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The Continuing Scandal of Depleted Uranium Munitions in Warfare
Despite the persistent government denials regarding the dangers associated with depleted uranium munitions, an undeniable body of evidence has been constructed to show their long-term adverse ramifications.
The acclaimed American playwright and essayist, Arthur Miller, once wrote: “Few of us can easily surrender our belief that society must somehow make sense. The thought that the State has lost its mind and is punishing so many innocent people is intolerable. And so the evidence has to be denied.” Over the course of the last two decades, an overwhelming body of evidence has been constructed to reveal the dangers associated with the use of depleted uranium munitions in warfare. But despite this fact, there are various elements within the political establishment who continue to downplay this awful reality, often using highly disputed sources and questionable studies to justify their stance.
To offer some examples of this fact: during the Balkans conflict of 1999, renowned political journalist for the London Independent, Robert Fisk, interviewed N.A.T.O. Luftwaffe General Jerz in Brussels. Over the course of the interview, the General claimed that depleted uranium was absolutely harmless as it was found in trees, in the earth and on mountain tops. But this justification was a clear distortion of the truth as only uranium, and not the depleted variety which comes from nuclear waste can be found naturally. The Rand Corporation was the recipient of much U.S. and British Government gratitude when it supposedly proved that depleted uranium was not harmful; but again, their study was based on the dust which emanates from uranium mines and not the irradiated spray which comes from depleted uranium weapons. The World Health Organisation is often used as a source for dismissing the dangers of depleted uranium; however, in the wake of the first Gulf War the W.H.O. sent a team to Iraq to investigate the results of the depleted uranium bombardment there but was dissuaded at the last minute from following through on their investigation. Similarly, the British Royal Society of Scientists was mandated by British authorities to conduct an investigation into the ramifications of depleted uranium munitions, but oddly declined to send a team to Iraq.
But at the same time, the internal record of the previously mentioned Western Governments and their military wings has long accepted the negative ramifications associated with the use of depleted uranium weapons. A comprehensive report commissioned by the Pentagon highlighted an increase in the rate of cell damage and cancer in the areas where depleted uranium had been used whilst simultaneously acknowledging that increased cases of lung damage had also been “well documented.” For the most part, the international media ignored the content of this report when it leaked into the public domain. Similarly, N.A.T.O.s internal guidelines admit that “the inhalation of insoluble depleted uranium dust particles has been associated with long-term health effects including cancer and birth-defects.” The British Medical Journal conducted a study in Iraq from the beginning of the Gulf War in 1991 up until 1994, the findings of which were presented to the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair in 1999. The report offered startling statistics which revealed a seven fold increase in the rate of cancer in Southern Iraq. The U.K. Atomic Energy Authority stated that inhalation of just eight per cent of the depleted uranium used in the Gulf War could result in up to three hundred thousand deaths in the ravaged country. But despite this internal government understanding of the carnage that is being caused, the political establishment consistently declares that depleted uranium is harmless as they continue to deploy these munitions in places such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and even recently in Libya.
In July of this year, Patrick Cockburn of the London Independent reported the findings of an independent investigation regarding the ramifications of depleted uranium use in the Iraqi town of Fallujah, the findings of which were absolutely devastating. The investigation found:
• Levels of cancer and leukaemia in Fallujah exceeding those recorded even in Hiroshima
• A 10 fold increase in the rate of breast cancer
• A 12 fold increase in the rate of child cancer
• A 38 fold increase in the rate of leukaemia
• Infant mortality in Fallujah is nine times higher than that of neighbouring Kuwait with a death rate of eighty per 1000 infants compared to just nine per 1000 in Kuwait
In an interview with renowned Australian film maker and journalist, John Pilger, Dr Jawad Al-Ali, a cancer specialist and member of Britain's Royal College of Physicians said the following: "The dust in Iraq carries death. Our own studies indicate that more than 40 per cent of the population in this area will get cancer in five years time to begin with, and then long afterwards. Most of my own family now have cancer, and we have no history of the disease. It has spread to the medical staff of this hospital as we live through another Hiroshima. There is no other explanation; depleted uranium is unquestionable the cause.”
To illuminate the stance that is being taken by the current Irish Government on this scandalous situation, a recent personal experience which can be sited may prove instructive. I recently had an interview for a role with the Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Section of the Department of Foreign Affairs and when I was asked for my main example of relevant work experience, I cited the research and work that I had done in the area of depleted uranium. But one of the individuals interviewing me voiced his scepticism regarding the issue and referenced a W.H.O. report which downplayed the harmful side effects of depleted uranium weapons. In this age of infinite information, even something as well-documented as the dangers associated with these toxic weapons can be discarded by hiding behind various discredited reports and studies. Considering this fact, it would appear that the current administration, for reasons best known to itself, has decided to turn a blind eye to the massive amount of documented evidence which has been established. For such a stance to be taken is both reckless and irresponsible, and is an act which betrays the many thousands of people whose suffering has been caused by depleted uranium weapons.
Ireland once spearheaded the international campaign to ban cluster munitions and land mines, a pursuit which resulted in the signing of the Cluster Munitions and Anti-Personnel Land Mines Act of 2008. The man known as the father of Irish foreign policy, Frank Aitken, was the first Government Minister to sign the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in Moscow, and was a vehement opponent of nuclear weapons in all of their forms. If Frank Aitken was alive today, he would be both saddened and outraged at the ambiguous stance that the current administration has decided to take. So now, it is time for his modern day counterpart, Mr. Eamon Gilmore TD, to do what is morally just and necessary; he must lead the political call for an international ban on the production and use of depleted uranium weapons, starting here on our very own shores.
For more information on the use of depleted uranium munitions in warfare, please read the attached booklet which was published by Action from Ireland (AFRI) in May of this year.