American arms pacified Fallujah—and may have poisoned a generation
In this year’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama declared, “the Iraq war is coming to end”—at least for Americans, leaving “with their heads held high” because “our commitment has been kept.”
For millions of Iraqis, however, the war is far from over—in fact, for a growing number of families in cities that were nearly destroyed during the years of insurgency and counter-insurgency, the crisis is only beginning. Whether we take responsibility for our role in it will determine whether we can hold our “heads high” in foreign policy ever again. As one Iraqi-American told TAC, “just because we don’t pay attention, doesn’t mean the rest of the world isn’t paying attention.”
According to studies and eyewitness accounts over the last few years, Fallujah, an Iraqi city that was practically obliterated by U.S. heavy artillery in two major offensives in 2004, is experiencing a staggering rate of birth defects among its local population. The situation echoes similar reports from Basra that began to circulate after the first Gulf War in 1991.
The litany of horrors is gut-wrenching: babies born with two heads, one eye in the middle of the face, missing limbs, too many limbs, brain damage, cardiac defects, abnormally large heads, eyeless, missing genitalia, riddled with tumors. Upon touring a clinic in Fallujah in March of last year, the BBC’s John Simpson reported, “we were given details of dozens upon dozens of cases of children with serious birth defects … one photograph I saw showed a newborn baby with three heads.” Later, at the main U.S.-funded hospital in the city, “a stream of parents arrived” with children who had limb defects, spinal conditions, and “other problems.” Authorities in Fallujah reportedly warned women to hold off on having babies at all.
Dr. Ayman Qais, the director of Fallujah’s general hospital, told The Guardian that he was seeing two affected babies a day, compared to two a fortnight in 2008. “Most [deformities] are in the head and spinal cord, but there are also many deficiencies in lower limbs,” he said. “There is also a very marked increase in the number of cases of [children] less than two years with brain tumours. This is now a focus area of multiple tumours.”
The pictures and video available with a quick Google search are simply shocking.
But there is nothing simple about this issue. On one hand, it is widely accepted among scientists, doctors, and aid workers that war is to blame. The presence of so much expended weaponry, waste and rubble, massive burn pits on U.S. bases, and oil fires has left a toxic legacy that is poisoning the air, the water, and the soil in Iraq. Add highly controversial armaments that the U.S. has only hinted at using in this war—such as depleted uranium—and you get a potentially radioactive landscape giving rise to doomed children and stillborn babies.
“I think we have destroyed Iraq,” says Dr. Adil Shamoo, a biochemist at the University of Maryland who specializes in medical ethics and foreign policy. Shamoo, an Iraqi-American, believes it’s “just common sense” to link Iraq’s troubled health situation to the relentless bombing of its towns and cities and the polluted aftermath of fighting and occupation.
The Department of Defense disagrees, rejecting claims that the military is to blame for chronic illnesses, birth defects, and high rates of cancer among the local population and its own service members exposed to the same elements in theater. (DoD officials did not return calls and e-mails to respond to the specific charges made in this story.)
Meanwhile, the Iraqi government has done little to address the public-health crisis in Fallujah and elsewhere. Authorities cannot afford, and seemingly lack the will, to clean up the festering pollution around the country’s population centers while many Iraqis still clamor for clean drinking water and basic medical supplies.
“It’s not even on their radar,” offered Geoff Millard, an Iraq War vet who was about to embark this winter on an aid mission with Iraqi Health Now, which raises money for hospitals, clinics, and refugee camps. “If you have a mature democracy with a stable government, you can start to think about the environmental impact. You don’t talk about environmental impact when there are death squads roaming the streets.”
Nevertheless, a joint study by Iraq’s environment, health, and science ministries last summer found 40 sites in the country that are contaminated with high levels of radiation and dioxins—residue, the study claims, from three decades of war. Critics believe there are hundreds of other locations just like these.
Areas around urban centers like Fallujah and Basra accounted for 25 percent of the contaminated sites. The pollution of Basra dates back to at least 1982, when Operation Ramadan, the biggest land battle of the Iran-Iraq War—in which the U.S. was on Iraqside, supplying Saddam Hussein with billions in weapons, “dual-use” materials, training, and support—shook the desert outside the city. But in the 20 years since the first Gulf War, Basra has seen a marked increase in childhood illnesses. According to researchers at the University of Washington School of Public Health, the rate of childhood leukemia doubled in Basra from 1993 through 2007.
“This is a serious public health crisis that needs global attention. We need independent and unbiased research into the possible causes of this epidemic,” declared American environmental toxicologist Mazhgan Savabieasfahani, co-author of the most recent report on birth defects in Fallujah.
But fathoming the source of this scourge is hard; Iraq is a quick study in environmental malpractice. For example, reports indicate that waste from heavy industry, tanning and paint factories, and hospitals—even raw sewage—is still being dumped into the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and seeping into drinking water. Yet there is little doubt about the toll that 30 years of war and economic sanctions has taken here. Looking at the photographs of babies barely recognizable as human, of toddlers frighteningly tiny, limp from their own deformities, the toll of war and the conditions it creates is evident.
What Happened to Fallujah?
In December, a report in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health declared that since 2003 “congenital malformations” were observed in 15 percent of all births in Fallujah in 2010. Heart defects were the most common, followed by neural tube defects, which cause irreversible and often fatal deformities such as anencephaly, in which the infant is born with parts of the brain and skull missing.
By comparison, major birth defects affect only an estimated 3 percent of every live birth in the U.S. and an average of 6 percent of all births worldwide.
The December study focused on births in Fallujah General Hospital during the first half of 2010. In May, it found that 15 percent of all 547 deliveries presented birth defects. That month there were also 76 miscarriages, 60 premature deliveries, and one stillbirth. Researchers saw similar numbers in the first four months of 2010.
The study explored the health histories of four families in Fallujah—four fathers, each with two wives, and their 39 offspring. Of the children, three were miscarried, three were stillborn, eight had birth defects and skeletal malformations, and three—by the same mother and father—had leukemia. All of these abnormal births occurred after 2003, save for one child born with leukemia in 2002 and two miscarriages for one mother in 1995.
“The timing of the birth defect occurrences suggests that they may be related to war-associated long-term exposure to contamination,” the report states. “Many known contaminants have the potential to interfere with normal embryonic and fetal development.” The report also suggests that metals such as depleted uranium associated with “augmented” and “targeted” weapons “are potential good candidates to cause birth defects,” but the authors insisted further research was needed to establish a direct cause.
Another recent article, “Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005–2009,” published in the International Journal of Environmental and Public Health last July, undertook a door-to-door survey of 4,843 Fallujah residents in 711 houses. Acknowledging that such surveys have their limits—responses cannot be independently verified, for example—the authors nonetheless highlighted three compelling findings, including a significant 18 percent reduction in the male births in the group after 2004 and a spike in infant mortality—13 percent of live births from 2009 to 2010, compared to 2 percent in Egypt and 1.7 percent in Jordan. Lastly, the frequency of cancers related to radiation exposure, particularly leukemia, between 2005 and 2010 was “alarming” in comparison with national rates in Egypt and Jordan. (The study noted that Iraq still doesn’t keep official cancer statistics.)
“The results reported here do not throw any light upon the identity of the agent(s) causing the increased levels of illness and although we have drawn attention to the use of depleted uranium as one potential relevant exposure, there may be other possibilities,” wrote the authors. Indeed, other possible contaminants are manifold—but depleted uranium has long been a prime suspect.
Depleted uranium (DU) is a dense, highly toxic, radioactive heavy metal that is regularly used by the military for shielding and penetrative capabilities. The Army’s Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles have it in their armor and in their ammunition.
In addition to their long-range penetration abilities, DU-tipped weapons can cause further damage by instantaneously setting their targets on fire. According to GlobalSecurity.org: “On impact with a hard target (such as a tank) the penetrator may generate a cloud of DU dust within the struck vehicle that ignites spontaneously, creating a fire that increases the damage to the target.”
After battle, the carcasses of tanks and remains of exploded or unexploded DU munitions produce radiation, while tiny particles of heavy metal get into the dust and can travel long distances in the air. This dust can be deadly when inhaled, doctors and environmental scientists say.
While minimizing the external radiation dangers of DU, a 1994 U.S Army Environmental Policy Institute study conducted in the wake of fears that Gulf War soldiers had been contaminated in “friendly fire” incidents acknowledged that “toxicologically, DU poses a health risk when internalized” and that “using DU on the battlefield poses potential environmental consequences.” It ultimately recommended, however, further study and risk-management, rather than forgoing the use of DU altogether.
The U.S. left an estimated 320 metric tons of DU on the battlefield after the first Gulf War. DU rounds conferred a distinct advantage over the Iraqis, destroying some 4,000 of their tanks, many which still pollute the desert landscape. “The invisible particles created when those bullets struck and burned are still ‘hot.’ They make Geiger counters sing, and they stick to the tanks, contaminating the soil and blowing in the desert wind, as they will for the 4.5 billion years it will take the DU to lose just half its radioactivity,” wrote Scott Peterson in the Christian Science Monitor.
Later Peterson documented evidence of DU in Baghdad after the 2003 war, checking “hot spots” around battle debris with a Geiger counter. He noted that the Air Force had admitted that its A-1 “Warthog” planes had shot 300,000 rounds during the “shock and awe” phase of the invasion. Typically, the “normal combat mix” for the 30-mm cannon on the A-1 is five DU bullets to one high-explosive incendiary round.
“The children haven’t been told not to play with the radioactive debris,” Peterson wrote. He saw only one site where U.S. troops had put up handwritten warnings in Arabic for Iraqis to stay away. “There, a 3-foot-long DU dart from a 120 mm tank shell, was found producing radiation at more than 1,300 times background levels. It made the [Geiger counter] staccato bursts turn into a steady whine.”
Getting an accurate picture of how DU has been used by American forces in Iraq since 2003 has been impossible. But the military hasn’t always been so tight-lipped. On the eve of the war, noted California-based researcher Dan Fahey, the Pentagon was engaging in its own pro-DU propaganda. “The campaign had two goals: to justify the use of DU munitions as a military necessity, and to dismiss concerns about the health and environmental effects of use,” wrote Fahey in 2005.
Indeed, in a March 18, 2003 press briefing, two days before the invasion, Col. James Naughton of the U.S. Army Material Command boasted that Iraqis “want [DU] to go away because we kicked the crap out of them” in the tank battles of 1991.“Their soldiers can’t be really amused at the idea of going out in basically the same tanks with some slight improvements and taking on Abrams again.”
The bragging stopped after “shock and awe.” Officials now merely insist that DU exposure is not responsible for serious health problems in Iraq. When confronted with the evidence of birth defects in Fallujah, Pentagon spokesman Michael Kilpatrick told the BBC last year, “no studies to date have indicated environmental issues resulting in specific health issues.”
The Pentagon is backed up by selected studies, like the one conducted by the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2010, which examined soil, water, and vegetation in four areas—including Basra but not Fallujah—and concluded “the radiation doses from DU do not pose a radiological hazard to the population at the four studied locations in southern Iraq.” The report takes for granted that DU was indeed used throughout the war theater.
Interestingly, both the IAEA and the Army have acknowledged the importance of handling weapon fragments and vehicle scraps as radioactive waste. “They specifically told us not to climb on tanks that have been shelled,” says Geoff Millard, who got a brief warning about DU as a young soldier in 2000.
The exact composition of the munitions expended during the fighting in Fallujah in late 2004 remains unknown. But the scale of the pollution can be gauged by the magnitude of the bombardment. According to Rebecca Grant, writing for Air Force Magazine in 2005, the U.S. conducted relentless air assaults in the First Battle of Fallujah from March through September 2004 and launched a second phase that November. She describes a “steady pace of air attacks” in a mostly urban “manhunt” using AC-130 gunships and fixed-wing aircraft, even after commanders were told early on to scale it back due to political considerations over collateral damage. F-15 jets would swoop down and strafe insurgents to provide ground cover while Marines called in strikes on cornered insurgents from GPS-guided missiles like the new 500-lb GBU-38 JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition), which could “pluck” buildings “right out of the middle of very populated areas.”
What Grant’s account does not include is the use of DU and even white phosphorous, which, when it comes into human contact, sizzles flesh right off the bone. A year after doctors in Fallujah began reporting the telltale burns, a Pentagon spokesman admitted to the BBC that that white phosphorus was indeed “used as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants” in 2004. (Initially, the military had insisted it was only used for battlefield illumination.)
“When they went in they basically pulled out all the stops,” said investigative journalist Dahr Jamail, who was on the ground in Fallujah in late 2004. He told TAC that he is not surprised by the birth defects in Fallujah today, having seen the aftermath of presumed DU use in “massive quantities.”
As for its effect on reproductive development in Fallujah, there is no consensus among researchers, but there is plenty of material to pore over. Critics among the scientific community can point to a decade of studies about DU’s detrimental effects upon health, including a 2006 report that found DU exposure led to gene disruption in laboratory rats and similar experiments suggesting exposure could lead to low birth weight and skeletal malformations.
The problem with trying to identify a primary contributor to birth defects in Iraq is that the country is a cauldron of contamination. Aside from the polluted water, there are the ubiquitous toxic plumes from burning waste on U.S. bases, as well as oil and gas fires dotting the landscape. (No fewer than 469 incidents of oil and gas blazes, mostly from insurgents blowing up pipelines, were recorded between 2003 and 2008.) Military researchers have also been looking to heavy metals—both naturally occurring and otherwise—in the dust kicked up in the desert after so many battle-driven ruptures of the earth.
Saddam himself used chemical weapons against his own people and allegedly directed his men fleeing the 2003 invasion to sabotage the old water treatment plant at Qarmat Ali, just north of Basra where the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers meet, by littering it with an anti-corrosive powder containing huge amounts of hexavalent chromium, a chemical known to cause cancer.
Some of the Oregon National Guard soldiers who later worked and lived at the plant—assured by defense contractor Kellogg, Brown, and Root that Qarmat Ali was safe—are now so sick they can barely walk. “This is our Agent Orange,” veteran Scott Ashby told The Oregonian in 2009, referring to the herbicide sprayed by U.S. forces over huge swaths of the Vietnamese countryside from 1961 to 1971. A 2003 Columbia University study estimates upwards of 4.5 million people were exposed; the Vietnamese government has estimated 480,000 deaths and 500,000 born with birth defects as a result. American veterans had to sue to get attention for illnesses relating to AO exposure.
In a sense, what is happening throughout Iraq today is the 21st-century’s Agent Orange. As in Vietnam a generation earlier, Americans have rushed to the emotional exits in Iraq, chalking the war up to a blunder best resigned to the history books. Ignoring the “steady whine” of their moral Geiger counters, the U.S. public neatly tucks away photographs of deformed Iraqi babies next to the fading memories of Vietnamese children and American veterans scarred by battlefield chemicals. Collective denial has turned out to be empire’s best friend, as a Southeast Asian foreign-policy disaster has given way to a 30-year catastrophe in the Middle East.
Kelley Beaucar Vlahos is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance reporter and a columnist for Antiwar.com.
Press TV on 4 March 2011 reported that cancer cases in Gaza had increased by 30 per cent, and that there was a link between the occurrence of the disease and residence in areas that had been badly hit by Israeli bombing. Zekra Ajour from the Al-Dameer Association for Human Rights told the channel that Gaza had been a testing ground for illegal weapons.
On 20 December 2009 Al-Dameer had published another paper in Arabic on the increase in the number of babies born in Gaza with birth defects, thought to be the result of radioactive and toxic materials from Operation Cast Lead.1 The birth defects included incomplete hearts and malformations of the brain. During August, September and October 2008 the number of cases had been 27. In the comparable months in 2009 the numbers had risen to 47. There was a similar rise in aborted foetuses. Al-Dameer had called for scientific monitoring throughout the Gaza Strip to obtain statistics on deformed foetus cases relating to the intentional use of internationally banned weapons.
Similar dramatic increases in birth defects over a longer period have been recorded in Iraq and have been linked to widespread use of depleted uranium (DU) weapons. (It is reported that local midwives no longer look forward to births as they don’t know what is going to come out.)
Although the epidemiologist Professor Alastair Hay told the BBC in March 2010 that it was difficult to suggest any particular cause for the trend,2 scientific data has been published which contradicts his opinion. A review in Environmental Health in 20053 concluded by saying:
Regarding the teratogenicity of parental prenatal exposure to DU aerosols, the evidence, albeit imperfect, indicates a high probability of substantial risk. Good science indicates that depleted uranium weapons should not be manufactured or exploded.
When later asked in the same interview about white phosphorus, Prof. Hay had replied;
…phosphorus is an essential element in our bodies and so you would I think have to ingest a huge amount to cause any particular problem. But there has been no investigation anywhere that I am aware of to link phosphorus with health problems…
Apparently the professor has not read the Goldstone Report of the previous year which states in paragraph 896:
Medical staff reported to the mission how even working in the areas where the phosphorus had been used made them feel sick, their lips would swell and they would become extremely thirsty and nauseous.
The toxicity of phosphorus is also recorded in a report by New York medical staff:4
Oral ingestion of white phosphorus in humans has been demonstrated to result in pathologic changes to the liver and kidneys. The ingestion of a small quantity of white phosphorus can cause gastrointestinal complaints such as nausea, abdominal cramps, and vomiting. Individuals with a history of oral ingestion have been noted to pass phosphorus-laden stool (“smoking stool syndrome”). The accepted lethal dose is 1 mg/kg, although the ingestion of as little as 15 mg has resulted in death.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reported that breathing white phosphorus for long periods causes “phossy jaw”, a condition in which there is poor wound healing of the mouth and breakdown of the jawbone.5
Depleted uranium in US-supplied bunker-buster bombs
Evidence of the use of depleted uranium against Gaza is tenuous and Goldstone merely recorded in paragraph 907 that it had received allegations which it had not further investigated. Much of this evidence came from Action des citoyens pour le désarmement nucléaire (ACDN: Citizens Action for Nuclear Disarmament). Their report of July 2009 hypothesizes that the GBU-39 bunker-buster bomb is packed with 75 kilogram of depleted uranium. (A UNEP report also ambiguously refers to bunker-buster bombs containing depleted uranium.) The US delivery of 1,000 of these bombs to Israel arrived in early December 2008 shortly before the start of the war. The GBU-39 is considered one of the world’s most precise bombs and Boeing, the manufacturer, claims that the bomb will penetrate three feet of steel-reinforced concrete. (UNEP suggests that it can penetrate reinforced concrete to depths ranging from 1.8 to over 6 metres.) Boeing’s patent on the weapon mentions depleted uranium.6
It is not known how many bunker-buster bombs were used against Gaza but it seems reasonable to assume that the number could run into hundreds. It is thought that they were used mostly in the Philadelphia corridor against the tunnels. Desmond Travers, the former Irish army officer who was a member of the Goldstone Commission, would only say that depleted uranium may have been used during the war, although he did agree that it would have been well suited for attacking the tunnels where maximum penetration would have been desired.7 He was also in agreement with ACDN that the use of below-ground targets would have considerably reduced the levels of aerosol uranium that was dispersed into the air.
Col Raymond Lane, who is chief instructor of ordnance with the Irish armed forces, gave testimony to the Goldstone Commission on weapons used in the Gaza conflict. He told the commission that he had no expertise of depleted uranium and so had not investigated it. He gave no reason for his failure to bring in specialist expertise to investigate the subject.8
In April 2009 Jean-François Fechino from ACDN was part of a four-person team which went to Gaza for the Arab Commission for Human Rights. Samples that the team brought back were analysed by a specialist laboratory which identified carcinogens: depleted uranium, caesium, asbestos dust, tungsten and aluminium oxide. Thorium oxide was also found, which is radioactive, as are depleted uranium and caesium. The analysis also identified phosphates and copper, along with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which are a health hazard, especially to children, asthmatics and elders.9
Depleted uranium burns at almost 1200 degrees Celsius. (TNT by comparison burns at 576 degrees Celsius.)10 At this temperature the fire vaporizes any metals in the target which in combination with uranium are released into the air in aerosol form. After deposition the aerosols have the potential to contaminate groundwater. (The Gaza aquifer, which is the Strip’s only water source, is also connected to ground water supplies in Egypt, although water only flows into Gaza from Israel.11)
There is empirical documentation that the aerosols can travel up to 42 Km and theoretical documentation that they can travel further. Sderot is about 43 kilometres from the Philadelphia corridor and less than five kilometres from Beit Hanoun. In consequence, it may be that the activities of Israel’s air force have created a greater threat to the Israeli city than all of the 8,000 well-publicized rockets from Gaza ever have.
Depleted uranium accumulation has been recorded in the bone, kidney, reproductive system, brain and lung. It is carcinogenic, toxic to the kidneys, damaging to cellular DNA and causes malformations to an embryo or foetus.
Although an Israeli army spokesman told CNN on 7 January 2009, “I can tell you with certainty that white phosphorus is absolutely not being used.” the chemical had been used by Israeli forces since the beginning of the war.12 The Goldstone Report stated that Israeli sources later claimed their forces had stopped using white phosphorous on 7 January 2009 because of international concerns. This was also untrue as there is evidence that it had been used after that date. Goldstone declared the Israeli armed forces to have been “systematically reckless” in using white phosphorous in built-up areas (paragraphs 884, 886 and 890).
Difficulty in detecting the extent of damage to tissue and organs gave serious problems to medical staff trying to treat white phosphorus injuries. Several patients died as a result. Doctors found that when they removed bandages applied to a wound that still contained fragments of white phosphorous, smoke would come from the wound since the chemical continues to burn as long as it is in contact with oxygen. White phosphorous sticks to tissue so that all flesh and sometimes muscle around the burn would have to be cut out. The substance is also highly toxic (Goldstone paragraphs 892/4/5/6).
An article published in The Lancet included photographs of a young man who was admitted to hospital in Gaza with white phosphorous burns on 30 per cent of his body. The day after admission smoke was noticed coming from the wounds and the patient was rapidly transferred to the operating room for removal of dead tissue and removal of white phosphorus particles. During the operation a particle of the chemical was dislodged and caused a superficial burn on a nurse’s neck. The patient survived.13
Col Lane testified that although white phosphorus gave the best quality of smoke for military purposes it was “horrible stuff” and the Irish army had stopped using it 20 years previously. He recounted how the British army had sea-dumped quantities of the material off the coast of southwest Scotland in the 1950s, some of which had been washed up on the coast of Ireland by a storm in 2007. It had ignited on drying (the colonel had witnessed this himself) and in one instance a child had suffered burns as a result.
Other toxic materials
Mass spectrometry analysis conducted by the New Weapons Research Group (NWRG) found aluminium, titanium, strontium, barium, cobalt and mercury in biopsies taken from white phosphorus wounds at Shifaa Hospital, Gaza. (Aluminium, barium and mercury have potential for lethal and intoxicating effects; aluminium and mercury can cause chronic pathologies over time; mercury is carcinogenic for humans; cobalt can cause mutations; and aluminium is fetotoxic, i.e. injurious to foetuses.)14
White phosphorus bombs are built with alternating sectors of white phosphorus and aluminium. Analysis by NWRC of the powder from a shell near Al-Wafa Hospital in Gaza also found high levels of molybdenum, tungsten and mercury. Tungsten and mercury are carcinogenic, while molybdenum is toxic to sperms.
In a report appropriately entitled “Gaza Strip, soil has been contaminated due to bombings: population in danger”, NWRG also conducted analyses of two craters caused by bombs in 2006 and two others by bombs in 2009. In the 2006 craters they identified tungsten, mercury and molybdenum, while in the 2009 craters at Tufah they discovered molybdenum, cadmium, cobalt, nickel, manganese, copper and zinc. Cadmium and some nickel and manganese compounds are carcinogenic.15
NWRG has further conducted research of hair samples from 95 children resident in heavily bombed areas of Gaza. Again using mass spectrometry the study identified the carcinogenic or toxic metals chromium, cadmium, cobalt, tungsten and uranium. One wounded individual also had unusually high levels of lead. The study found the results alarming and considered the levels could be pathogenic in situations of chronic exposure. Thirty-nine of the examinees were recommended for further checks.16
DIME weapons, soil contamination and cancer
It has been reported that soil in the area of a DIME (dense inert metal explosive) bomb blast may remain barren for an indefinite period of time because of contamination from heavy metal tungsten alloy.17 The same material in trial rapidly caused tumours in 100 per cent of rats when used at both low and high doses, with the tumours spreading to the lungs, necessitating euthanasia.18
DIME weapons were first used against Gaza by Israeli drones in the summer of 2006, when Palestinian medical personnel reported that it significantly increased the fatality rate among victims.19 Shortly after the DIME weapons were also trialled during the first week of the war in Lebanon in July 2006.
The Goldstone Commission was unable to confirm that DIME munitions were used by Israeli forces during Operation Cast Lead. Col Lane had told the commission in testimony that there was no actual proof. He then went on to testify that he had been given samples in Gaza which analysis in Dublin had shown to contain DIME materials consisting mostly of tungsten with traces of iron and sulphur. He was of the opinion that ordnance had been used that had some sort of DIME component. He also mentioned that he had read of unusual amputations, and that tungsten and cobalt would have this effect. Weaponry had been found with DIME components which was capable of amputation and there are Palestinian amputees, yet neither Col Lane nor the commission was prepared to say that DIME weapons had been used by Israeli forces.
DIME bombs cause a high proportion of amputations particularly of legs, while patients often suffered internal burns as well. The bombs consist of powdered tungsten alloy mixed with an explosive material inside a casing which disintegrates on explosion. The tungsten powder tears apart anything it hits including soft tissue and bone, causing very severe injuries. Tungsten alloy particles, described as “finely powdered micro-shrapnel”, are too small to be extracted from the victim’s body and are highly carcinogenic. (Goldstone, paragraphs 902-4)
No weapons fragments can be found from DIME bombs with standard diagnostic resources, despite the indication of heavy metals from this type of injuries. Mass spectrometry analyses by NWRG of biopsies from amputation injuries revealed aluminium, titanium, copper, strontium, barium, cobalt, mercury, vanadium, caesium, tin, arsenic, manganese, rubidium, cadmium, chromium, zinc and nickel. Doctors reported that it was difficult to determine the extent of dead tissue (which it is vital to remove). This resulted in higher rates of deep infection, subsequent amputation and higher mortality.20
The wide range of heavy metals discovered by analysis in casualties, residents and soil in Gaza suggests that other unidentified weapons may have also been trialled. (The Sensor Fuzed Weapon has been suggested as one such technological perversion that the Israeli forces may have used.21)
The whole Gaza population and their environment, including generations yet to be conceived, have been put at risk of serious long-term injury from heavy metal pollution of the air, soil and groundwater (and possibly the seawater too), while the causal pollution is likely to cross state borders into Egypt and even into Israel. Reassurances of the legitimate and responsible use and the reduced lethality of weapons (an opinion in part shared by Col Lane) are callous and inadequate in the context of the dangerous reality that has resulted. Meanwhile, the impacts of Israel’s illegal assaults on Gaza remain ignored and its deeds uncensored by the wider international community.
1. Kawther Salam, 29 December 2009; Abortions, Cancer, Diseases and… in Gaza; Intifada-Palestine. www.intifada-palestine.com/2009/12/abortions-cancer-diseases-and-in-gaza/
2. BBCNews, 4 March 2010; Falluja Doctors Report Rise in Birth Defects. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8548707.stm
3. Rita Hindin, Doug Brugge and Bindu Panikkar; Teratogenicity of depleted uranium aerosols: A review from an epidemiological perspective; Environmental Health: A Global Access Science Source 2005, 4:17 doi:10.1186/1476-069X-4-17. www.ehjournal.net/content/4/1/17
4. Lisandro Irizarry, Mollie V Williams, Geri M Williams and José Eric Díaz-Alcalá, 21 October 2009; CBRNE – Incendiary Agents, White Phosphorus. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/833585-overview
5. UNEP, 2007; Lebanon Post-Conflict Environmental Assessment, p 149.
6. ACDN, 4 July 2009; Report on the Use of Radioactive Weapons in the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead. www.newweapons.org/files/ACDN%20Gaza%20report%20updated%204Jul2009%201.pdf
7. Dr Hana Chehata, 9 March 2010; Disturbing Findings of Toxic Uranium Levels in Gaza; Middle East Monitor. http://preview.tinyurl.com/6cdf55k
8. Video accessed from http://blog.unwatch.org/?p=413
9. Palestinian Telegraph, 24 May 2009; Israel Used Depleted Uranium in Offensive on Gaza. www.paltelegraph.com/opinions/editorials/935-israel-used-depleted-uranium-in-offensive-on-gaza.html
10. Sister Rosalie Bertell; Depleted Uranium in the Human Body: Sr Rosalie Bertell, PhD. www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgQ79-oDX2o
12. Human Rights Watch, 10 January 2009; Q & A on Israel’s Use of White Phosphorus in Gaza. www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/01/10/q-israel-s-use-white-phosphorus-gaza
14. Sobhi Skaik, Nafiz Abu-Shaban, Nasser Abu-Shaban, Mario Barbieri, Maurizio Barbieri, Umberto Giani, Paola Manduca, 31 July 2010; Metals Detected by ICP/MS in Wound Tissue of War Injuries Without Fragments in Gaza. www.newweapons.org/files/1860524319368107_article.pdf
15. NWRC, 17 December 2009; Gaza Strip, soil has been contaminated due to bombings: population in danger. www.newweapons.org/files/pressrelease_nwrc_20091216_eng.pdf
16. NWRC, 17 March 2010; Metals Detected in Palestinian Children’s Hair Suggest Environmental Contamination. http://www.newweapons.org/?q=node/112
17. James Brooks, 6 December 2006; US and Israel Targeting DNA in Gaza? The DIME Bomb: Yet Another Genotoxic Weapon, Part II. Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding. http://tinyurl.com/6kq6sd9
18. John F. Kalinich, et al, 15 February 2005; Embedded Weapons-Grade Tungsten Alloy Shrapnel Rapidly Induces Metastatic High-Grade Rhabdomysoarcomas in F344 Rats; ehponline.org www.afrri.usuhs.mil/www/outreach/pdf/tungsten_cancer.pdf
19. James Brooks, 5 December 2006; The DIME Bomb: Yet Another Genotoxic weapon, Part 1; Al-Jazeera. www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/27a/308.html
20. David Halpin, 14 August 2006; Are New weapons Being Used in Gaza and Lebanon; Electronic Intifada. http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article5528.shtml
21. James Brooks, 5 December 2006; The DIME Bomb: Yet Another Genotoxic weapon, Part III; Al-Jazeera. www.thetruthseeker.co.uk/oldsite/article.asp?ID=5648
Police and security forces in Suleimaniya have arrested and tortured many organizers of and participants in the daily anti-corruption protests in recent days. Several organizers have also disappeared or received death threats. In a marked increase of tensions, an unknown number of additional security troops have deployed to the city, but apparently refrained from taking the protest site by force.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani threatened yesterday, 12 March to “deal” with the protests if they do not end by 21 March 2011. Rather than complying, protest organizers have announced more visible actions in the coming week.
“The truth has been unleashed,” a young protester told CPTers today (Sunday), “and cannot be silenced, not even by more soldiers.”
“Even if there are only fifteen people left at this square,” said another, “I will never leave until this corrupt, unjust government is finished.”
Additional security forces deployed to Suleimaniyah yesterday. According to one protest organizer, their intention was to take Sara Square by force overnight. The organizer said apparent foreign diplomatic intervention stopped them from doing so at the last minute. In a conversation between Jalal Talabani and U.S. vice-president Joe Biden, later that night, the latter reportedly urged Talabani not to deploy additional security forces to Sara Square.
“If these soldiers come to the square to attack us, much blood will be shed,” a protester told CPT.
In previous weeks, security forces had withdrawn from Sara/Azadi Square. Since 17 February, security forces have killed at least five protesters and wounded many dozens in confrontations. In a threat to the status quo, however, many soldiers publicly expressed their support for the protests, or at least their refusal to fire at them.
Apparently unwilling or unable to rely on regular troops from Suleimaniyah, the regime appears to have resorted to illicit actions, including anonymous threats, disappearances and attacks by unidentified thugs. CPTers spoke to one man who said that after speaking at the open microphone at the protest, he was arrested by security forces and beaten for eight hours before a number of journalists could secure his release. Last week, plainclothes individuals, whom many believe were sent by the regime, brutally attacked protesters camping in Sara Square overnight.
Protest organizers are currently on high alert, sleeping at different houses each night and moving in the constant accompaniment of volunteers to increase their safety. Overnight protests have not taken place for some days.
The protests in Sara/Azadi square are now in their fourth week.
Gerry Pollet, Executive Director of Heart of America Northwest, spoke in Eugene, Oregon on March 7, 2011. In this excerpt, he talks about the perils of transporting nuclear waste over Oregon’s highways to Hanford.
Bahrain’s former political prisoners, recently released from jail, hold the UK government responsible for the repressive policies of the Bahraini regime.
Bahraini ruler King Hamad al-Khalifa freed more than 300 political prisoners, recently, in a concession to protesters who are fed up with his 40-years brutal rule in the tiny Persian Gulf island state.
Released political prisoners include academics, human rights activists, bloggers and clerics, according to Bahraini news report.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights has affirmed the former prisoners’ claims that they have been subjected to “extreme systematic torture”.
“The British government bears a heavy responsibility for the repression in Bahrain. What we have here is an apparatus of torture that was formed and instructed by British security personnel”, said one of the released detainees, Abduljalil al-Singace, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Bahrain.
Many detainees and opposition figures believe that British personnel continue to be involved in the policies and practices of Bahrain’s secret police, the Security and Intelligence Service.
They point out that the methods of interrogation are “identical” to those used during the 1970s, 80s and 90s when the SIS was headed by Ian Henderson, a British police officer, who is believed to still reside in and act as a personal advisor to the king of Bahrain.
Bahraini opposition groups recognize the notorious Henderson, now in his late eighties, as the “torturer-in-chief”.
British parliamentarians, including Lord Avebury, George Galloway and Jeremy Corbyn have previously called on the British government to prosecute him over personal involvement in gross maltreatment of Bahraini prisoners, some of whom died in custody.
Another released prisoner, Professor al-Singace was imprisoned last August in the run-up to general elections in the country.
“We are calling on the European Court of Human Rights to hold the British government to account for the inhumane repression in Bahrain. British citizens have been involved in the most barbaric treatment of innocent civilians with the knowledge and consent of the British government”, said Professor al-Singace.
The former detainees, over and over again, invoked the name of the former head of state security, Henderson, as the ultimate author of their torturous conditions.
They were electrocuted on the genitals, while others were raped by the guards with glass bottles, as evidenced by the former prisoners. Others said they were hung by the hands and feet “like animals” and beaten with hard rubber hoses.
One Shia political activist, aged 58, who gave his name only as Mohammed, said he had personally encountered Henderson.
“The repression and torture used by the Bahraini regime is largely the work of Ian Henderson. But it wasn’t just Henderson. The entire security apparatus of this country was commanded by Henderson and British officers. The Bahraini regime inherited the torture apparatus from the British who continued to run it after independence. The people who are doing the torture now were instructed and trained by British officers and their system of torture is very much in practice today”, said Mohammed, who was detained without trial for nearly five years during the 1970s.
Henderson, who was awarded the George Cross for quashing the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya during the 1950s, was installed by the UK government as head of security in Bahrain in 1968 when the country was a British protectorate and at the same time it was challenged by a mainly Shia independence movement.
Older Bahraini activists recalled that there was a sharp spike in repression and maltreatment of prisoners in the years following Henderson’s appointment – a role he held for 30 years.
In 1986 – after tens of thousands of Bahrainis had been through the prison system, many claiming horrific maltreatment – Henderson was awarded the CBE in the UK’s honors list.
“Britain imposed the al-Khalifa regime on the people of Bahrain and schooled these rulers in how to suppress our people trying to achieve democracy and freedom. The British and the monarchy here enjoyed the oil wealth of this country, while we have been treated like slaves – and to keep us like slaves, our rulers have relied on British repressive know-how. They have used British divide-and-rule sectarian policies between Shia and Sunni and they have criminalized Shia people who have simply been demanding their democratic rights for many decades”, said Mohammed.
Mohammed noted that Bahrain was just another example of how “Western governments have employed dictators throughout the Middle East to crush people”. These Westerners are now being exposed for their “criminal use of dictators”.
“Everywhere the British and American governments have been involved, we see the same torture methods, including in Northern Ireland, Bahrain, Iraq, Afghanistan,” he said. “This is the reality behind their claims of supporting democracy and human rights.”
GAZA CITY — Palestinians may not be responsible for killing a family of five Israelis in Itamar settlement overnight Friday, the Gaza government said Sunday.
Israeli authorities immediately blamed Palestinians for the attack, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the Palestinian Authority of “daily incitement” against Israel in his response to the killings.
However, Gaza government spokesman Taher An-Nunu said the Israeli government should not rule out the possibility that the attack was perpetrated by Israeli criminals.
Hamas has denied any involvement in the attack.
A shadowy faction calling itself the “Imad Mughniyya Group” claimed responsibility for the attack but Israeli authorities have dismissed the group’s claims in the past. It has claimed responsibility for other operations in the past that may have been the work of others.
So far, no other faction has claimed involvement.
An-Nunu warned Israel against using the killings to justify an escalation in violence against the Gaza Strip.
He said that relocating Israel’s domestic crises toward incitement against Palestinians was “unacceptable political blackmail.”
Within 24 hours of the attack, Israeli ministers met and decided to approve a huge expansion in Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank.
Settlers have launched a series of attacks on Palestinians across the West Bank, storming villages, harassing residents in their homes, smashing shops and throwing rocks at Palestinian cars.
The international community recognizes that building Jewish-only housing on occupied Palestinian land is illegal according to international law and the Geneva Convention, and has repeatedly called on Israel to halt construction.
Israel’s refusal led to the collapse of the last round of negotiations in September.
The Cuban government has sentenced a US contractor to 15 years in prison for covertly distributing laptops and cellular phones on the island.
Washington swiftly decried the jailing of American Alan Gross as “another injustice” and called for his immediate release.
Cuba’s Popular Provincial Tribunal found Gross responsible for “acts against the independence or territorial integrity” of the country, according to a statement read on state-run television.
Gross, 61, was working under contract for the US State Department when he was arrested in late 2009 for distributing the electronic devices to members of Cuba’s small Jewish community.
“Today’s sentencing adds another injustice to Alan Gross’s ordeal,” said US National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor in Washington.
Cuba also said that during the trial, the defendant “acknowledged that he had been used and manipulated” by the US Agency for International Development, which financed Gross’s company.
Gross, who can appeal the sentence, was originally accused of targeting universities, religious centers and ethnic groups to create “underground communications networks designed to foment provocations against the revolution.”
His family was devastated, Gross’s attorney said.
“At this difficult time for Alan and his family, we again call on the Cuban government to release him immediately on humanitarian grounds,” said lawyer Peter Kahn.
The existing social networks on the internet can no longer be reliable platforms for organizing anti-government uprisings, because corporate cartels are beginning to own them, a political analyst says.
“You cannot rely on Facebook and Twitter …. [because] those avenues and weapons have already been corrupted by Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan,” David DeGraw from AmpedStatus.com told Press TV.
Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan are among the gigantic corporations, infamous for their corrupt records across the world.
Corrupt global cartels are beginning to seize the ownership of such networks on the internet to neutralize their “amazing” effects in organizing the ongoing anti-government uprisings across the world, he said.
“Goldman Sachs has just caught a deal with Facebook to be its major shareholder and JP Morgan is moving to be a shareholder of Twitter,” DeGraw mentioned.
This is while the popular uprisings against the dictatorial regimes are in fact uprisings against the current global economic system, in which the IMF gives such corrupt corporations a free rein over the regimes and economies in those countries, he added.
DeGraw argued, “We need platforms that cannot be gained and corrupted by Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan as Facebook and Twitter are being right now.”
In the past two months, anti-government revolts have been spreading across the Arab world. The popular uprisings have mostly been organized via internet social networks.
Last month in Tunisia, nationwide outrage at the government’s suppressive policies sparked a massive revolution that ended the 23-year rule of its despotic president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and forced him to flee to Saudi Arabia.
On February 11, a millions-strong nationwide revolution in Egypt, which started on January 25, ended the three-decade rule of US-backed dictator Hosni Mubarak.
Other anti-government uprisings have taken place in Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Jordan and Oman, as more Arab countries are expected to stage similar popular revolts.