DU Cover-up Saga – PART III

Piotr Bein, piotr.bein@imag.net
January 19, 2001

 

The Plot Thickens

Scott Peterson of “The Christian Science Monitor” wrote on January 11th, 2001, “The most bitter scientific debates usually play out in little-read academic and specialty journals. But the dispute over the lingering health risks of radioactive bullets fired by the US in the Balkans is sparking demands for answers from leaders across Europe.”

The DU issue exploded as more and more of the former European peacekeepers in the Balkans became ill in the last few weeks. Portugal, Italy, Sweden, France, Germany, Finland, Belgium, Holland, Turkey, Norway, Canada, Ukraine, Slovakia, Russia, Czech Republic, Poland, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and Azerbaijan decided to examine their soldiers and launched investigations into DU ammunition hazards. Turkey was the first country to announce it had detected contamination in two of its soldiers. Britain on January 9th, 2001, became the latest European nation to begin testing soldiers for Balkan syndrome.

US did not feel the need to study DU effects, more so that “33 American survivors of friendly fire DU attacks [in the Gulf] in an ongoing monitoring program exhibit few signs of cancers now reported in Europe.” A standard line at the end of mainstream media news and stories about DU repeats, like a parrot, Pentagon position, “Numerous studies into the effects of depleted uranium, a heavy metal used in anti-armour munitions because of its high penetrating power, have not revealed any connection between the metal and cancer.” How big a lie it is, the reader can see in the next chapter.

Many of the national investigations are run by the military and, like in America, are designed to calm down the public outrage rather than find the truth, while continuing the cover-ups. For example, the Portuguese government refused to hand over the body of a soldier who died from leukemia. The defense ministry deliberately camouflaged Hugo Paulino’s death, citing "herpes of the brain” and refused to allow his family to commission a post-mortem examination.

Concerns among European nations have intensified since Italy began studying the illnesses of 30 Balkans veterans, six of whom died of cancer, including five cases of leukaemia. The European Commission asked a group of experts for a scientific opinion on whether "hundreds, if not thousands" of EU personnel and contract employees who have worked in the Balkans might face health risks from exposure to depleted uranium's “slight radioactivity.”

By mid-January 2001, NATO special commission was being set up to gather information on the effect of using DU weapons. NATO continued to deny the existence of any scientific proof between DU and serious health problems suffered by soldiers and civilians in the last decade. The present “investigations” should not make anybody hold their breaths, knowing that NATO consistently used the wrong testing on veterans to escape responsibility for their well being and to hide its crimes against humanity.

NATO was also negligent about post-combat exposure of civilians and peacekeepers. A NATO document warned member countries participating in KFOR about the toxicity from DU weapons in July 1999. The KFOR troops and UN aid workers entered Kosovo in the second week of June 1999. Were they supposed to stay in hermetic rooms in the meantime? Even if the warning was issued well in advance, whose responsibility was it to clean up after their own mess?

After the DU scandal broke out in Europe, Lord Robertson stated that this document was distributed to all the NATO countries involved in Kosovo "without exception". An official source from the Portuguese army headquarters stated categorically that NATO did not issue a copy of the document to Portugal's military representative at NATO at the time. NATO did not distribute the document to the Portuguese army and the Portuguese contingent in Kosovo was never officially warned against the dangers of DU weapons, even though they were placed in one of the worst affected areas.

The peace keeping in Kosovo was arranged in such a way that US troops were kept out of contaminated areas while European troops were sent in - without adequate information.

 

Mutinies, Leaks and Suits

In countries whose military claimed they received the July 1999 NATO warning, rank and file soldiers protested. In Germany, the chairman of the Soldiers’ League reproached defence minister Scharping of having made untrue statements about the preparation of soldiers to deal with DU before they left for Kosovo.

Scharping’s ministry announced protective measures only on July 2nd, 1999. By then German troops had already entered Kosovo. According to Scharping the use of uranium in the war had been made public in May. Did he instruct his troops from that time on and in advance to take necessary measures at DU-contaminated sites? Who warned Kosovo Albanians, for whom Germany stood under arms for the first time since WW2?

Seeing how NATO disrespects their life and health, many troops mutinee and volunteers withdraw. By mid-January 2001, a quarter of Greek KFOR contingent of 1500 had asked to leave because of the perceived risk. 200 of the 375 volunteers resigned from joining the next rotation. A few days earlier, 400 soldiers from the Norwegian KFOR battalion held off signing contracts for service starting in June, after two Norwegian officers developed cancer from service in Bosnia.

The news of a cancer death of a 23-year old Bosnian interpreter working for the Italian military in Kosovo also made many soldiers re-think allegiance to their country and forces. However, the British soldiers and public were hit with the biggest DU revelation when on January 14th, 2001, “The Telegraph” published secret documents that leaked from the Ministry of Defense. The ministry was so concerned about the leak that it raided the houses of two Gulf War veterans who they thought had stolen them.

The new leak revealed that the British ministry was secretly testing for radiation poisoning among British soldiers just months before it sent troops to Kosovo. At the time the ministry was refusing to start a screening program for Gulf War veterans. The disclosure went much further than an earlier leak that showed only that officers knew 4 years earlier about the risk of developing lung, lymph and brain cancers from DU shells.

The leaked document listed five hitherto classified files held in the ministry database. The Tories demanded the release of these documents to the public. This move was expected to add momentum to a dramatic U-turn of the British government who relented to pressure for a full-scale medical screening program for soldiers who had served in the Gulf or the Balkans. Good news for the British public was also that the Royal Navy, like US Navy, was phasing out DU ammunition after the US supplier ended production for safety reasons.

But perhaps a suitable test in the battle against DU in the UK will come with a test court case of 100 veterans exposed to DU, against the Ministry of Defense, who had full knowledge of the risks of DU.

The second week of January 2001, was also a leaky time in the USA. The National Gulf War Resource Center (NGWRC) obtained previously undisclosed correspondence of Presidential Special Oversight Board (PSOB) and a resignation letter from one PSOB staff scientist. The documents implicate former Republican Senator Warren Rudman and retired Rear Admiral Paul Steinman as key figures who biased and censored a serious inquiry into the Pentagon’s handling of Gulf War illness, run by Dr. Bernard Rostker. “We will explore all legal avenues available to determine the full extent of this cover-up,” said NGWRC executive director Patrick Eddington.

In Portugal, Army Chief of Staff, General Barrento, accused the anti-DU journalists and the father of dead KFOR soldier, Hugo Paulino, of being on the payroll of the pro-Milosevic forces and of betraying their fatherland. The public was unswayed in condemnation of NATO for DU casualties in the Balkans. The visit of three Portuguese ministers to Kosovo in the second week of January sped up delivery to Lisbon of DU contamination samples for a press conference. It was a political rather than a scientific move, calculated to appease the public and to win presidential elections.

Portugal science minister Dr. Mariano Gago stated in front of the reporters that the DU was a "false problem" and that the scientific team had not found the smallest shred of radioactivity in any part of Kosovo, including soldiers' barracks, vehicles, local streams and food. Together with this definitive statement came an assurance of rigorous tests of the samples collected before three weeks are over. Dr. Fernando Carvalho, waving his Geiger counter like a magic wand, kept telling the journalists that they found no radiation at all.

Those who thought Portugal's vocal concerns about DU were a fresh hope of pressuring NATO, are disappointed. The politicians spoke before scientific results were on the table. Was it a pre-taste of things to come from NATO and UN investigations?

 

Speak the Truth and be Damned

Professor Siegwart-Horst Günther was one of the first scientists who travelled to the Gulf battlefields to independently study DU effects on human health. In a March 3rd, 2000, interview for Junge Welt, he predicted that a visible rise in DU casualty cases from Kosovo would start in March 2001. In the meantime, a message was circulated on the Internet that German authorities denied him medical help with his cancer.

Professor Günther also travelled to Libya, where in 1986 A-10 aircraft attacked the residence of Qadhafi and a coastal town – the site of an alleged chemical weapons plant. In both areas Günther observed cases of leukemia and deformed babies. The same symptoms plus skin sickness and miscarriages were observed in the vicinity of the crash sites of A-10 at Ramscheid in Germany in 1988 and El-Al cargo plane in Amsterdam suburbs in 1992. In the latter case, NGOs found DU contamination in soil samples from the crash site. “Der Spiegel” of January 13th, 2001, confirmed to date 6 leukemia and 2 cancer deaths, including a child and a journalist who spent one day reporting from the crash site, as well as numerous cases of illness. All cases occurred within a few hundred-metre radius around the Ramscheid crash.

Several doctors and scientists who have voiced concern about DU lost their jobs in North America. Professor Asaf Durakovic, former chief of nuclear medicine at the US government Veterans Affairs medical facility in Delaware and now clinical professor of radiology and nuclear medicine at Georgetown University in Washington DC, was forced to quit his post for refusing to end his research into DU.

In one of the TV programs in which he appeared recently, Durakovic confirmed that sick veterans could have been helped by treatment if governments had admitted years ago that they were at risk from exposure to DU. "It is amazing that we see the levels of DU in the urine of veterans nine years after the war. I am not implying that all the symptoms of Gulf War syndrome are due to DU, but a large part of the sickness of the patients that I have been following is due to the contamination with radioactive isotopes."

Asked why the military has not supported his previous warnings about DU, he said, "We are talking about the embarrassment of the governments of Britain, Canada and the US, and the other reason is it's a multi-billion-dollar industry which has to be cautious about litigation and compensation claims."

Uranium in urine may not prove anything, however. Professor Dudley Goodhead of the British Medical Research Council is the most senior radiation biologist in the UK and a member of the Royal Society. In January 13th, 2001, issue of “New Scientist” he made a point identical to those made earlier also by Dr. Rosalie Bertell and Professor Günther. Local dose of chronic low-level radioactivity to lymph nodes from incorporated radioactive particles can cause genetic mutations leading to disease. The radiation risk agencies insist on averaging the radiation dose across the entire lung or the whole body, thus making the lymph node burden appear trivial.

The emergence of leukaemia and immune system disease after Desert Storm and the other uses of DU undermines the already non-existent scientific case for absorbed dose, relative biological effectiveness. A question arises about the implication of such a fraud for all aspects of nuclear regulation. "The true extent of contamination with cancer-causing uranium in soldiers who served in Bosnia and Kosovo may never be known, because the test government officials are planning to use to screen veterans will not pick up metal lodged deep in the body.”

European governments are planning to test their veterans' urine for uranium. But the most dangerous contamination might not show up in urine,” warned Goodhead. Ingested microscopic particles of uranium oxides are removed from lungs by white blood cells, which deposit them in the lymph nodes. Because they are insoluble, they might not show up at all in urine, while still emitting local alpha and beta radiation. That could damage blood stem cells, causing leukaemia.

Normal levels of uranium in urine do not mean absence of danger and disease, either. Only chemical analysis of lymph nodes from the soldiers who died could confirm the lymphatic cause, but, not surprisingly, there had been no government reports of such autopsies.

Other scientists did not agree with Pentagon and NATO line that there was no link between leukemia and DU. Gro Harlem Brundtland, director general of World Health Organization, said more honestly on January 14th, 2001, that she could not rule out the possibility of a link, but more research would be needed to answer the question. 

In response to US defence secretary Cohen’s statement about no DU-leukemia connection, Professor Malcolm Hooper of medicinal chemistry and a member of an independent panel assessing the research of the British Ministry of Defense, was quite sceptical. To Hooper, the DU left behind in Bosnia and Kosovo remains toxic and not doing tests is “criminal negligence, horrendous and unacceptable.”

Radiation expert Leonard Dietz, who worked for 25 years at the US Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory, and in 1979 found that DU particles had been carried over 40 km by the wind, was not too happy with A-10 ammunition in Kosovo. Many DU bullets missed their target or hit wood, cardboard and plastic decoys without turning into powder, "They would be in the ground, and it would be a very slow process to break it down chemically, and move it around.”

Chris Busby, a low-level radiation specialist who has examined leukemia in Ireland, pointed out to a darth of data on the subject, "The trouble is that you've got to have numbers, and nobody has done any decent epidemiology [on DU].” He went to the Iraqi battlefields in fall 2000; his soil samples showed less radioactivity than he expected, but air samples he took indicated that alpha radiation levels from DU dust were 20 times higher in battle areas than in Baghdad. During the Kosovo campaign, scientists in Macedonia detected 8 times higher than normal alpha activity in the air.

(Back to Part II)