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Depleted Uranium

Depleted uranium (DU) is what's left after uranium 235 is removed for use in nuclear power plants or atomic weapons. It is both toxic and radioactive, with a half-life of 4.5 billion years. There is so much of it in the US that the Department of Energy gives it away to arms manufacturers.

Ammunition made with DU can penetrate tank armour and burns on impact, creating tiny aerosolised glass particles small enough to be inhaled. These particles emit all types of radiation and can be carried in the air over long distances. They have been found in ground water and in soil. DU is also used in armour for tanks and other armoured vehicles.

More than 350 tons of DU were dropped on Iraq during the first Gulf War. Iraqi physicians reported sharp increases in leukemia, lymphomas, and birth defects in southern Iraq where the bombardment took place. DU weapons were also used in Bosnia, Herzegovina, Kosovo, Serbia, Afghanistan, and in Iraq again in 2003.

Those on the receiving end were not the only ones affected. A study by Dr. Pat Doyle, published in the February 2004 International Journal of Epidemiology, found that babies whose fathers served in the first Gulf war were 50 per cent more likely to have physical abnormalities than those born to soldiers not sent to the region. And, according to Justice Y.K.J. Yeung Sik Yuen, in a working paper submitted to a UN sub-commission on depleted uranium, "… the United States Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA) figures on deaths of veterans who served in the First Gulf War (over 8,000), coupled with an equally startling disability rate (206,861 of 696,778 veterans on paid disability), is sufficient to indicate that something is seriously amiss."

The primary health effects caused by DU are toxicity from the soluble particles, similar to heavy metal poisoning, and radiation exposure from the insoluble particles. Once inhaled or ingested, uranimum endangers all tissues it encounters, but primarily the liver, lungs, and kidneys. Italy, France, Belgium, and Portugal have found increased cases of leukemia in soldiers who served in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Despite rising concern worldwide about the health effects of DU on both civilian and military populations, the Pentagon has no plans to discontinue its use.

A useful website for links on Depleted Uranium

Silent Genocide

By Robert C. Koehler

03/25/04 "Tribune Media Services" -- "After the Americans destroyed our village and killed many of us, we also lost our houses and have nothing to eat. However, we would have endured these miseries and even accepted them, if the Americans had not sentenced us all to death."

This will not be easy to read, especially if you've projected evil out of your own heart, into some cave in Afghanistan or a spider hole in Iraq, and reduced the age-old question it inspires to this one: How can we bomb it off the face of the earth?

Before the damage we inflict grows greater, before history's judgment gets worse, before we contaminate the whole world - even before we vote in the next election - we must stop what we're doing. We must stop now.

It's time to listen for a moment not to defense analysts briefing officers, pols or pundits, but to people like Jooma Khan, a grandfather who lives in a village in Laghman Province, in northeastern Afghanistan, who is quoted above. Surely he deserves 30 seconds of our undivided attention. "When I saw my deformed grandson," he told an interviewer in March of 2003, "I realized that my hopes of the future have vanished for good. (This is) different from the hopelessness of the Russian barbarism, even though at that time I lost my older son Shafiqullah. This time, however, I know we are part of the invisible genocide brought on us by America, a silent death from which I know we will not escape."

We're waging war-plus in Afghanistan and Iraq - in effect, nuclear war, with our widespread use of depleted-uranium-tipped shells and missiles. This is no secret. DU, with its extraordinary penetrating power and explode-on-impact capability, helps assure our military dominance everywhere we go. But people like Jooma Khan and his grandson reap its toxic legacy.

So, of course, do our own troops.

Kahn's words are only a sliver of the damning testimony contained in the documents of the International Criminal Tribunal for Afghanistan, a Japanese citizens' initiative that recently concluded its two-year inquiry into the first phase of the Bush Administration's war on terror. But they say everything that we cannot hear. If we could hear Jooma Khan, and others who are sounding the alarm about DU, such as former Livermore Labs geologist Leuren Moret, who testified at the tribunal, there would not be mere thousands of people in the streets of American cities demanding that we stop the war, but hundreds of thousands, or millions - the sort of numbers that turn out in other parts of the world. The use of DU weaponry is not the extent of our criminal irresponsibility in Afghanistan and Iraq, which led to the tribunal's guilty verdict against George Bush on charges of war crimes, but it's the most chilling. (The full report)

As Moret testified, depleted uranium turns into a infinitesimally fine dust after it explodes; individual particles are smaller than a virus or bacteria. And, "It is estimated that one millionth of a gram accumulating in a person's body would be fatal. There are no known methods of treatment."

And DU dust is everywhere. A minimum of 500 or 600 tons now litter Afghanistan, and several times that amount are spread across Iraq. In terms of global atmospheric pollution, we've already released the equivalent of 400,000 Nagasaki bombs, Moret said. The numbers are overwhelming, but the potential horrors only get worse. DU dust does more than wreak havoc on the immune systems of those who breathe or touch it; the substance also alters one's genetic code.

Thus, birth defects are way up in Afghanistan since the invasion: children "born with no eyes, no limbs, tumors protruding from their mouths ...deformed genitalia," according to the tribunal report. This ghastly toll on the unborn - on the future - has led investigators to coin the term "silent genocide" to describe the effects of this horrific weapon.

The Pentagon's response to such charges is denial, denial, denial. And the American media is its moral co-conspirator.

But blame is beside the point. Surely even those who still await "conclusive proof" that DU is the cause, or a factor, in the mystery illnesses and birth defects emanating from the war zones, can see the logic in halting its use now.

Global terrorism? Listen to Jooma Khan. Then look in the mirror.

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Robert Koehler, an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, is an editor at Tribune Media Services and nationally syndicated writer. Tribune Media Services, Inc. © 2004 Tribune Media Services