The Victims of Fallujah's Health Crisis are Stifled by Western Silence
To research a possible link between US
bombardment and rates of birth defects and
pediatric cancer in Iraq is a moral imperative
October 25, 2012
Four new studies on the health crisis in Fallujah
have been published in the last three months. Yet,
one of the most severe public health crises in
history, for which the US military may be to blame,
receives no attention in the United States.
Ever since two major US-led assaults destroyed the
Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2004, Fallujans have
witnessed dramatic increases in rates of cancers,
birth defects and infant mortality in their city. Dr
Chris Busby, the author and co-author of two
studies on the Fallujah heath crisis, has called this
"the highest rate of genetic damage in any
population ever studied".
In the years since the 2004 sieges, Fallujah was the
most heavily guarded city in all of Iraq. All
movement in and out of Fallujah was monitored by
the occupying forces. The security situation made it
nearly impossible to get word out about Fallujans'
nascent health crisis. One of the first attempts to
report on the crisis was at the seventh session of the
UN Human Rights Council in the form of the report,
Prohibited Weapons Crisis: The Effects of Pollution
on the Public Health in Fallujah by Dr Muhamad Al-
Darraji. This report was largely ignored. It wasn't
until the first major study on the health crisis was
published in 2010 that the issue received
mainstream media attention in the UK and Europe.
To this day, though, there has yet to be an article
published in a major US newspaper, or a moment
on a mainstream American TV news network,
devoted to the health crisis in Fallujah. The US
government has made no statements on the issue,
and the American public remains largely
uninformed about the indiscriminate harm that our
military may have caused.
The report presented at the seventh session of the
Human Rights Council gave anecdotal evidence
gathered at the Fallujah General Hospital. It
included a stomach-turning collection of pictures of
babies born with scaly skin, missing and deformed
limbs, and horrifying tumors. Two years later, Dr
Busby and his team of researchers sought to verify
the claims in this report. What they found was that,
in addition to shocking increases in pediatric
cancers, there had also been an 18% reduction in
male births. Such a finding is a well-known
indication of genetic damage. The authors conclude that:
"These results support the many reports of
congenital illness and birth defects in Fallujah
and suggest that there is evidence of genetic
stress which appeared around 2004, one year
before the effects began to show."
In a follow up study, in which Dr Busby was a co-
author, hair, soil and water samples were taken
from Fallujah and tested for the presence of heavy
metals. The researchers expected to find depleted
uranium in the environmental samples. It is well
known that the US used depleted uranium weapons
in Iraq during the 1991 Gulf war; and Iraqis, at
least, are well aware of the increases in cancers and
infant mortality rates in the city of Basrah, which
was heavily bombarded during Desert Storm.
However, what the researchers found was not
depleted uranium, but man-made, slightly enriched uranium.
Dr Busby has been the most visible scientist behind
these studies, and for that reason, a lot of criticism
has been directed at him. He is considered by many
to be a "controversial" figure, which only means that
his research has often challenged official
government positions. His studies on Fallujah have
similarly earned the title of "controversial". Many
journals were afraid to publish his second study
because of "pressure" from "outside people".
"Outside people" means types like Roger Helbig - a
retired Lieutenant Colonel in the US Air Force who
is well-known for publishing online attacks on those
who take a critical stance against uranium weapons
- and pressure groups with similar agendas.
Some have criticized the methodology of this study,
and they have used this as an excuse to dismiss the
entire issue. But as other experts have noted:
"The role of 'quick and dirty' studies like this one,
conducted under difficult conditions, is not to
inform policy, but rather to generate hypotheses
about important questions when resources are
not yet available and other research methods are
Busby is not the only researcher who takes
"controversial" positions. His findings are
complimented by the work of Dr Dai Williams, an
independent weapons researcher. Williams has been
investigating what he calls "third generation
uranium weapons" (pdf). He has found patents for
weapon systems that could use undepleted
uranium, or slightly enriched uranium,
interchangeably with tungsten, either as a dense
metal or as a reactive metal. Undepleted and slightly
enriched uranium have also been found on other
battlefields (Afghanistan (pdf) and Lebanon). These
findings lead researchers like Dr Williams to believe
that there is a new generation of weapons being
used, possibly by the US and Israeli militaries, that
could have serious indiscriminate health effects on
the populations living near bombing targets.
Many people have dismissed these hypotheses as
speculative, and with that, they dismiss the
research, the issue and the suffering of the people
on the ground. What these naysayers fail to
understand is that hypotheses are always
speculative to a degree - they are informed, but they
are claims intended to be verified or falsified. This is
the nature of the scientific method. First, you
observe certain phenomena in the world, then you
come up with a hypothesis to explain those
phenomena. Then, you conduct an experiment to
test your hypothesis.
Many of these naysayers have not responded to
these studies by calling for more research and
investigation to test the hypotheses of Dr Busby or
Dr Williams. Rather, they dismiss these hypotheses
because they don't like their moral and political
implications. In doing so, they show a great deal of
antipathy for the scientific method and the pursuit
of truth. But more importantly, they also dismiss the
suffering of the people of Fallujah, and all people
affected by these issues.
One weapon system that may use uranium, in some
form or another, is the SMAW-NE (Shoulder-fired
Multipurpose Assault Weapon - Novel Explosive).
My former unit battle-tested this weapon for the first
time in Fallujah during Operation Phantom Fury in
2004. It is not my intention irresponsibly to lay
blame on the US military, but there is a potential
connection between this weapons system and the
health crisis in Fallujah - and this connection
needs to be investigated.
There are also other avenues of investigation
besides uranium weapons. One recent study
examines the possible contributions of mercury and
lead to the health crisis in Iraq. Metal
Contamination and the Epidemic of Congenital
Defects in Iraqi Cities, by Al-Sabbak et al, compared
the levels of lead and mercury in hair, nail and teeth
samples from Fallujah and Basrah. The study found
that the population studied in Fallujah had been
exposed to high levels of "two well-known
neurotoxic metals, Pb and Hg".
In Basrah, the authors found even higher levels of
lead exposure than in Fallujah. Basrah has the
highest ever reported level of neural tube defects,
and the numbers continue to climb. The authors of
this study note:
"Toxic metals such as mercury (Hg) and Pb are an
integral part of war ammunitions and are
extensively used in the making of bullets and
bombs . the bombardment of al-Basrah and
Fallujah may have exacerbated public exposure
to metals, possibly culminating in the current
epidemic of birth defects."
The conclusion of this study is not abstract, and it
is not merely an intellectual or medical issue. It has
real world importance. The modern means of
warfare may be inherently indiscriminate. This is a
scientific finding worthy of discussion at the highest
levels of academia, politics and international affairs.
While it may yet get some attention outside the
borders of the United States, its "controversial"
nature (its implications of the US military's guilt in
creating possibly the worst public health crisis in
history) ensures that it will be ignored at all costs by
the callous and corrupt US government and its
subservient media establishment.
Ultimately, it may not be the case that either lead
alone, or uranium alone, is the sole cause of the
health crisis in Fallujah. It could be a combination
of the two agents, or something different entirely.
But this is an empirical question that demands
further investigation. Methodology and proper
science are important, but we must remember that
science is a means to an end, and not an end in and
itself. The welfare of the people of Fallujah should
be our ends, and our goal should be to help them.
Those who choose misguided political allegiance
over the pursuit of truth, and those who use
methodological flaws to dismiss real-world suffering,
have already lost their humanity.
What we need to do to help Fallujans is clear. More
studies need to be done to figure out what is
harming those poor children, and then steps need to
taken to ensure that this never happens again.
But first, we must find a way to overcome the stifling
silence of governments.
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