Depleted Uranium

Depleted Uranium

SF Examiner

1-12-2001

“Render unto Caesar” would seem to be the press’s take on confirming Colin Powell as U.S. Secretary of State. Indeed, the New York Times has already anointed the former general in an article earlier this month, referring to him as the “boss-to-be.” Well, I don’t want to rain on anybody’s parade, but it seems to me the press ought to be asking some questions about Powell’s track record. I have a couple.

“General Powell, do you support the use of depleted uranium ammunition (DUA), and do you think that its use might have contributed to Gulf War Syndrome and similar medical problems in Kosovo?”

Unfortunately, I know the answers in advance: “yes” to the first,”no” to the second. They are the same ones the Pentagon has been handing out for 10 years, the same ones that the vast bulk of the mainstream press has routinely swallowed. In the face of a growing body of evidence, however, those clipped answers are looking increasingly threadbare, and they obscure what is a growing and rather terrifying escalation in the world arms race.

Most the public has never heard of DUA, and those that have may be lulled by the word “depleted”, a reassuring adjective. Remember, of course, that the military refers to dead civilians as “collaterals.” But the public ought to know about DUA, because the U.S. and its allies have fired off hundreds of tons of it in Iraq, Kuwait, Bosnia and Kosovo, in addition to Panama, Okinawa and Puerto Rico. It has also contaminated manufacturing sites in New York, Indiana, Minnesota, New Mexico, and South Dakota.

Depleted uranium (DU) is the latest breakthrough in military technology, and the U.S. is rapidly spreading it worldwide. DU is the residue of Uranium-235, the fuel for power plants and nuclear weapons. It is one of the heaviest substances on earth. While a gallon of DU weighs 150 lbs., the equivalent amount of steel would weigh only 60 lbs. The U.S. uses it in 30 mm and 25 mm cannon shells fired by aircraft, andin 105 mm and 120 mm tank shells. It is also used to bolster the armor of the US’s main battle tank, the M1-A1 Abrahams.

It is devastatingly effective. The enormous weight of DUA projectiles allow them to achieve enormous velocities, and anything they strike they destroy in an incandescent explosion of gas and metal. DU armor is also virtually impervious to non-DUA weapons, as the Gulf War proved.Even at close range, Iraqi tank shells simply bounded off U.S. tanks. So effective is DUA, that the U.S. is now using it in the manufacturing of .50 caliber machine gun ammunition, as well as bullets for standard infantry weapons.

It is also radioactive and very, very toxic. True, DUA is not as radioactive as natural uranium, but it’s half as hot, and because it’s concentrated, that “half” is more dangerous. Tank crews with DUA armor get the equivalent of a chest x–ray every 20 to 30 hours. Ask your doctor if it’s a good idea to get a chest x-ray that often.

The U.S. Department of Defense keeps telling us that DUA is not dangerous. When scores of NATO troops deployed for the past year and a half in Kosovo and Bosnia began showing up with leukemia, cancers, and symptoms mimicking Gulf War Syndrome, NATO spokesperson Mark Laity told the press, “The medical consensus is that the hazard is minimal, that there is no linkage between depleted uranium and cancer because the level of radiation is very low.”

But way back in 1991, the U.S. Army’s Armament, Munitions and Chemical Command concluded” any system struck by a DUA penetrator can be assumed to be contaminated with DU” and instructs soldiers to wear protective masks, clothes, and respirators,”as a minimum,” and to dispose of the clothes afterwards. It was a precaution the Army never bothered to give its troops, (the warning is still not in training manuals), so when members of the 24th Infantry Division and the 144th National Guard Supply Company picked up 29 U.S. armored vehicles damaged by “friendly” DUA rounds during the Gulf War, they contaminated themselves with DUA dust. Indeed, it is among mechanics and medical personal that Gulf War Syndrome is the most severe, the very troops most exposed to DUA fallout.

And when the U.S. Army got those tanks home they buried these “minimal hazards” in a radioactive waste dump in South Carolina.

As for the “ medical consensus,” it certainly didn’t include former Army colonel Dr. Asaf Durakovic, a professor of Nuclear Medicine at Georgetown University, who told the London Times this past September that “tens of thousands” of British and U.S. troops are dying from DUA exposure in the Gulf War. Nor New York state health officials that closed down a DUA manufacturing plant in Schenectady because of radiation dangers, and who now face a $100 million cleanup. Ditto officials in at least four other states. Given that these stories were ignored by all but the alternative press in the U.S., it was a “consensus” that relied on the censorship of silence.

So what does this all have to do with Colin Powell being anointed Secretary of State? Well, for starters, the Gulf War happened on his watch, and he has consistently stonewalled vets on any link between DUA and Gulf War Syndrome. But this is more than a military issue. Birth defects and cancer rates among Iraqi children have, according to international health agencies, reached epidemic proportions, and a recent UN examination of 11 battlefield sites in Kosovo found eight of them contaminated with DUA radioactivity. NATO governments have ordered urgent checks of Balkan and Gulf vets, and parliaments all over the continent are in an uproar over the issue. Germany and Italy have called for a ban on the manufacture and use of DUA.

“General Powell, given that the State Department was a major architect of the Kosovo War and played a key role in assembling the Gulf War coalition, what is the responsibility of the U.S. to the civilian populations in those countries? And would your Department support the continued selling of DUA to Israel, Egypt, Pakistan, our NATO allies, Sweden, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Thailand, plus a host of other countries that the Department of Defense refuses to reveal in the name of ‘national security’?”

The U.S. has launched an international arms race in conventional forces that promises to poison zones of conflict worldwide. Isn’t it about time the press stopped anointing public officials and started doing its job?

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