In Gulf War I, we broke plenty of eggs; the image of carbonized bodies of Iraqi soldiers along the road to Baghdad is a wrenching depiction of the immediate horrors of war. Here’s the long-term horror: the use of depleted-uranium (DU) warheads—which are frighteningly effective in piercing and destroying tanks—is causing severe birth defects in the children of Gulf War veterans and Iraqi citizens, according to Dr. Siegwart Horst-Gunther, President of the International Yellow Cross. And scientists are strongly suggesting a link between their use and Gulf War Syndrome.In one particularly graphic account, babies are being born with extreme hydrocephalus, without eye sockets and arms, some with a mysterious white substance shrouding their entire bodies, enormous tumors, and fused fingers, not to mention respiratory disorders and leukemia. And the Pentagon remains firm in its plans to use depleted uranium warheads in our upcoming confrontation with Iraq.
Depleted uranium has been in wide use by the US military for years: made from low-level nuclear reactor waste, DU warheads were used by the US in the first Gulf War, in Kosovo, in Vieques, and in Afghanistan—although the Pentagon denied each of these uses for many months. In the first Gulf War alone, some 400,000 vets were exposed to depleted uranium, according to Pentagon estimates, and when our troops pulled out they left between 300 and 800 tons of the stuff on battlefields between Kuwait and Iraq. The government denies any link between DU and Gulf War Syndrome or other ill effects, despite this reference to its hazards in Appendix D of the armaments, munitions, and chemical command report "Kinetic Energy Penetrator Long Term Strategy Study, July 1990":
Aerosol DU (Depleted Uranium) exposures to soldiers on the battlefield could be significant with potential radiological and toxicological effects. …Under combat conditions, the most exposed individuals are probably ground troops that re-enter a battlefield following the exchange of armour-piercing munitions. …We are simply highlighting the potential for levels of DU exposure to military personnel during combat that would be unacceptable during peacetime operations. …[DU is]a low level alpha radiation emitter which is linked to cancer when exposures are internal, [and] chemical toxicity causing kidney damage. …Short term effects of high doses can result in death, while long term effects of low doses have been linked to cancer. …Our conclusion regarding the health and environmental acceptability of DU penetrators assume both controlled use and the presence of excellent health physics management practices. Combat conditions will lead to the uncontrolled release of DU. ...The conditions of the battlefield, and the long term health risks to natives and combat veterans may become issues in the acceptability of the continued use of DU kinetic penetrators for military applications.
According to Dr. Asaf Durakovic, a Gulf War vet and former DU researcher for the VA (he was fired when his research implicated the military) interviewed yesterday on Democracy Now, more than 60% of veterans referred to him at the Uranium Medical Research Center contain depleted uranium in their bodies. (Democracy Now also reports that soldiers shipping out to Iraq, fearing another round of Gulf War Syndrome, have been banking their sperm in anticipation of DU’s effects.)
Depleted uranium warheads are made by Honeywell and its subsidiary Alliant Techsystems, the latter of which is headquartered right here in the Twin Cities. Alliant makes at least two such weapons, 120mm tank ammunition (dubbed "the silver bullet") and 30mm Gattling gun ammo. While Alliant's promotional copy ironically boasts how these warheads save Allied lives (presumably in the short-term), the words "depleted uranium" never appear. Instead, they use the almost-happy term "kinetic energy."
When hawks suggest that the "ends justify the means," I contend they have no clue what that truly means. It takes 4.5 billion years for depleted uranium to lose its radioactivity. Is the "ends" of a "liberated Iraq" really worth an eternity of "means"?