The history of DU in Iraq, war crimes and more

When `right' isn't quite right

Pauline Rigby, from Green Left Weekly, January 14, 2004.

Weapons of mass destruction were never found in Iraq, yet the country is today contaminated forever, because weapons of mass destruction have been used against it. Thousands of tonnes of radioactive waste were dumped on Iraq during Gulf Wars I and II and during the intervening years when bombing continued through the use of depleted uranium (DU) ammunition.

DU is a waste product of the process that produces enriched uranium for use in nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants. Much like natural uranium, it is both toxic and radioactive. This radioactive waste — with a half-life of 4.5 billion years — has been incorporated into missiles and bombs by the United States. The weapons burn and oxidise into microscopic particles that are ingested and inhaled, irradiating the victim from the inside.

DU-coated munitions were first used by the US against Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War.

The contamination of Iraq with DU has been described as the equivalent of the unleashing of 13 Hiroshima-type bombs on the country. Horrific birth defects and cancers and the numerous symptoms that result from radioactive warfare, afflict friend and foe alike and are discussed by Dr Asaf Durakovic in the October edition of the Croatian Medical Journal.

Ten thousand US Gulf War I veterans have died and 250,000 are sick, according to former US Major Dr Doug Rokke. He was part of a team charged with cleaning up uranium contaminated equipment after the war, for its shipment back to the United States and now has 5000 times the normal amount of uranium in his body. He is sick and members of this team have died from radiation poisoning. Rokke has the same rashes and multiple radiation afflictions as those exhibited by Australian Gulf War veterans.

John Howard's (the Australian PM) sense of justice in agreeing with a trial for Saddam Hussein “where the full measure of what he did is spelt out in detail” calls to mind the International War Crimes Tribunal held in New York 1991-1992 and presided over by 17 countries.
The tribunal dealt with US war crimes against Iraq It charged President George Bush senior, Vice-President Dan Quayle, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, General Norman Schwarzkopf (commander of the US-led forces in the Persian Gulf) and General Colin Powell, among others, with crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity in violation of the Charter of the United Nations, the 1949 Geneva Conventions, the First Protocol thereto and other agreements and customary law. All those who were charged were found guilty but they have never acknowledged their guilt, nor been punished in any way.

It seems that justice has been selective and uranium weapons of mass destruction were again used in Kosova during the NATO bombing. Cancer rates are up in the local population and also among the United Nations peacekeepers from many countries who were sent in at the close of hostilities. Spanish and Italian peacekeepers have died of leukaemia and Portugal withdrew its personnel to stop any more becoming “radioactive meat”.

The contamination and death that has been visited on Afghanistan with radioactive weapons has resulted in the highest amount of uranium contamination ever recorded in humans. Testing was carried out during 2002 by the UMRC (Uranium Medical Research Centre).

During 2003, the International War Crimes Tribunal held in Japan addressed US war crimes in Afghanistan. Presentations by US scientist Leuren Moret in both June and November, dealt with the vexed issue of “illegal” uranium weapons.

Uranium weapons are illegal under international law. US attorney Karen Parker is currently the chief delegate for International Education Development — Humanitarian Law Project, accredited by the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), and an expert witness in armed conflict law who testifies regularly at the UN. According to Parker, uranium weapons fail the four rules derived from the whole of humanitarian law regarding weapons — the “territorial” test (weapons may only be used in the legal field of battle); the “temporal” test (weapons can only be used for the duration of an armed conflict); the “humaneness” test (weapons may not be unduly inhumane); the
“environmental” test (weapons may not have an unduly negative affect on the natural environment).

Uranium weapons cannot be contained on the legal battlefield, nor within the timeframe of the battle. The radioactive particles will drift around the globe, contaminating air, water and soil and the living tissue of plants and animals for 4.5 billion years. The chromosomal damage exhibited by babies born after the conflict attests to the inhumanity of the weapons.

Australia is now seriously addressing the possibility of purchasing from the US the JASSM (Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile). This is a 4400kg, all-weather, precision strike cruise missile with a DU coated warhead.

Who will Australia be aiming these missiles at? Indonesia? New Zealand?
Will the missiles be test fired on Australian soil; or off the Australian coast? Each one costs $544,000 and will contaminate the area where it is fired, forever!

Acquisition of the JASSM will move Australia from the traditional idea of “defence” towards the dangerous concept of pre-emptive strike.

So John Howard is right to take a stand against countries that possess weapons of mass destruction and are prepared to use them. He is also right to suggest that Saddam Hussein should stand trial “where the full measure of what he did is spelt out in detail”. But justice should not be selective, it should also inform our own country's behaviour.

Pauline Rigby is a postgraduate researcher at the University of Queensland investigating the nuclear industry and its impact on communities. She is a member of the Queensland Peace Network and headed the Australian delegation to the World Uranium Weapons Conference, held October 16-10 in Hamburg, Germany.


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