What About the Babies?

It’s been a while since I posted in my blog.  Fallujah was in the news in June, with the battle to “re-take” the city.  My fundraiser for the refugees fleeing the city raised over $700. I thank the Norwegian Refugee Council for being there,  for offering aid. I hope that my meager effort helped a few families find shelter.

But as always in this media-driven world we live in, news headlines faded. Summer came and I retreated to my personal life. I got married and traveled and focused on my job and my life. But, as always, Fallujah remained somewhere in the back of my mind. What is happening there, I wondered. Where are the families?

I was out of the country when this piece appeared on PBS.

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/fallujah-isis-gone-everything-else/

I’m not sure about the framing of the piece…things in the mainstream media often spin reality, especially the complicated political world in the middle east. But politics aside, the voices speak for themselves. A city ruined…a people lost. What about the babies? Where are they? I started this blog because I was outraged that my country wasn’t accepting responsibility for causing birth defects in innocent children. And now, I feel even more hopeless, and sad. I can only hope that somehow the people of Fallujah survive the unspeakable horrors that have been put upon them.  All I can do is offer my…I don’t know what to say. What can I offer? My hope? I’m not sure I have any left.  There is no easy answer. I pray for the babies…

 

Families Fleeing Fallujah Face More Hardship

There have been many reports about the civilians trying to flee the fighting in Fallujah. I have read of families drowning as they try to leave the city on makeshift rafts, I have read that now there may be 90,000 civilians trapped inside the city as opposed to the 50,000 originally thought to be there.And I have read that civilians who have managed to escape have been subjected to abuse from the very people who are supposedly there to save them. (This piece from Human Rights Watch outlines the abuses that have been reported).

families fleeing on river in Fallujah

When I started this blog I was outraged by the lack of knowledge about the increase in birth defects and cancers that had occurred after the US invasion. I wanted to bring awareness, and through that awareness some funding to help the families that were coping with the burdens that go along with raising a child with special needs. I also wanted the US to take some responsibility.

Now, these very families are fleeing for their lives, many still trapped inside the city with no food, dirty water, no way out. Others have died trying to escape, or have been beaten. ENOUGH, enough of the suffering!!   I can only hope that their nightmare ends soon, and all I can do is to try to raise funds so that the aid workers at the Norwegian Refugee Council can at least provide food, clean water and shelter. Please click the link below and consider giving what you can:

http://donate.nrc.no/help-children-escaping-war-in-fallujah-now/3-2533

 

 

Dirty Bombs

Here is an article from the Washington Spectator that discusses the use of depleted uranium in Iraq. Ross Caputi, the former marine featured in the inaugural post of this blog is interviewed, as are many others who have been saying this for years: The increase in cancers and birth defects in Fallujah and other cities in Iraq is a result of the US invasion. The people will carry the scars or generations. The US MUST take responsibility for this. Good people of conscience must continue to speak out. Peace…

IRRADIATED IRAQ
The Nuclear Nightmare We Left Behind
By Barbara Koeppel
Posted on March 30, 2016 in Foreign Policy, National Security, Politics

When the United States revealed in January that it is testing a more nimble, more precise version of its B61 atom bomb, some were immediately alarmed. General James Cartwright, a former strategist for President Obama, warned that “going smaller” could make nuclear weapons “more thinkable” and “more usable.”

However, what is little known is that for the past 25 years, the Unites States and its allies have routinely used radioactive weapons in battle, in the form of warheads and explosives made with depleted, undepleted, or slightly enriched uranium. While the Department of Defense (DOD) calls these weapons “conventional” (non-nuclear), they are radioactive and chemically toxic. In Iraq, where the United States and its partners waged two wars, toxic waste covers the country and poisons the people. U.S. veterans are also sick and dying.

Scott Ritter, a former Marine Corps officer in Iraq and United Nations weapons inspector, told me, “The irony is we invaded Iraq in 2003 to destroy its non-existent WMD [weapons of mass destruction]. To do it, we fired these new weapons, causing radioactive casualties.”

The weapons were first used in 1991 during Desert Storm, when the U.S. military fired guided bombs and missiles containing depleted uranium (DU), a waste product from nuclear reactors. The Department of Defense (DOD) particularly prized them because, with dramatic density, speed, and heat, they blasted through tanks and bunkers.

Within one or two years, grotesque birth defects spiraled—such as babies with two heads. Or missing eyes, hands, and legs. Or stomachs and brains inside out.

Keith Baverstock, who headed the radiological section of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Center of Environment and Health in the 1990s, explained why: When uranium weapons explode, their massive blasts produce gray or black clouds of uranium oxide dust particles. These float for miles, people breathe them, and the dust lodges in their lungs. From there, they seep into the lymph system and blood, flow throughout the body, and bind to the genes and chromosomes, causing them to mutate. First, they trigger birth defects. Within five or more years, cancer. Organs, often the kidneys, fail.

At one Basra hospital, leukemia cases in children up to age 14 doubled from 1992 to 1999, says Amy Hagopian, a University of Washington School of Public Health professor. Birth defects also surged, from 37 in 1990 to 254 in 2001, according to a 2005 article in Environmental Health.

Leukemia—cancer of the blood—develops quickly. Chris Busby, a British chemical physicist, explains: “Blood cells are the most easily damaged by radiation and duplicate rapidly. We’ve known this since Hiroshima.”

Dai Williams, an independent weapons researcher in Britain, says the dust emits alpha radiation—20 times more damaging than the gamma radiation from nuclear weapons. The military insists the dust is harmless because it can’t penetrate the skin. They ignore that it can be inhaled.

Fast forward to 2003. When the United States reinvaded Iraq, it launched bunker-busting guided bombs, cruise missiles, and TOW anti-tank missiles. It also fired new thermobaric warheads—much stronger explosives with stunningly large blasts. Many of these, says Ritter, contained some type of uranium, whether depleted, undepleted, or slightly enriched.

Williams says thermobaric weapons explode at extremely high temperatures and “the only material that can do that is uranium.” He adds that while today’s nuclear weapons are nominally subject to international regulations, no existing arms protocol addresses uranium in a non-nuclear context.

While the U.S. government has cleaned up some contaminated sites at home—such as a former uranium munitions plant in Concord, Mass.—it has yet to acknowledge the mess in Iraq.

“Iraq is one large hazardous waste site,” Ritter says. “If it was the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency would declare it a Superfund site and order it be cleaned.”

We invaded Iraq to destroy its non-existent weapons of mass destruction. To do it, we fired these new weapons, causing radioactive casualties.

 

Left behind in Fallujah

Fallujah (pop. 300,000) is Iraq’s most contaminated city. The U.S. military attacked it twice in 2004, and in the November siege, troops fired thermobaric weapons, including a shoulder-launched missile called the SMAW-NE. (NE means “novel explosive.”)

Ross Caputi was there with the U.S. 1st Battalion 8th Marines. He told me, “We used the SMAW-NE and guys raved about how you could fire just one round and clear a building.” Concrete bunkers and buildings were instantly incinerated and collapsed. The DOD was not disappointed.

Cancers in Fallujah catapulted from 40 cases among 100,000 people in 1991 to at least 1,600 by 2005. In a 2010International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health article, Busby and two colleagues, Malak Hamden and Entesar Ariabi, reported a 38-fold increase in leukemia, a 10-fold increase in breast cancer, and infant mortality rates eight times higher than in neighboring Kuwait.

Busby sampled the hair of Fallujah women with deformed babies and found slightly enriched uranium. He found the same thing in the soil. “The only possible source was the weapons,” he states.

These numbers are probably low. “Iraqi women whose children have birth defects feel stigmatized and often don’t report them,” says Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, a Michigan-based environmental toxicologist who won the 2015 Rachel Carson Award.

Besides the cancers and birth defects, an Irish pathologist (who asked for anonymity) said an unusually high number of children have cerebral palsy (CP) near the city of Hawija. “I was skeptical when Iraqi doctors told me, but I examined 30 and saw it was classic CP. I don’t know what caused this, but the increase is almost certainly war-related.”

It is often argued that uranium occurs in nature, so it’s impossible to link soil and other samples to the weapons. But, Ritter told me that when experts examine a site, they take samples, study them in a special lab, and can easily tell the difference between uranium that is natural and that which was chemically processed. “The idea that you can’t link soil samples to weapons because of the presence of natural uranium is simply ludicrous. It’s done all the time by experts in the International Atomic Energy Agency and within the nuclear programs of all major nuclear powers,” Ritter says.

 

Burn pits and toxic clouds

In addition to the weapons’ lethal dust, Iraqis and coalition troops were exposed to poisonous smoke from huge open burn pits, some stretching 10 acres. From 2003 to 2011, U.S. military bases burned waste in the pits around the clock—spewing toxic clouds for miles.

Two were near Fallujah. Caputi says,“We dumped everything there. Our plastic bottles, tires, human waste, and batteries.”

Rubber, oil, solvents, unexploded weapons, and even medical waste were also tossed into the pits. As a 2008 Army Times article noted, Balad Air Base burned around 90,000 plastic bottles a day.

When plastic burns, it gives off dioxin—the key ingredient in Agent Orange, which caused malformations and cancer in Vietnam. Burn pits also produce hydrogen cyanide gas, Ritter says, which U.S. prisons used in their execution chambers from the mid-1920s until 2010, and which Nazis used at the Auschwitz and Majdanek concentration camps. Moreover, pits burning uranium-tinged debris produce uranium oxide dust.

When U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO) inspectors visited bases in 2010, they found much to criticize. Contractors running the pits—U.S. companies such as KBR and Halliburton—didn’t collect data on what they burned. (KBR said it wasn’t in their contract.) Few separated out toxic materials. Most burned plastics, although banned by regulations.

The GAO wrote that the fumes could irritate the eyes and lungs, damage the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system, and cause cancer, depending on how much is inhaled and for how long. Troops breathed them 24/7 during their tours, which were usually one year. Iraqis breathed them for eight years.

The now-closed Balad Air Base burned up to 200 tons of waste a day, and many U.S. troops stationed there now have diseases that mirror the diseases suffered by the Iraqis. Some have already died from brain and lung cancers, or leukemia, says Rosie Torres, who started burnpits360.org, when her husband, an Army captain, returned in 2008 with severe breathing problems.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) x-rayed Captain LeRoy Torres’s lungs and diagnosed a disease of “unknown etiology.” When more veterans presented similar symptoms, the DOD asked Dr. Robert Miller, Vanderbilt’s Chief of Pulmonary Diseases, to study them. Dr. Miller told me, “We biopsied 200 veterans’ lungs and found they had constrictive bronchiolitis, a very debilitating disease. The DOD didn’t like that we biopsied them and that we found the disease was caused by what they were exposed to—which included the burn pits. After that, it didn’t send us more veterans to evaluate.”

Even as evidence mounts, the DOD and VA steadfastly deny the health effects of the weapons and pits. The Defense Health Agency website states, “No human cancer of any type has been seen as a result of exposure to either natural or depleted uranium.”

From 2003 to 2011, U.S. military bases burned waste in the pits around the clock— spewing toxic clouds for miles.

Further, in a 2011 DOD report, Exposure to Toxins Produced by Burn Pits, the VA adds: “The effects from burn pits are only temporary and the negative health effects dissipate once a soldier is removed from the source.” In 2014, the VA website assured veterans that “So far, no health problems have been found in veterans exposed to DU.”

While the military admits it used DU in Iraq from 2003 to 2011, it has downplayed the extent. U.S. Marine Corps Captain Dominic Pitrone told The Washington Spectator, “The only weapons with DU in the USMC inventory were 120mm tank rounds.” As for the new SMAW-NE warhead, he said it “does not contain uranium.”

But Ritter says these claims are disingenuous. Though other DU munitions, such as aerial bombs and 25mm cannon rounds, may not have been in the USMC inventory, they were still “available to and used by USMC units in Iraq.”

And while the USMC may not label the SMAW-NE and thermobaric Hellfire missile as uranium weapons, Ritter says that “this doesn’t resolve whether the shaped-charge warheads [inside them] make use of uranium-enhanced liners.”

U.S. coalition partners—such as Britain, which also used uranium weapons—echo the denials. So too do the WHO and the Iraq Ministry of Health, which concluded in 2012 that Iraq had fewer birth defects and cancers than developed countries.

But Hagopian says the ministry surveyed households instead of using hospital records. Finding this unscientific, a 2013 Lancet article called for a new study. Last November, the American Public Health Association asked the military to ban burn pits and fund research on their health effects. It also asked the WHO to rethink its conclusion.

Researchers tell of attempts by authorities to quash investigations. In 1991, for example, the United States tried to keep the WHO from “surveying areas in southern Iraq where depleted uranium had been used and caused serious health and environmental dangers,” Hans von Sponek, a former U.N. official, told the Guardian.

Karol Sikora, a British oncologist who headed WHO’s cancer program in the 1990s, told me his supervisor (who focuses on non-communicable diseases) warned him that they shouldn’t speak publicly about the cancers and birth defects “because this would offend member states.”

Similarly, Baverstock says, “I was on a WHO editorial committee and I warned about the uranium weapons’ geno-toxicity effect on DNA. My comments were rejected—probably because the WHO monograph didn’t include this.”

Those who persist fare badly.

Horst Gunther, a German physician, went to Iraq to study the spiking diseases. He saw children play with DU shells on Basra’s battlefield, took one to Germany to study, and found it was extremely radioactive. He told German authorities and was arrested for possessing it.

In 2003, Chief Justice Y.K.J. Yeung Sik Yuen of Mauritius, a delegate to the U.N. Sub-Commission on Human Rights, wrote of “the cavalier disregard, if not deception, on the part of the developers and users of these weapons regarding their effects.” After he refused to reverse his position that DU weapons are illegal and violate the Geneva Convention, the U.S. and Britain campaigned against his reelection to the subcommission. He lost.

Hagopian says researchers can’t study the uranium weapons’ effects because “the U.S. won’t fund the work.”

Why can’t the DOD, VA, Iraq government, and WHO come clean?

Ritter says, “The DOD doesn’t want the public to know about the toxic dust, because of the liability. As for Iraq, it will agree with the U.S. as long as it depends on the U.S. for financial and military support. As for the WHO, the U.S. contributes more to U.N. agencies and the WHO than any other country.”

Williams adds that there’s growing international concern about uranium weapons, since they’re radioactive. As early as 1991, Army Lt. Col. Ziehm warned in a memo that because DU weapons “may become politically unacceptable,” after-action reports must “keep this sensitive issue at mind.” In other words, don’t tell.

Media coverage of uranium weapons and the spiraling sickness has been meager. Malak Hamden said when she and colleagues published the 2010 Fallujah study, “CNN said something, but no newspapers touched the story.” A BBC reporter told Williams the public doesn’t want to know about uranium weapons.

In the meantime, the United States continues to build them. Williams notes that U.S. Patent Office records show Lockheed Martin and Raytheon hold patents for enhanced bombs and cruise missile warheads that include uranium options.

Today, with the U.S., Britain, France, Saudi Arabia, and Russia bombing Syria, and with the Saudis bombing and the U.S. firing drones into Yemen—with some of the same kinds of weapons unleashed in Iraq—it is likely that the people living there, along with fleeing refugees, will suffer just as the Iraqis and veterans have.

As Busby notes, uranium oxide dust is like a bomb that keeps going off. “People’s genes are damaged for generations. Scientists found this in 22 generations of mice, after Chernobyl. The only way mutated genes disappear is when carriers don’t have children.”

Barbara Koeppel is a Washington D.C.-based investigative reporter.

Note from Fallujah

Cross posting from the Birth Defects in FGH facebook page page:

From innocent Fallujah victims , to all honests in the international community

The 9th of April , 2016 will mark the 13th anniversary of the 2003 Iraq occupation by US/Uk coalition aggressor forces . Since that time grave human rights violations
against international law have been reported at all levels among Iraqi people . Most of the alleged violations have not been properly investigated, nor have perpetrators been
brought to justice, moreover the perpetrators in & out of Iraq are still practicing all kinds of murder and injustice against the innocent victims through their positions as leaders. As a consequence of the use of inhumane, indiscriminate and toxic weapons
Many people killed & many are still suffering physical harms without any reparations.
Our story started in 2004 and continued in atragic series in every single day till moment. The mass dirty weapons used in a city crowded with people caused the nightmare , named congenital malformations.
Women in Fallujah have different education levels and different ideologies and different ages of course, but they all share the same fear which is named congenital malformations.
In Fallujah hospital , a percentage of about 14.7% of the newborns come to life with various kinds of malformations, about 5% of children die during their 1st year of life, about 55% of those deaths being due to congenital malformations. With such a percentage, an integrated chain of social and psychological Consequences appeared and turned through the time to a partition between every couple and their dream to be parents one day.
And now & since the 30th of December 2013 another series of pain , oppression , displacement , evacuation and killings happening in Fallujah by different armed groups under the trick of fighting terrorism , the story which never heard before occupation , till the moment more than 3000 innocent civilians killed & more than 4000 wounded , most are women and children including newborns and young infants , thousands lost their houses , in addition to the poor & bad health and social services as aresult of military operations .
Now another tragedy added to the originaly bad & difficult situation of the babies and their families who are displaced and live as refugees in tents , camps and unfinished buildings in the extremely cold and hot weather, they are deprived of the simplest facilities to live and feel secure .

We, the oppressed mothers and children and even the doctors appeal the human conscience and all honests to stop creating more wars and murder in our country and in our city and to let us live in peace just like others .
We are suffering , we are dying , we are paying for the crimes and guilts of others.

Here’s How We Can Help: One Child at a Time…

I’ve written of ISLAH and the Iraqi Reparations Project before (see here for more information).

I just wanted to share their latest request:

AZRAQ’S EMERGENCY HEART SURGERY

20150314-20150308-IMG_8202Meet Azraq

The Islah Reparations Project sent a small team back into Iraq this month to assess life on the ground for Iraqis and to determine the most critical unmet needs; the teamfound many (see update report.) Following a meeting with a well-respected cardiac physician, one case stood out as the most urgent, a young boy in need of heart surgery. The Islah team traveled into Kirkuk to meet the child and his family. The child at risk of further violence for his name thus referred to here as Azraq.

CLICK HERE to pay reparations to Azraq.

Help cover the cost of a life-saving heart surgery!

Our team entered a cinder block construction site where Azraq’s large family currently resides. With one UN camp in the area well over capacity serving 18,000 families, more than 10,000 families have been forced to seek shelter wherever they can. Azraq sat on the floor propped up by a cushion, uncomfortable yet remarkably poised. At age four he can’t run around and play like other children his age, stand comfortably, or even breathe at times; necessitating repeat emergency visits to the hospital to be placed on oxygen.

Medical Information

10917361_10152772251142759_5170933976434817887_nAzraq suffers from a Cyanotic Congenital Birth Defect. (1) He is one of over 200 cases of congenital heart defects his cardiologist receives per month from Fallujah. Research conducted to date marks a rapid increase in congenital birth defects since 2004 caused by chemicals used in U.S. weapons.

According to investigative journalist Dahr Jamail, “We are seeing a rate of congenital malformations in the city of Fallujah that has surpassed even that in the aftermath in the wake of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — that nuclear bombs were dropped on at the end of World War II…The amount of congenital malformations in Fallujah is 14 times greater than the same rate measured in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in the aftermath of the nuclear bombings…because of the amount of depleted uranium used by the U.S. military during both of their brutal attacks on the city of 2004, as well as other toxic munitions like white phosphorus, among other things.” (2) These chemicals have now seeped into the ground, the drinking water, and the very bodies of those from the area.

Pain, breathlessness, and endless doctors appointments have punctuated Azraq’s short life.

Azraq should be running around and laughing with other little boys right now. Instead, Azraq is clinging to life. He needs emergency cardiac surgery or he will die. His oxygen level is currently 40%. A healthy rate is around 98%. If he does not receive surgery immediately his oxygen level will continue to drop causing irreversible brain damage and death (one month ago his level was 45% and last year it was 60%.)

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Action Plan

The Islah Reparations Project was started by Americans who feel that they were/are complicit in war, occupation, and displacement and who want to take responsibility for harm committed in their name. ISLAH offers people of conscience an opportunity to put into action the words we speak and the goodwill we feel when we think about our position in the global order and the violence wrought to sustain that position.

Our goal is to raise money for Azraq to receive emergency life- saving medical treatment.Azraq needs to leave Iraq to secure affordable expert care, which can only be done in India, Turkey, or the U.S. We have chosen to send him to India where his treating physician has experience with the surgeon and hospital and where it is substantially less expensive.

His treatment and plain ticket will cost approximately $10,000. We’ve already raised $5,000 to put toward Azraq’s treatment. Will you partner with us? We can never make Iraq whole again. We can never take away the bombs that were dropped or heal the scars left by our actions in Iraq, but we can pay reparations to this little boy and his family.

CLICK HERE to pay reparations to Azraq.

Help cover the cost of a life-saving heart surgery!

(1) Cyanotic Congenital Birth Defect.

(2) Iraq, Ten Years Later, The U.S. Occupation’s Impact On Children by Dahr Jamail


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Congratualtions to Dr. Mozhgan Savabieasfahani !

I just wanted to share to readers of my blog the good news (for a change) that Dr. Mozhgan Savabieasfahani was awarded the prestigious  2015 Rachel Carson Prize. The prize is given out every two years to a woman who has made significant contributions to the environment.

Dr. Savabieasfahani, an environmental toxicologist based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, won this year’s award for her research linking the increase in congenital birth defects in Iraq over the last two decades to the use of U.S. and coalitions force weapons there.

You can read more about the award, as well as an interview with Dr. Savabieasfahani, here.

I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Savabieasfahani last October, when she was in town to speak at “The People’s Hearing on the Lasting Impact of the Iraq War”, an event that I documented in this prior post.

I really hope that this award brings some much needed attention to the issue of the increase of birth defects and cancers in Iraq. Most importantly, I hope that it brings her some much needed funding so that she can continue to carry out this important and necessary research.

Dr. Savabieasfahani, you are one of my heros. My heartfelt congratulations  for this deserved recognition.