US forces' use of depleted uranium weapons is 'illegal'
By Neil Mackay, Investigations Editor
BRITISH and American coalition forces are using depleted uranium (DU)
shells in the war against Iraq and deliberately flouting a United
Nations resolution which classifies the munitions as illegal weapons
of mass destruction.
DU contaminates land, causes ill-health and cancers among the soldiers
using the weapons, the armies they target and civilians, leading to
birth defects in children.
Professor Doug Rokke, ex-director of the Pentagon's depleted uranium
project -- a former professor of environmental science at Jacksonville
University and onetime US army colonel who was tasked by the US
department of defence with the post-first Gulf war depleted uranium
desert clean-up -- said use of DU was a 'war crime'.
Rokke said: 'There is a moral point to be made here. This war was
about Iraq possessing illegal weapons of mass destruction -- yet we
are using weapons of mass destruction ourselves.' He added: 'Such
double-standards are repellent.'
The latest use of DU in the current conflict came on Friday when an
American A10 tankbuster plane fired a DU shell, killing one British
soldier and injuring three others in a 'friendly fire' incident.
According to a August 2002 report by the UN subcommission, laws which
are breached by the use of DU shells include: the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights; the Charter of the United Nations; the
Genocide Convention; the Convention Against Torture; the four Geneva
Conventions of 1949; the Conventional Weapons Convention of 1980; and
the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, which expressly forbid
employing 'poison or poisoned weapons' and 'arms, projectiles or
materials calculated to cause unnecessary suffering'. All of these
laws are designed to spare civilians from unwarranted suffering in
DU has been blamed for the effects of Gulf war syndrome -- typified by
chronic muscle and joint pain, fatigue and memory loss -- among
200,000 US soldiers after the 1991 conflict.
It is also cited as the most likely cause of the 'increased number of
birth deformities and cancer in Iraq' following the first Gulf war.
'Cancer appears to have increased between seven and 10 times and
deformities between four and six times,' according to the UN
The Pentagon has admitted that 320 metric tons of DU were left on the
battlefield after the first Gulf war, although Russian military
experts say 1000 metric tons is a more accurate figure.
In 1991, the Allies fired 944,000 DU rounds or some 2700 tons of DU
tipped bombs. A UK Atomic Energy Authority report said that some
500,000 people would die before the end of this century, due to
radioactive debris left in the desert.
The use of DU has also led to birth defects in the children of Allied
veterans and is believed to be the cause of the 'worrying number of
anophthalmos cases -- babies born without eyes' in Iraq. Only one in
50 million births should be anophthalmic, yet one Baghdad hospital had
eight cases in just two years. Seven of the fathers had been exposed
to American DU anti-tank rounds in 1991. There have also been cases of
Iraqi babies born without the crowns of their skulls, a deformity also
linked to DU shelling.
A study of Gulf war veterans showed that 67% had children with severe
illnesses, missing eyes, blood infections, respiratory problems and
Rokke told the Sunday Herald: 'A nation's military personnel cannot
wilfully contaminate any other nation, cause harm to persons and the
environment and then ignore the consequences of their actions.
'To do so is a crime against humanity.
'We must do what is right for the citizens of the world -- ban DU.'
He called on the US and UK to 'recognise the immoral consequences of
their actions and assume responsibility for medical care and thorough
He added: 'We can't just use munitions which leave a toxic wasteland
behind them and kill indiscriminately.
'It is equivalent to a war crime.'
Rokke said that coalition troops were currently fighting in the Gulf
without adequate respiratory protection against DU contamination.
The Sunday Herald has previously revealed how the Ministry of Defence
had test-fired some 6350 DU rounds into the Solway Firth over more
than a decade, from 1989 to 1999.
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