Nukewatch Quarterly Winter 2014
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of Defense and the State Department on behalf of itself and Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) seeking the firing coordinates of weapons used in Iraq that contained depleted uranium.
As the US launches new military actions in the Middle East, the groups say getting information about the military’s use of DU in weaponry and its long-term effects is as urgent as ever. According to “In a State of Uncertainty,” a report by the Netherlands-based organization PAX, Iraq has been subject to the largest use of DU munitions of all areas of conflict and test sites, conservatively estimated to be at least 440 metric tons, though the UN Environment Program has estimated an amount up to five times that based on satellite imagery. Iraqi civilians thought to have been exposed to DU and remaining debris have suffered high rates of cancer and birth defects and US veterans report unexplained illnesses.
“DU is but one example of the toxic legacy left by our wars in Iraq,” said CCR Attorney Jeena Shah. “Veterans who served in Iraq are suffering side effects, while many Iraqis still live surrounded by piles of metal debris left over from the war and with soil and ground water potentially contaminated by DU. The only way to deal with its effects and to ensure it is cleaned up is to have a full accounting of where weapons containing DU were deployed.”
DU is a by-product of enriching uranium and is used in armor-piercing weapons due to its high density. When DU hits a target, its fragments burn and vaporize into a fine dust. If a person inhales, ingests, or is exposed to radiation by DU, radioactive material can be absorbed into the lungs, bone, kidney, skeletal tissue, reproductive system, brain, and other organs. A report recently published by the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons concluded after reviewing approximately fifty peer-reviewed studies on DU that it is clearly a genotoxic agent, known to be involved in the development of cancer and potentially responsible for genetic damage. Some of the wreckage left behind from the war has entered the unregulated trade in scrap metal, sometimes even made into cooking pots. No safe levels of exposure to DU have been established, and researchers advise that all exposure should be avoided.
Said Maggie Martin, Organizing Director of IVAW, “Veterans have been fighting for decades to have our injuries recognized by the US government—from Agent Orange to Military Sexual Trauma. We were promised health care in return for our service, and we deserve to know if we’ve been exposed to depleted uranium. This is an important matter of health for over two million veterans and for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan who are experiencing the worst of the toxic legacy of war.”
“Laid to Waste,” a report by Wim Zwijnenburg of PAX, details the difficulty of limiting civilian exposure to DU in the absence of reliable information about locations where it was used and the limited efforts to address the issue.
“In addition to regular bombardment, our country and our communities have been left with a toxic legacy from decades of US war in Iraq,” said Yanar Mohammed, President of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq. “If the US is truly concerned about civilian well-being, it should assist in a full accounting of DU contamination and rigorous study of its health effects by making public the locations where weapons containing DU were deployed.”
CCR and IVAW are seeking this information as part of the Right to Heal Initiative, which they launched together with the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq and the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq. Visit ccrjustice.org to learn more about the Right to Heal Initiative.
—Center for Constitutional Rights, Sept. 25, 2014