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June, 2006


Depleted Uranium: the Screaming Mute
By Marie Siegenthaler

Like an angry ghost of past wars haunting the Middle and Near East, an enigmatic disease infiltrates the soil and poisons the surrounding land and people. Birth defects, leukemia, cancer, and other ailments plague this war-torn land, all swelling to catastrophic proportions. Multitudes are doomed to die of a mysterious condition characterized by a host of symptoms, ranging from burns to respiratory problems to tumors. Many of those facing death are children.
What caused all this? According to the Iraqi medical community, studies, scientists, and anyone who isn't affiliated with the World Health Organization (WHO) or Pentagon, the lingering crisis in Iraq was caused, and continues to be caused, by depleted uranium used by the US military.

Depleted uranium, the waste left over from nuclear reactors, made its debut during the first Gulf War (1991) and has since been used in the in the Balkans (1995), in Afghanistan (2001), and the second Gulf War (2003), and in no small numbers. In 2003, in Iraq alone, we used enough DU to recreate the Nagasaki bomb 250,000 times, or over 2,000 tons.

Depleted uranium's density, 1.7 times that of lead, offers many uses in the military. DU is used in shells to penetrate armored tanks, releasing a spray of radioactive plasma once it has pierced through the metal and causing the tank to explode, all within incinerated. Tanks armored with DU have all other bullets bounce off harmlessly. As it is a cheap substance and as nuclear reactors are not in short supply, the military can afford to use this substance generously.

However, both the soldiers and the country's inhabitants pay a heavy toll for the cheap material. Not only is depleted uranium chemically toxic, it is also radioactive, with a half-life of 4.5 billion years. It goes against a UN protocol of not using munitions or other weapons capable of causing suffering in humans after the war's end.

Worse, the effects of DU, according to expert Leuren Moret, have been found within a 1000 mile radius of the epicenters of contamination.Within this radius includes some of our allies, including Israel. (A rather bitter twist of irony, seeing as we were trying to help them by attacking their Arab neighbors. As ye shall sow, so shall ye reap?) Further, DU dust disperses excellently in the winds. As global winds flow primarily east-west, much of the DU dust is being blown up through Turkey and into Europe. A similar phenomenon occurred with the Chernobyl disaster, wherein the radioactive plume reached our Eastern seaboard within a matter of days. It takes between a few hours and a few years for the effects of radioactivity to surface. Currently civilians across Europe are inhaling toxic gas that poisons Iraqis thousands of miles away.

But the civilians aren't the only ones at risk. As we protected our troops around a casing of depleted uranium, we killed our men in the long run with radioactivity exposure and poisoning. When men returned from the first Gulf War in 1991, many found themselves with respiratory problems, wounds that never healed, and found that their children had birth defects.

At the time little was released about DU and its health effects, and certainly none that the soldiers were told about. The Department of Defense screwed over war veterans with mysterious symptoms for as long as they could get away with, everything from denying health examinations to withholding information about DU. Veterans attempting to file medical complaints were turned away, forcing them to resort to ask uninformed private doctors what was wrong with them. The truth wouldn't come out until years later.

And even now we are being lied to. The US government blames the symptoms of Iraqis on pesticides. The US refuses to supply funds for a research hospital in Iraq, and there has been limited cleanup of contaminated sites. Our war vets are told that any uranium in their systems must come from their diets. Even in my own research finding reliable information proved to be extremely difficult, as the usual authorities (Wikipedia, the WHO, the US government) were all presenting information inconsistent with the studies I managed to salvage. The only reliable information is that not given by corporations or governments.

Even though this is a government issue and we cannot directly stop it, we can organize. The first thing to do is become informed, as information is the best tactic in times of misinformation and war. The more informed we are, the more empowered we are. Beyond that our duty as human beings is to inform others. Take action, and don't be fooled by the liars of our government. Their propaganda is designed to reduce us to witless sheep accepting whatever they do is right.

For example, according to the US Department of State's guidelines for identifying misinformation, all of the above is propaganda.

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