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Scottish Left Review

By Bill Wilson

On 22 February 2011, I received a somewhat bizarre letter from Liam Fox, the then minister for defence, in response to a letter I had sent him regarding the use of depleted uranium (DU) weapons.

In his letter, Dr Fox assured me that “None of the inquiries to date, including those quoted in your letter, has documented long-term health or environmental effects attributable to DU munitions”. In the same letter he stated: “on the basis of reports by the Royal Society and others, the MoD does not consider DU is safe”. And a little further on: “The UN General Assembly draft resolution you refer to […] The UK does not support resolutions that presuppose DU is harmful.”

Thus in a fairly short letter I was reassured that DU did not cause long-term damage to health or the environment, then that DU was not safe, and finally that the UK government rejected claims from the United Nations that DU was not safe.

This was a not atypical response when one raised the issue of DU. The evidence that it causes serious long-term damage both to the environment and human health is overwhelming – but try getting anybody to actually listen. As an MSP, I ran a series of press releases trying to raise the profile of this issue. The only news sources that paid any attention whatsoever were The Caledonian Mercury and the Scottish Left Review. No other UK newspaper, magazine, television or radio station would touch the story.

My experience of attempting to draw attention to this issue was by no means unique. Doctors in Falluja have advised women (yes, an entire city of women) not to become pregnant. This drew little attention in the UK, but then the tragedy of Iraq generally attracts little attention in the UK. It has, however, attracted the attention of a number of courageous academics who, in spite of the personal attacks and smears to which they have been subjected, attempted to both study and highlight this issue. Recently, a significant new paper was published providing yet more evidence of the damage to health by uranium weapons. Sadly, the authors of this paper were unable to gain any media interest in the findings.

Now DU has hit the headlines. In the final section of Liam Fox’s letter, he stated: “The Government’s policy remains that DU can be used within weapons; it is not prohibited under current or likely future international agreements. UK armed forces use DU munitions in accordance with international humanitarian law. It would be quite wrong to deny our serving personnel a legitimate capability”.

On 14 November, the Guardian stated that the present minister for defence, Nick Harvey, had given a similar assurance to Katy Clark MP. DU was legal to use and that the government had reviewed the legal situation: “the conclusions of the original legal weapons review on Charm3 are extant” and “DU can be used within weapons”. However, when Ms Clark asked to see the review, the story changed – Oops, it appears we have not carried out a review after all. Never mind, the government now says that it will carry out a review.

A legal review of the situation is a step forward. But how about a review of the effects on the health of those living in areas where the weapons were used? How about some simple steps to reduce the risk of contamination? Nicholas Wood has been asking – for many years now – for tanks destroyed by DU weapons to be fenced off so that children cannot play in them. Mr Wood, and the children of Iraq, are still waiting for such basic actions to be taken.

Dr Bill Wilson is a former MSP.

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Dr Bill Wilson MSP

Dr Bill Wilson MSP

By Bill Wilson

Recently I had an article in the Scottish Left Review, also published on a number of websites. It described the horrific situation in Fallujah in Iraq, where women have been advised to avoid becoming pregnant due to the very high risk of gross birth deformities in their children.

It is notable that the first signs that something odd was happening (changing birth-gender ratios) appeared shortly after the first Gulf war. Since then, evidence has been mounting that a significant factor in the very high level of genetic abnormalities is the use of depleted uranium (DU) weapons.

I mention the events in Fallujah not because it is an isolated case, but because the situation – doctors advising an entire city of women not to become pregnant – is so extreme. However, the use of DU was not limited to Fallujah. In Basra there is a new cancer hospital, necessary due to the substantial rise in childhood cancers, and man’s inhumanity to man extends beyond Iraq.

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Think of the nations of the former Yugoslavia, think Gaza, think Afghanistan. Does it stop even there? Once in a while dust will arrive in Scotland from North Africa. Once DU particles enter the water, once they become dust, where does the pollution end?

Even if the dust never arrives, the effects will. Our servicemen and women are no more immune from breathing in, or drinking, the DU particles than are the civilians in the target zones. Of course the Ministry of Defence and the US Department of Defense continue to deny that DU presents a risk. Yet the Italian government paid some 170 million euros in compensation to their soldiers, and a coroner’s report in the UK quite specifically identified DU as the cause of death.

However, it is not my intention to discuss the evidence or effects of DU here. Those interested can check my home page, or can read the Scottish Left Review.

This article looks specifically at disinformation. When challenging the vested interests of the powerful, it is not unusual to have to deal with disinformation campaigns – think of smoking and climate change, for example. Such campaigns are fairly standard. So that there is no room for doubt, I am not referring to genuine scientific debate, but specifically to disinformation:

1 – the use of errors in minor details to cast doubt upon an entire case;
2 – the distortion/misrepresentation of facts;
3 – the creation of new facts lacking any evidence for such (which might also be referred to as lying);
4 – character assassination.

It did not take long for me to become aware of a disinformation campaign surrounding DU and its effects. Perhaps the first clear indication I had was from a former US colonel, who wrote an angry email noting that the DU campaign was based on lies, that the use of the word “weapon” was misleading, and that “There is no such thing as a uranium weapon. That is [the] term that they made up to make DU kinetic energy penetrators look like weapons of mass destruction instead of tank killing bullets”.

As the argument goes, it certainly fits into category 2, as I cannot really see any difference between a bullet and a weapon. There is an attempt at 1, as even if a bullet is not a weapon the end result, particularly with DU, is the same. And certainly 3, as DU is also used in “bunker busters” and other munitions used to attack buildings and is not restricted to use against tanks. (Hence its use in Gaza, where the Palestinians have a distinct lack of tanks.)

In case you think that I am splitting hairs, I should note that this self-same US colonel went on to argue that DU could not have been used at Fallujah because there were “no tank battles in Fallujah”. In effect, he was using the “fact” that DU was only used in anti-tank shells to cast doubt on their use in Fallujah. Thus the point is not one of hair-splitting, but rather more significant than that. All this within a matter of hours of my dipping my toe into the DU nightmare!

Dr Doug Rokke is a retired US Army major. He was appointed by the Pentagon to devise the protocols in handling DU, and how/if it might safely be used. Dr Rokke duly provided the Pentagon with the required report and protocols. He also had responsibility for the limited clear-up of some sites in Iraq. There is a tragic side to this, as Dr Rokke, an honourable and decent man, is seriously ill, and many of his team are dead or likewise seriously ill. Dr Rokke has no doubt as to the source of their ill-health: DU does not just affect civilians.

Why the detour to describe Dr Rokke and his team? Well, the disinformation did not stop at modifying or redefining facts. It went on from there. I was reading a blog article on DU and glanced at the responses below. I was immediately confused. A respondent angrily attacked Doug Rokke because he had been supporting the DU lobby in viciously attacking him when the respondent had written on DU. This was bizarre, really bizarre.

Dr Rokke was actually accused of working with a man who had regularly smeared him. More confusing was that the arch anti-DU campaigner had suddenly become a DU supporter. What the heck was going on? It was clear that the original author of the blog was equally dumfounnart – to use the Scots word for dumbfounded.

There followed a confused and lengthy exchange between the blog author and the respondent. It moved on to the respondent wondering about Dr Rokke’s email address, as his IP address seemed similar to that of a notorious DU supporter. To cut a long story short, the respondent concluded with: “I am now watching the real Doug Rokke on YouTube”.

Somebody had gone out of their way to make it appear that Doug Rokke was working with the pro-DU lobby. This of a man seriously ill from the effects of DU, who is furious that the Pentagon has ignored his advice and protocols – insult to injury!

The above would certainly fall into my fourth category of disinformation: character assassination. A pretty unpleasant form of character assassination, given the circumstances. But of course it does not stop there. I have received a large number of emails specifically attacking the qualifications and character of various individuals with whom I have corresponded, or to whom I have referred in my articles/press releases.

Doug Rokke is specifically accused of having lied about his army service, lied about his depleted DU findings, and having very unpleasant connections (apparently somebody he knew had written something which may have used something else which may have come from an organisation with dubious repute – no, seriously!), and finally he is accused of smearing the man who sent me the email smearing Dr Rokke. I assume the latter works on the principle of distracting people from your own thieving by shouting, “Catch the thief!”

I have concentrated on Dr Rokke not because he is the only individual about whom I have received unpleasant (and dishonest) allegations, but rather because he seems to have earned the most vitriol.

Having become rather tired of all this, I wrote to the US ambassador asking if the individual who had been putting out many of the smears (I named him in the letter) worked for or had worked for the US government. I await the reply with anticipation.

Let me end with some useful Arabian advice for Doug Rokke and my other correspondents fighting for justice: “Tell the truth, but keep one foot in the stirrup”.

- Dr Bill Wilson is a list MSP for the West of Scotland.

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