Suppression of the Truth: Depleted Uranium – The Deadly Killer

DU tank

IT all began in September 1992, when as a newly ensconced chief reporter at the Galloway Gazette – a weekly newspaper in South West Scotland – I began investigating a report into high levels of radiation in the local waters of the Solway Firth.

At the time, the worrying measurements of Caesium 137 and Americium 241 – a decay product of Plutonium – were ascribed to radioactive waste from the Sellafield Nuclear Reprocessing Plant across the Firth in Cumbria.

Over the winter of 1992-93 I ran a small campaign in our newspaper to investigate these high levels of radioactivity in our sea water.

Then in February 1993 I stumbled across a report to Dumfries and Galloway Regional Council which claimed that the radiation from Sellafield could be responsible for “excess” incidences of leukaemia in our local area.

The report by medical consultant Dr James Chalmers said radiation exposure was of ‘particular concern’ to people in the region, because of the proximity of Sellafield and a nuclear power station at Chapelcross, near Dumfries.

“The main conclusion is that there appears to be a higher than expected incidence of acute leukaemia in Dumfries and Galloway,” he said.

“And some areas have markedly higher than expected incidences. These include areas where there is concern about high exposure to radiation – Kirkcudbright and Chapelcross. In some areas recorded incidences are twice the expected level for those areas.”

While the local Conservative MP Ian Lang gave public assurances that the “levels of radiation on the Galloway coast pose no threat to public health”, both the regional council and the four district councils demanded a closer investigation.

Like a terrier with a bone my journalistic mind kicked in, and I could scent an ongoing newspaper campaign.

By the end of the month, nuclear experts and spokespeople for Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace claimed that both BNFL (the operators of Sellafield) and the Government were “covering up” the true levels of local radiation and the risks to public health.

Dr Patrick Green – who had conducted detailed research for Friends of the Earth – said the Government testing of critical groups of local fish eaters had underplayed the levels of radiation uptake by more than half.

By April 1993, Alex Smith, the Labour Euro MP for South West Scotland was calling on Ian Lang (who was also the Secretary of State for Scotland) to speak out on the contamination from Sellafield.

My campaign into shedding light on the radiation threat to the Galloway coast ran and rumbled throughout the spring and summer of 1993 and by August it was receiving attention from local radio and Scottish national newspapers.

But nothing prepared me for what was to happen next.

Local resident Teresa Spurling, who was worried about the radiation levels in her local sands at Cumstoun, near Kirkcudbright, was one of many who contacted me.

Teresa, who lost her four-year-old daughter Alix with a rare combination of cancers 16 months earlier, was campaigning vigorously for more attention to be paid to the high levels of radiation in the area where her daughter once played.

She pointed accusingly at the contamination from Sellafield but also at the test firing of depleted uranium (DU) artillery shells into the sea from the MoD base at Dundrennan – some eight miles from her home.

“I have come to know so many children who have cancer along this stretch of coast,” she said, before showing me a list of local children who had died from cancer within the previous eight years.

My senses were heightened. Not only did I not realise that there was at MoD base at Dundrennan, but what the hell were they doing firing radioactive shells into the local coastal waters?

Quickly my campaign into a link between radioactive contamination of our coastline and cancer clusters took on a new dimension as we gradually managed to expose years of test firing of these DU shells into the Solway Firth and their link to local cancer clusters – particularly childhood leukaemia.

Public anger over what was perceived as a Government cover-up of the test firing grew by the week and fuelled dozens of questions in the House of Commons plus reports by the national press and BBC’s Panorama TV programme.

By late October the MoD had invited me and other journalists to visit the Dundrennan firing range. In an effort to placate the feral press we were briefed by smartly uniformed senior ranks that the DU shells posed no threat to health and everything was “above board”.

But this sugar-coated PR attempt was ruined in the afternoon when at a public briefing by Secretary of State for Defence Jonathan Aitken and his PPS Stephen Milligan, the public concern and blame was wholly turned on the “local press” (ie me). Mr Aitken said we were spinning lies and “No-one should believe the reports from this backwoods gutter press”.

In 1999, the same Jonathan Aitken was jailed for 18 months for perjury and lying about his arms dealing with Saudi Arabia. Stephen Milligan was found dead in his London flat in 1994. He was naked except for a pair of stockings and suspenders, with an electrical flex tied around his neck and a black bin liner over his head, with an orange in his mouth.

You couldn’t make it up!

My newspaper campaign accelerated in the New Year when a report for the magazine Red Act revealed that 10 per cent of US servicemen who served in the Gulf War had qualified for disability compensation after suffering medical symptoms attributed to exposure to depleted uranium (DU) tank and artillery shells. More than 1,600 American Gulf veterans had also died from similar symptoms.

The report stated: “Of 600,000 American soldiers sent to the Middle East to confront Saddam Hussein, more than 54,000 have qualified for disability compensation.”

Their symptoms included chronic fatigue, rashes, eye and ear infections, bleeding gums, facial paralysis, headaches, memory loss, muscle and joint pains, liver problems and cancer.

The report also referred to the MoD base at Dundrennan, where it said an estimated 4,000 DU shells had been fired into the Solway Firth.

It concluded: “The MoD plans to develop and fire new DU shells there, which will increase local toxic and radioactive contamination.”

The report “Depleted Uranium, Sick Soldiers and Dead Children” came just two weeks after a parliamentary statement by Defence Minister Jeremy Hanley confirmed that sizeable stocks of DU shells were held at the Dundrennan firing range.

“On 15th December 1993, 111 DU rounds were held at the Dundrennan range in anticipation of a number of trials,” he said.

His statement completely contradicted an earlier parliamentary answer by Mr Aitken, who in June 1993 said there were no stocks of Depleted Uranium shells at Dundrennan, “nor any future arisings expected”.

But, I was in for another shock.

Suddenly, and without any warning, I was given two major press awards for my work into the DU shell firings – the first was a Judges’ Special Award for Investigative Journalism.

Then I was informed that 41 MPs had signed an Early Day Motion (EDM) in the House of Commons praising my investigation (and that of a dear and late colleague at the Sunday Mail) into the link between DU shell firing and the serious risks to health – including cancer.

The EDM read: “That this House congratulates Nic Outterside, chief reporter of the Galloway Gazette, for his special award of the year ‘for his investigative journalism and individual tenacity’, and Angus Macleod of the Sunday Mail, for his ‘talent for disclosing stories in an aggressive and attacking writing style’ in winning the journalist and reporter of the year award in the Scottish Press Awards made on 26th April; notes that both reporters revealed the hidden dangers of depleted uranium shell tests at Ministry of Defence test ranges, and unveiled the links between vapourised depleted uranium dust and the Gulf War or Desert Storm syndrome; believes these Scottish reporters have properly publicised a problem of national and international importance as recognised by investigations in the United States Congress and the United Nations Compensation Committee; and reiterates its call for an urgent public inquiry.”

Some of my political heroes signed that EDM including Tony Benn, Alan Simpson, Ken Livingstone and Dennis Skinner. These names next to mine were like a personal shield of honour, and a vindication of 18 months of sometimes painstaking investigation.

In June 1994 I moved to Edinburgh and left my investigations into the Dundrennan cover-up behind.

But the story did not die.

Studies since 1994 showed that exposure to depleted uranium leads to cancers, birth defects, memory loss, damage to the immune system and neuro-psychotic disorders.

Yet the MoD still steadfastly claimed sine the first Gulf war that “DU does not pose a risk to health or the environment”.

This claim was undone when in 2004 it was revealed that the British Army told soldiers in Iraq that DU can cause ill-health.

An MoD card handed to troops on active service in the second Gulf War, in 2003-2005, read: “You have been deployed to a theatre where depleted uranium (DU) munitions have been used. DU is a weakly radioactive heavy metal which has the potential to cause ill-health. You may have been exposed to dust containing DU during your deployment.

“You are eligible for a urine test to measure uranium. If you wish to know more about having this test, you should consult your unit medical officer on return to your home base. Your medical officer can provide information about the health effects of DU.”

A UN sub-commission ruled that the use of DU breaches the Geneva Convention and the Genocide Convention. DU has also been blamed for the effects of Gulf War Syndrome among some 200,000 US troops.

It has led to birth defects in the children of veterans and Iraqis and is believed to be the cause of the “worrying number” of anophthalmos cases – babies born without eyes – in Iraq. A study of veterans showed 67% had children with severe illnesses, missing eyes, blood infections, respiratory problems and fused fingers.

Professor Doug Rokke, the ex-director of the Pentagon’s DU project and a former US Army colonel who was tasked by the US defence department to deal with DU after the first Gulf War, said: “The MoD card acknowledges the risks. It contradicts the position it has taken publicly – that there was no risk – in order to sustain the use of DU rounds and avoid liability.”

Dr Rokke attacked the US and UK for “contaminating the world” with DU munitions and said the issuing of the card meant that they had “a moral obligation to provide care for all those affected” and to clean up the environment in Iraq.

“DU is in residential areas in Iraq, troops are going by sites contaminated with it with no protective clothing or respiratory protection, and kids are playing in the same areas.”

He added: “What right does anyone have to throw radioactive poison around and then not clean it up or offer people medical care?” Dr Rokke said that the use of DU in Iraq should be deemed a war crime.

“This war was about weapons of mass destruction, but the US and UK were the only people using WMD – in the form of DU shells.”

Ray Bristow, trustee of the UK’s National Gulf Veterans and Families Association, said the MoD card “confirms what independent scientists have said for years”. Mr Bristow, 45, suffers from chromosomal abnormalities and conditions similar to those who survived the nuclear bomb in Hiroshima.

A former warrant officer in the medical corps in the first Gulf war, he is now only able to walk short distances with a walking frame and often has to use a wheelchair.

“While the card may have been issued to British troops we have to ask, ‘what about the Iraqi people?’ They are living among DU contamination. And what about the people in Dundrennan?

“The MoD line has always been that DU is safe – it has been caught out in a lie.”

Mr Bristow said some 29,000 British troops could be contaminated. He was found to have uranium in his system more than 100 times the safety limit. “I put on a uniform because I believe in democracy and freedom,” he said. “Now I can’t believe a word my government says.”

He also believed the discovery of the DU card will help affected troops sue for compensation. “Globally, this discovery is of huge significance.”

Chris Ballance, the Green MSP for the area, added: “DU is a weapon of mass destruction that must be banned.”

He said the MoD must remove the shells that had been fired into the Solway Firth and tell the people of Dundrennan about the risks.

Malcolm Hooper, emeritus professor of medicinal chemistry at Sunderland University and an expert on DU, said it was “administrative deception” for the MoD to claim DU was not a risk to health while issuing warnings to troops.

Dr Hooper, a Government adviser on DU, described the government’s behaviour as “a dreadful experiment … an obscenity … and a war crime against our own troops”.

 

You’re the one that reached me you’re the one that I admired

blog tony benn
THE death of Tony Benn is a watershed in British politics.
He was the last truly great parliamentary socialist, and a man of courtesy, decency, principle, integrity and vision.
And he was a true hero of mine.
During my years as a newspaper journalist I was fortunate enough to interview Tony three times, and each interview was a joy.
Unlike many of his contemporaries – including former chancellor Denis Healey and ex PM Jim Callaghan – he did not waffle over his time in office or make excuses and like younger MPs he did not obscure with sound bites or spin.
Instead he told things as they were and imprinted his vision of equality and fairness in words of insight and candour.
The interviews were all in the 1990s, so during the latter time of his 50 years as a member of parliament, but he was still fresh and relished argument and fought for justice.
After each interview I felt like I had been speaking with a friend.
And I have another reason for loving Tony Benn.
In 1994, 41 MPs signed an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons praising my year-long investigation into the link between the test firing of depleted uranium tank shells and local clusters of cancer.
The same tank shells provided a link to Gulf War Syndrome in the first Gulf War.
Some of my political heroes signed that EDM including Alan Simpson, Ken Livingstone and Dennis Skinner. But the sixth signature on that motion was Tony Benn. His name next to mine was like a personal shield of honour. A treasure I will keep till the grave.
Tony was true fighter for ordinary working people from the moment he was elected an MP in 1950. He was a privileged and educated aristocrat turned man of the people.
From his successful fight to remain in the Commons upon the death of his father Viscount Stansgate – a Viscountcy which Tony was to be forced to inherit – through to the Hovercraft, Concorde, TSR2, nuclear power, special edition postage stamps, tape-recording his own interviews and speeches, he was every inch the dashing, eloquent and unafraid hero.
Tony Benn was one of the few British politicians who became more left-wing after having actually served in government.
When Labour lost power in the 1979 General Election, Tony became the authentic voice of the radical left with the press coining the term Bennite to describe the policies espoused by those resisting attempts to move the Labour Party to the middle ground.
As such, he became a bogeyman for the right in British politics, with delegates to Conservative conferences displaying Ban the Benn badges in the style of CND’s Ban the Bomb logo.
Later in life he became a folk hero as well as a campaigner for a number of causes, particularly opposition to UK military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He was blamed by many for contributing to Labour’s lack of electoral success during the 1980s.
Tony Benn was a totem for those who rejected the shift to the right widely seen as necessary if the party was to regain power.
This shift was eventually completed under Tony Blair, who pushed through the abandonment of clause IV and redefined Labour as a party comfortable with privatisation and free market economics.
Tony Benn was unrepentant in his opposition to the changes saying: “We are not just here to manage capitalism but to change society and to define its finer values.”
With a typically memorable turn of phrase, Tony then signalled the end of his parliamentary career in 1999, when he announced he would not be standing for re-election at the next general election. Asked whether he would be taking his place in the House of Lords, the former Viscount Stansgate replied: “Don’t be silly.”
His final speech to the House of Commons as MP was an appropriately eloquent farewell, in which he talked widely on his view of the role of parliament and the wider question of democracy.
He said: “In the course of my life I have developed five little democratic questions. If one meets a powerful person – Adolf Hitler, Joe Stalin or Bill Gates – ask them five questions: “What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?” If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system.
After his retirement from parliament, Tony became the public face of the Stop the War coalition.
In one edition of BBC TV’s Question Time, his exchanges with US Republican John Bolton included this broadside: “I was born about a quarter of a mile from where we are sitting now and I was here in London during the Blitz. And every night I went down into the shelter. 500 people killed, my brother was killed, my friends were killed. And when the Charter of the UN was read to me, I was a pilot coming home in a troop ship: ‘We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind.’ That was the pledge my generation gave to the younger generation and you tore it up. And it’s a war crime that’s been committed in Iraq, because there is no moral difference between a stealth bomber and a suicide bomber. Both kill innocent people for political reasons.”
He died and will forever live as the Honorary President of the Stop the War Coalition, leading the greatest mass movement in British history. He was the greatest leader Labour, and Great Britain, never had.
Tony’s legacy must now be a catalyst for the left and working people.
The UK is the sixth richest country on Earth, but now has half a million people dependent on food banks; wages haven’t fallen for so long since the Victorian era; the next generation faces being poorer for the first time in a century.
“The flame of anger against injustice and the flame of hope that you can build a better world” is what drives social change.
Appropriately Tony Benn once said: “Modern Britain does not lack anger, but the left’s real mission is surely hope. Charismatic and inspiring leaders will inevitably be mourned. But the injustices that drove them don’t die, and so neither will the need to continue their fight.”
Rest in Peace Tony, you were a legend in your own time.

Poppycock – or why remembrance rituals make me see red

Posting this brilliant piece by esteemed writer and journalist Robert Fisk, published in today’s The Independent.

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/poppycock–or-why-remembrance-rituals-make-me-see-red-8927751.html

The poppy helps us avoid a search for the meaning of war

On the briefest of visits to London, I was appalled to notice that our television presenters and politicians and dignitaries have almost all resorted to stereotype by wearing those bloody poppies again – even though I suspect most of them would not know the difference between the Dardanelles and the Somme. How come this obscene fashion appendage – inspired by a pro-war poem, for God’s sake, which demands yet further human sacrifice – still adorns the jackets and blouses of the Great and the Good? Even Tony Blair dares to wear a poppy – he who lied us into a war, which killed more people than the Battle of Mons.

I know all the reasons they give us. We must remember our dead. “They” died for us and our freedom. The cost of sacrifice. Remember Passchendaele. Never forget. At school I used to wear a poppy – without the leaf which now prettifies this wretched flower – and so did my Dad who, as I often recall, was a soldier of that Great War, in the trenches of the Third Battle of the Somme, 1918, and at Cambrai. But then, as 2nd Lieutenant Bill Fisk grew older and became sick, he read the biographies of that most meretricious of officers, Earl Haig – butcher Haig of the Somme, whose wife gave her name to the original poppies – and came to regard the wearing of these sickly and fake petals as hypocrisy. He stopped wearing the poppy for 11 November, and so did I.

At Ypres four years ago, I was honoured to give the Armistice Day lecture just before 11 November; but I did not wear a poppy and politely declined to lay a wreath at the Menin Gate – that “sepulchre of crime” as Sassoon called it – and I discovered, as the clergy purred away beneath the names of the 54,896 Great War soldiers with no known grave, a headstone atop the city’s old medieval wall. Nothing could equal the words which his family had courageously inscribed above the final resting place of 2nd Lieutenant Arthur Conway Young, who died on 16 August, 1917: “Sacrifice to the fallacy that war can end.”

So is there not some better way to remember this monstrous crime against humanity? The pity of war, as Wilfred Owen described it, must, for individuals, have a finite end, a point when time – looking backwards – just runs out. British men and women – and children – who visit the Somme battlefields and their vast cemeteries, still cry, and I can understand why. Here lies indeed the flower of youth cut short, only just over a generation distant. But we do not cry when we visit Waterloo or Agincourt. At Flanders Fields, the tears still flow. But not at Flodden Field. Who even weeps for the dead of the Boer War? No poppies for them. Only when you move into religious ecstasy can the long dead touch our souls. Watch the Christians walking the Way of the Cross in Jerusalem, or the Iraqi Shia remembering in the oven-like heat of Najaf and Kerballa the martyrdom of Imams Ali and Hussain. The tears splash down their clothes.

Perhaps in war, it’s the names that count. Dead soldiers had no gravestones before the Great War, unless they were generals, admirals or emperors worthy of entombment in Saint Paul’s or Les Invalides. The soldiery were simply dumped into mass graves. At Waterloo, the remains of the dead were shipped off to England to be used as manure on the fields of Lincolnshire – sometimes tilled, no doubt, by their unsuspecting farmer sons. So much for our remembrance of the “thin red line”. No posthumous glory for them.

Yet glory, I fear, does lie somewhere in our souls when we decide to bless our clothes with this preposterous poppy, this little paper and plastic “blood-drop” on our breasts, fake flowers that supposedly spring from the blood-red soil of the Flanders dead. It is perhaps easier to believe that the names will “live for evermore” – as it says on the walls of cemeteries of both Great Wars of the 20th century – even though hundreds of thousands of First World War Brits and French and Germans and Austrians and Irishmen in British uniform and Hungarians and Indians and Russians and Americans and Turks and, yes, even Portuguese (at Ypres) have no graves at all. But the poppy also helps us avoid a search for the meaning of war.

Wyndam Lewis, the master of Vorticist art who became a soldier at Ypres, wrote of the Great War that it “went on far too long… It was too vast for its meaning, like a giant with the brain of a midge. Its epic proportions were grotesquely out of scale, seeing what it was fought to settle. It was far too indecisive. It settled nothing, as it meant nothing. Indeed, it was impossible to escape the feeling that it was not meant to settle anything – that could have any meaning, or be of any advantage, to the general run of men.”

Tolstoy caught the other side of this “non-meaning” of war in his critique of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. An “event took place”, he wrote in War and Peace, “opposed to human reason and human nature. Millions of men perpetrated against one another such innumerable crimes, frauds, treacheries, incendiarisms and murders, as in whole centuries are not recorded in the annals of all the law courts of the world, but which those who committed them did not at the time regard as being crimes.”

It was Lewis’s idea – that war was ultimately devoid of meaning – which my father was, I think, trying to capture when he described the 1914-18 conflict to me in his hospital room as “just one great waste”. He had survived that war and outlived another and the end of the British Empire, which I suspect we have not ceased mourning – could that be really what the poppies are all about? – and even lived long enough to watch the first Gulf War on television. He often quoted what he believed to be the last words of Nurse Edith Cavell, shot in Brussels by the Germans for rescuing Allied soldiers behind enemy lines, words which are inscribed on her monument beside the National Gallery: “Patriotism is not enough.” But in full, her very last words – spoken to a British chaplain before she was executed – were these: “But this I would say, standing in view of God and eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.” Read her words; and cast poppies aside.

For they are better, surely, than that terrible, almost orgiastic poem by the Toronto doctor John McCrae who died in 1915, and whose words inspired the armies of poppy-wearers. “In Flanders fields, the poppies blow/ Between the crosses, row on row…” McCrae begins – but then his dead soldiers exhort the living to “Take up our quarrel with the foe…/ If ye break faith with us who die/ We shall not sleep, though poppies grow/ In Flanders Fields.” The poppies were there to remind us of our duty to kill more human beings.

And what did I see on television a few hours before writing these words? Why, the mayor of Toronto – McCrea’s own city – admitting to the smoking of crack cocaine. “I sincerely, sincerely, sincerely apologise,” he burbled to us all. And what did I see in his jacket button hole? A bloody poppy! How they must have cried at Passchendaele…

Poem: Red or White

Herbert Asquith

Watched bullets flail

I will not wear red

Neville Chamberlain

Moved from hail to heil

I will not wear red

Clement Atlee

Tied to a US coat tail

I will not wear red

Harold Wilson

Allowed peace to fail

I will not wear red

Margaret Thatcher

Let a nuclear armada sail

I will not wear red

John Major

Fell for the Kuwait tale

I will not wear red

John Major

Hit Bosnia’s coffin nail

I will not wear red

Tony Blair

Bombs went off the Richter scale

I will not wear red

Tony Blair

He should have gone to jail

I will not wear red

142 million murdered civilians

Can you hear the dead wail?

I will not wear red… I will wear white