“‘We found some radiation in the middle of villages where children were playing,’ said Mr. Haavisto, a former environment minister of Finland who headed the United Nations inquiry in Kosovo. ‘We were surprised to find this a year and a half later. People had collected ammunition shards as souvenirs and there were cows grazing in contaminated areas, which means the contaminated dust can get into the milk.'” POISON AS METAPHOR
More than a dozen European veterans of the Kosovo war, fighting on the NATO side, have died of leukemia, and more are ill. Death appears to be among the health consequences for the “victors” of their “victory.” The proud “democracies” rained their spears on Belgrade in the name of humanity, declaring that theirs was a “humanitarian intervention,” a felicitous phrase invented by the news anchors at CNN and echoed around the world. Who could have known that their spears were dipped in poison? As a metaphor for the consequences of our recklessly interventionist policy in the Balkans, one could not have found a better one than a mass poisoning.
Actually, this story has been percolating for years and finally broke through to the surface back in March 2000, when the UN task force wrote to secretary general Kofi Annan and warned that the sites of around 100 NATO targets were dangerously contaminated. As I wrote in a column at the time:
“With a half-life of 4.5 billion years, twice as dense as lead, depleted uranium is radioactive and ultra-toxic. The San Francisco Examiner, which broke the story, informs us that “depleted uranium burns when it hits a target, contaminating the tank and the surrounding area.” Depleted uranium the napalm of America’s post-millennial Vietnam.”
SO WHAT ELSE IS NEW?
The monstrous effects of DU are nothing new to regular readers of Antiwar.com, who are always ahead of the curve: from Iraq to the former Yugoslavia, we have covered this issue from the beginning. But there was no real public outcry: the story remained well beneath the media’s radar screen, in spite of increasing evidence that linked DU to the so-called Gulf War Syndrome. But that was back in the bad old days before any sign of leukemia or cancer in a single European soldier was detected. The announcement of the UN task force that 8 out of 11 sites sampled needed to be decontaminated “seems certain,” writes Marlise Simons in the Times, “to fan a rapidly spreading sense of fury and panic across Europe about the well-being of soldiers sent to serve in the Balkans.”
It is almost incredible that the US and its allied governments to this day refuse to acknowledge the horrendous effects of DU on their own military personnel, as well as innocent civilians, and continue to deny its link to Gulf War Syndrome. As the soldiers of Belgium, England, France, Spain, Italy, Hungary, etc., fall ill and die from the effects of NATO’s DU-bombing, the power of the poison metaphor becomes even more appallingly apparent: we have poisoned not only our enemies but also ourselves, our own sons and daughters, who are dropping like flies in the face of official denials. But these denials ring hollow, as the relatives and loved ones of the poisoned soldiers cry out for justice. They ring especially hollow when even official military publications detailing the handling and use of DU emphasize the dangers posed to anyone who comes in contact with it.
For years, everyone ignored the horror stories coming out of Iraqi hospitals: birth defects that seemed to mirror the demonic power of the Anglo-American assault. In an article posted here, Raed Battah, part of a “Voices in the Wilderness” delegation to Iraq, described a visit to a hospital, where he saw the horrific effects of DU on Iraqi civilians:
“One of the more pleasant side effects of DU exposure is the high instances of congenital birth defects among Gulf War Veterans, both Iraqi and Coalition. These defects include babies born with no heads, no genitals, no faces, limbs grown together, webbed feet, and stunted limbs. At the Basra Children’s Maternity Hospital, Dr. Jinan Galeb Hassan showed me and other ‘Voices’ delegates album after album of horrifying deformities.”
But such atrocities occurring in the Third World are hardly sufficient to awaken the Western conscience: there is, after all, an embargo against all information coming out of Iraq, in tandem with the economic blockade, and so the information was summarily dismissed as propaganda by Western news agencies and ignored. But now that these same allegations are coming out in the Western European media that DU has caused and is causing incredible damage to a whole generation of soldiers and millions of noncombatants the dangers of DU have been suddenly “discovered.”
MEMO TO CARLA DEL PONTE
Better late than never, but it is instructive to note that no one is raising the same amount of concern for the biggest victims of the NATO poisoners the people of the former Yugoslavia, especially in Serbia proper, where the sheer volume of the NATO bombardment hit hardest. What will be the health consequences for these innocent civilians and has anyone told Carla del Ponte, the chief inquisitor of the International Tribunal investigating war crimes in the Balkans, about this? Perhaps the mass poisoning of an entire people will be enough to divert Her Honor away from her exclusive obsession with proving alleged Serbian war crimes, although I doubt it.
In signaling what we might expect from the incoming President, Dubya’s foreign policy advisors have given the impression that they intend to start withdrawing troops, slowly but surely, over the next four years. The news that Bill Clinton poisoned not only Kosovo but also large sections of Bosnia with DU, causing long-term and possibly fatal consequences for the occupiers as well as the occupied, gives Dubya every reason to speed up the withdrawal process considerably from four years to four days. If the new President knows what’s good for him, he’ll hightail it out of Kosovo and environs but fast, or face the righteous anger of the same veterans groups that once supported him.
HOW LONG, OH LORD HOW LONG?
How long must we all pay for Bill Clinton’s sins? That is the question that must be put to anyone who now continues to believe that we ought to maintain a military presence for one more week in the poisoned lands of the Balkans.