 1994 and found that he was excreting more than 5,000 times the permissible level of depleted uranium. Rokke, however, was not informed of the results until 1996.
As director of the Depleted Uranium Project in 1994-95, Rokke said his task was three fold: determine how to provide medical care for DU victims, how to clean it up, and how to educate and train personnel using DU weapons.
Today, Rokke says that DU cannot be cleaned up and there is no medical care. “Once you’re zapped – you’re zapped,” Rokke said. Among the health problems Rokke is suffering as a result of DU contamination is brittle teeth. He said that he just paid out $400 for an operation for teeth that have broken off. “The uranium replaces the calcium in your teeth and bones,” Rokke said.
“You fight for medical care every day of your life,” he said.
“There are over 30,000 casualties from this Iraq war,” Rokke said.
The three tasks set out for the Depleted Uranium Project have all failed, Rokke said. He wants to know why medical care is not being provided for all the victims of DU and why the environment is not being cleaned up.
“They have to be held accountable,” Rokke said, naming President George W. Bush, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and British prime minister Tony Blair. They chose to use DU weapons and “totally disregarded the consequences.”