The Iraq Inquiry Report (2009-2016) documents how Tony Blair committed Great Britain to war early in 2002, lying to the United Nations, to Parliament, and to the British people, in order to follow George Bush, who had planned an aggression on Iraq well before September 2001.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard conspired with both reckless adventurers, purported ‘to advise’ both buccaneers, sent troops to Iraq before the war started, then lied to Parliament and to the Australian people. He continues to do so.
Should he and his cabal be charged with war crimes? This, and more, is investigated by Dr George Venturini in this outstanding series.
The bloody cost and legacy of the invasion (continued)
During the Gulf war in January 1991 the U.S. Armed Forces dropped 320 tons of depleted uranium weapons on Iraq. Depleted uranium contaminates land, causes ill-health and cancers among the soldiers using the weapons, the armies they target and civilians, leading to birth defects in children.
The Allies fired 944,000 depleted uranium rounds or some 2700 tons of depleted uranium tipped bombs. A U.K. Atomic Energy Authority report estimated that some 500,000 people would die before the end of this century, due to radioactive debris left in the desert.
There is no specific treaty ban on the use of depleted uranium projectiles.
Since 2007 the United Nations General Assembly has passed a number of resolutions on depleted uranium weapons. The most recent resolution, in 2014, was supported by 150 states and opposed – unsurprisingly – by just four: the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Israel.
The latest use of depleted uranium in the 2003 conflict occurred on 28 March when an American A10 tank-buster plane fired depleted uranium munition, killing one British soldier and injuring three others in a ‘friendly fire’ incident. According to an August 2002 report by the U.N. competent subcommission, laws which are breached by the use of depleted uranium shells include: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the Charter of the United Nations; the Genocide Convention; the Convention Against Torture; the four Geneva Conventions of 1949; the Conventional Weapons Convention of 1980; and the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, which expressly forbid employing ‘poison or poisoned weapons’ and ‘arms, projectiles or materials calculated to cause unnecessary suffering.’ All of these laws are designed to spare civilians from unwarranted suffering in armed conflicts.
Dr. Doug Rokke, former Director, U.S. Army Depleted Uranium project, and a former professor of environmental science at Jacksonville University, as well as onetime U.S. army colonel who was appointed by the U.S. Department of Defense with the post-first Gulf war depleted uranium desert clean-up – has said that use of depleted uranium is a ‘war crime’. “There is a moral point to be made here. This war was about Iraq possessing illegal weapons of mass destruction – yet we are using weapons of mass destruction ourselves.” he added: “Such double-standards are repellent.”
Depleted uranium has been blamed for the effects of ‘Gulf war syndrome’ – typified by chronic muscle and joint pain, fatigue and memory loss – among 200,000 American soldiers after the 1991 conflict. It is also cited as the most likely cause of the ‘increased number of birth deformities and cancer in Iraq’ following the first Gulf war. ‘Cancer appears to have increased between seven and 10 times and deformities between four and six times,’ according to the U.N. subcommission.
The Pentagon has admitted that 320 metric tons of DU were left on the battlefield after the first Gulf war, although Russian military experts say 1,000 metric tons is a more accurate figure.
The use of depleted uranium has also led to birth defects in the children of Allied veterans and is believed to be the cause of the ‘worrying number of anophthalmos cases – babies born without eyes – in Iraq. Only one in 50 million births should be anophthalmic, yet one Baghdad hospital had eight cases in just two years. Seven of the fathers had been exposed to American depleted uranium anti-tank rounds in 1991. There have also been cases of Iraqi babies born without the crowns of their skulls, a deformity also linked to depleted uranium shelling. A study of Gulf war veterans showed that 67 per cent had children with severe illnesses, missing eyes, blood infections, respiratory problems and fused fingers.
Dr. Rokke told The (Scottish) Sunday Herald: “A nation’s military personnel cannot wilfully contaminate any other nation, cause harm to persons and the environment and then ignore the consequences of their actions. To do so is a crime against humanity.
We must do what is right for the citizens of the world – ban depleted uranium.” He called on the United States and the United Kingdom “to recognise the immoral consequences of their actions and assume responsibility for medical care and thorough environmental remediation.” He added: “We can’t just use munitions which leave a toxic wasteland behind them and kill indiscriminately. It is equivalent to a war crime.” (N. Mackay, US Forces use of depleted uranium weapons is “illegal”).
Much American largesse with weapons of mass destruction may bring to memory the experience of Laos. During the Vietnam war the United States carpet-bombed neighbouring Laos, in part to cut off Vietnamese supply routes. That covert operation was called ‘the Secret War’. From 1964 to 1973 the United States dropped more than two million tons of ordnance on Laos during 580,000 bombing missions – equal to a planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24-hours a day, for 9 years – making Laos the most heavily bombed country per capita in history.
Up to a third of the bombs dropped did not explode, leaving Laos contaminated with vast quantities of unexploded ordnance. Over 20,000 people have been killed or injured by such ordnance since the bombing ceased.
Some comparisons with Iraq help to give substance to the words ‘war crimes’: over 270 million cluster bombs were dropped on Laos during the Vietnam war, 210 million more bombs than were dropped on Iraq in 1991, 1998 and 2006 combined; up to 80 million did not detonate.
Forty one years on, less than 1 per cent of these munitions have been destroyed. More than half of all confirmed cluster munitions casualties in the world have occurred in Laos. Each year there are now just under 50 new casualties in Laos, down from 310 in 2008. Close to 60 per cent of the accidents result in death, and 40 per cent of the victims are children.
The United States spent US$13.3 million per day – in 2013 dollars – for nine years bombing Laos. Between 1993 and 2016 the United States contributed on average US$4.9 million per year for ordnance clearance in Laos.
(There are pages and pages of documentation of such crimes in other locations such as Aziziyah, Basra, Babylon, Dohuk, Falluja, Fathila, Furat, Karbala, Mosul, Nasiriyah and Taniya in a compendium prepared by Melissa Murphy and Carl Conetta, ‘Civilian casualties in the 2003 Iraq war: A compendium of accounts and reports‘, Project on Defense Alternatives Cambridge, MA: Commonwealth Institute, 21 May 2003).
More than a month after the war’s end no official tally of civilian casualties had emerged, although such a reckoning could play an important role, in the eyes of a watching word, in weighing the conflict’s moral costs. Most civilians died as a direct result of the conflict, but not necessarily at American hands.
Determining the civilian toll is always difficult in any conflict. William M. Arkin, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic Education at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, a former columnist for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a consultant and contributor to The Los Angeles Times and the author of a dozen books, said that it probably would not be soon known how many civilians died in Iraq but that the number would quite likely be “many thousands.” Arkin, who was a military consultant to Human Rights Watch in its 2000 assessment of civilian deaths in Yugoslavia and also estimated civilian casualties in the 2001 conflict in Afghanistan, said it was not possible to assess the effectiveness of the use of precision-guided weapons to minimize civilian casualties without knowing how many civilians died as a result of an air attack or ground conflict. But, he said, his “gut feeling” was that the air-delivered precision-guided weapons “did very well.”
Human Rights Watch, which has been compiling statistics elsewhere in the country, began its investigations in Baghdad in early May 2003.
There are figures presenting what is regarded as the public record of violent deaths following the 2003 invasion of Iraq:
- Documented civilian deaths from violence: 163,461 – 182,579
- Total violent deaths including combatants: 251,000.
As The Iraq Inquiry confirmed, the United Kingdom showed no real interest in monitoring civilian casualties.
Iraq Body Count maintains the world’s largest public database of violent civilian deaths since the 2003 invasion, as well as separate running total which includes combatants.
I.B.C.’s data are drawn from cross-checked media reports, hospital, morgue, N.G.O. and official figures or records.
As Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs wrote in 2004, “evidence [was] mounting that America’s war in Iraq has killed tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians, and perhaps well over 100,000. Yet this carnage is systematically ignored in the United States, where the media and government portray a war in which there are no civilian deaths, because there are no Iraqi civilians, only insurgents.
American behavior and self-perceptions reveal the ease with which a civilized country can engage in large-scale killing of civilians without public discussion.”
Sachs referred to the October 2004 study of civilian deaths in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion began, published by the British medical journal Lancet. The sample survey documented an extra 100,000 Iraqi civilian deaths compared to the death rate in the preceding year, and the estimate did not even count excess deaths in Fallujah, which was deemed too dangerous to include.
The study also noted that the majority of deaths resulted from violence, and that a high proportion of the violent deaths were due to U.S. aerial bombing. The epidemiologists acknowledged the uncertainties of these estimates, but presented enough data to warrant an urgent follow-up investigation and reconsideration by the Bush administration and the U.S. military of aerial bombing of Iraq’s urban areas.
American public reaction had been as remarkable as the Lancet study, for the reaction was: no reaction. On 29 October 2004 The New York Times ran a single story of 770 words on page 8 of the paper. The Times reporter apparently did not interview a single Bush administration or U.S. military official. No follow-up stories or editorials appeared, and no Times reporters assessed the story on the ground. Coverage in other American papers was similarly meagre. The Washington Post, also on 29 October, carried a single 758-word story on page 16.
Reporting on the first bombing of Fallujah had also been an exercise in self-denial. On 6 November 2004 The New York Times wrote that “warplanes pounded rebel positions” in Fallujah, without noting that “rebel positions” were actually in civilian neighbourhoods. Another story in The Times on 12 November, citing “military officials,” dutifully reported: “Since the assault began on Monday, about 600 rebels have been killed, along with 18 American and 5 Iraqi soldiers.” The issue of civilian deaths was not even raised.
Tomorrow: The bloody cost and legacy of the invasion (continued)
Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini – ‘George’ devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. In 1975, invited by Attorney-General Lionel Keith Murphy, Q.C., he left a law chair in Chicago to join the Trade Practices Commission in Canberra – to serve the Whitlam Government. In time he witnessed the administration of a law of prohibition as a law of abuse, and documented it in Malpractice, antitrust as an Australian poshlost (Sydney 1980). He may be reached at George.Venturini@bigpond.com.
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