Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Victims of Fallujah's Health Crisis are Stifled by Western Silence

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

Ross Caputi

Gardian (UK)

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

not possible."

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.

2 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies.

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