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2000-05-26

Former US Army Depleted Uranium Expert Alleges Campaign of Harassment Against Him for Speaking Out

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For years, the Pentagon has attempted to keep discussion of depleted uranium weapons out of the public eye. These are the radioactive munitions the US has used in Iraq, Bosnia, Vieques and, most recently, Yugoslavia. During the Gulf War, US and British warplanes fired off more than a million rounds of DU-coated bullets, and in Kosovo, the Pentagon admits to using 31,000. [includes rush transcript]

With thousands of veterans getting sick, particularly Gulf War vets, as well as increased cancer rates in areas where so-called DU has been used, there is an increasing global movement to ban its use and to hold Washington accountable for using it in the first place. One of the key figures in this movement is Dr. Doug Rokke. He headed up the DU cleanup program for the US Army in Iraq and was fired from that job for speaking out about the health effects of its use. He himself is now sick, he believes from his contact with the radioactive weapon, and has dedicated his life to getting the truth about DU and fighting for it to be banned.

After repeated warnings from military officials and others to stop his activities speaking out about the effects of DU, someone shot through a bedroom window of Dr. Rokke’s home on April 30. Just this past Tuesday, his locked house in Jacksonville, Alabama was ransacked.

Guests:

  • Dr. Doug Rokke, a former US Army Depleted Uranium Project director.
  • Patricia Axelrod, a military scientist who specializes in weapons systems analysis. She has studied the use of depleted uranium in Iraq and Yugoslavia.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: For years, the Pentagon has attempted to keep discussion of depleted uranium weapons out of the public eye. These are the radioactive munitions the US has used in Iraq, Bosnia, Vieques and, most recently, Yugoslavia. During the Gulf War, US and British warplanes fired off more than a million rounds of DU-coated bullets. And in Kosovo, the Pentagon admits to using 31,000 rounds.

With thousands of veterans getting sick, particularly Gulf War vets, as well as increased cancer rates in areas where so-called DU, or depleted uranium, has been used, there’s an increasing global movement to ban its use and to hold Washington accountable for using it in the first place. One of the key figures in this movement is Dr. Doug Rokke. He headed up the DU cleanup program for the US Army in Iraq and was fired from that job for speaking out about the health effects of its use. He, himself, is now sick, he believes from his contact with the radioactive weapon, and has dedicated his life to getting the truth out about depleted uranium and fighting for it to be banned. After repeated warnings from military officials and others to stop his activities speaking out about DU’s effects, someone shot through a bedroom window of Dr. Rokke’s home on April 30th, and just this past Tuesday, his locked house in Jacksonville, Alabama was ransacked.

Today, we’re joined by two people who have faced severe personal repercussions for speaking out about depleted uranium. We’ll begin with Dr. Doug Rokke, former US Army Depleted Uranium Project director.

Can you tell us what’s happened since you’ve been speaking out about this radioactive weapon?

DR. DOUG ROKKE:

Yes, we’ve been working trying to get environmental remediation of all areas affected by depleted uranium. That includes Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Kosovo, Okinawa, Panama, Vieques in Puerto Rico, and then throughout the United States, and that’s because of the deliberate actions by the US Department of Defense to use uranium munitions both in war and in training.

The other thing we’ve been attempting to do is obtain medical care for all the effected individuals. This includes approximately — over 120 friendly — or about 120 friendly fire casualties, another 250 or so individuals charged with the recovery of the damaged or destroyed US equipment that was contaminated with the uranium munitions. And then also, we’ve been working on trying to get medical care for all the individuals in Iraq, Kosovo, Serbia, Vieques, all over the place.

The pressure has been coming on very strong to cease and desist. I’ve had active-duty military personnel come up to me, pointblank in the face, and say, “You must stop.” I’ve had emails that have come in from individuals all the way up to the Pentagon, some that are friends, some that are not, saying, “You must stop,” and all of this stuff. It’s been an ongoing thing. What has happened is, it seems as we get closer and closer and more and more of the world is listening, the US Department of Defense and the government is trying to absolve themselves of all responsibility for the use of uranium munitions and the consequent health and environmental effects.

AMY GOODMAN:

Dr. Rokke, let’s talk specifically about what has happened to you in the last few weeks, on April 30th and then again this past Tuesday.

DR. DOUG ROKKE:

On — previously, right before April 30th, in the week preceding, is when I’d had direct warnings from active-duty military personnel that I must cease and desist my activities to obtain medical care and environmental remediation. Those warnings were coming in not only verbally, direct face-to-fact, but then — and again, that was individuals who were saying, “This is what’s coming down, what you need to do.” Emails were also coming in on warnings.

On April 30th, a Sunday night, about 9:30, a round was fired through an upstairs bedroom window of my house. This was 9:30 Sunday night in a professional residential neighborhood, all full of university professors, ministers, postmasters, stuff like that. And that just missed my youngest son.

I was on the phone working on another environmental issue at that time. The issue we were working on is the PCB contamination caused by Monsanto, the health and environmental effects in Anniston, Alabama, Calhoun County, which were up in northeast Alabama.

Family started yelling and screaming, “What’s happening?” Kind of put the phone down and then, you know, didn’t pay a whole lot of attention. Then they started yelling and screaming again. Then I realized that a round had been fired through an upstairs bedroom and just missed my son.

So that was kind of their — cops got right here right away, you know, investigating and trying to find out what was happening. The only thing we heard was dogs barking down at the end of the street, but, you know, you’re not going to find anything.

[inaudible] has been coming in to cease and desist the activities. We’ve been speaking out doing radio programs and all different kinds of radio programs, trying to get television documentaries, stuff in the newspapers. And then again, on this Tuesday, that would be the 23rd. Today’s what? Thursday.

AMY GOODMAN:

I’m just interrupting for one second. Who did — what did you say about cease and desist?

DR. DOUG ROKKE:

Well, that I’m supposed to cease and desist, and I’m supposed to stop all of my activities to obtain medical care — forced medical care for all of the DU casualties and stop all of my activities to force environmental remediation for all DU-contaminated areas.

AMY GOODMAN:

I’m confused here. Who has issued a cease-and-desist order against you?

DR. DOUG ROKKE:

The — when I got the one in April, that came down through Army chain. Active-duty Army personnel came up to me, face-to-face, pointblank, and said, “This is what the message is, and do it.” [inaudible] this has do with, the United States Navy had deliberately contaminated Vieques, Puerto Rico with uranium munitions, and we’ve been trying to get accountability down there. They did that in preparation of going to battle in Kosovo to use uranium munitions in Kosovo last spring. And that’s a violation of federal law, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission license and all kinds of directives.

AMY GOODMAN:

Do you have any indication of who’s behind this?

DR. DOUG ROKKE:

The individuals that have been trying to stop all of this stuff are all the way up into this — what’s called OSAGWI, Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses. That would be Dr. Bernard Rostker, who was Assistant Secretary of the Army and now has just been appointed as Deputy Secretary of Defense. But he’s been one of the individuals that all the work we do, when we did the 60 Minutes piece on December 26th, within twenty-four hours, they were coming back and retaliating verbally and other stuff. I mean, how fast can you get an IRS audit? Do a 60 Minutes piece. Instantaneously.

But the whole thing, and then they came back with their people saying there’s no health effects, no problems, no nothing. And we’re going, wait a minute, I myself am sick. My guys are sick. We have people dead all over the country. We have deliberate use and ignoring all kinds of laws and regulations. So, I mean, you know, it’s been an ongoing thing.

The original memo during — during the Gulf War, I was tasked to, by Headquarters Department of the Army down through General Schwarzkopf, down to D.G. Tsoulos, who was the Third Medical Commander for the US Army, the whole thing over there — and that message from Headquarters Department of the Army assigned me to take responsibility to clean up the depleted uranium mess. In March of 1991, a memo, a thing called the famed Los Alamos Memorandum — and you can pull this up on a whole a bunch of websites — and it was a memorandum that came to us in Saudi Arabia, written by a Colonel Ziehm, Z-I-E-H-M, out of Los Alamos. And it was very clear that no matter what we found, no matter what report we wrote, that we were to lie through our teeth to make sure they could always use depleted uranium munitions for eternity.

So the Department of Defense, you know, they tasked me to clean it up, and Saudi tasked me as project director to develop all the training materials, all the environmental remediation procedures, which we had done and completed by Thanksgiving — no, Christmas in 1995. And then, as the United States Government Accounting Office report that was just released a few weeks confirmed, they ain’t doing it. They’re beyond the law.

AMY GOODMAN:

What was your first indication that the US government, that the Pentagon, was not pleased with what you were saying publicly?

DR. DOUG ROKKE:

When I got fired from my job as director of the Bradley Radiological Laboratories, a senior civilian position in charge of all radiological safety training and education for the US Department of Defense.

AMY GOODMAN:

When was that?

DR. DOUG ROKKE:

That happened in the December of 1996.

AMY GOODMAN:

On what grounds were you fired?

DR. DOUG ROKKE:

Basically, not doing my job. I had raised the questions on why training and education was not provided, why medical care had not been provided, why all of the written orders had been issued by the commanding general for the training and doctrine command has not been complied with. And those orders are all over the websites. On military toxics and those websites, you can pull those orders up in what’s called the DU link.

AMY GOODMAN:

We’ll give out those websites at the end of the program. We’re talking to Dr. Doug Rokke, who is a former US Army Depleted Uranium Project director. I understand you also just lost your job as a professor at Jackson State University.

DR. DOUG ROKKE:

That’s correct. I was a professor of — assistant professor — visiting assistant professor of environmental science and engineering at Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Alabama. They had a search committee that went through the process to fill the position permanently. The search committee, the department heads, the deans, made a unanimous recommendation that I be kept here, because all the work that we’re doing, and the Vice President for Academic Affairs said, "You’re not qualified," and said, "Bye".

AMY GOODMAN:

Dr. Doug Rokke, we’re also joined by Patricia Axelrod, who won a MacArthur grant to do her research on depleted uranium in Iraq and Yugoslavia. She’s a military scientist who specializes in weapons system analysis. Can you talk about your findings and what has happened to you?

PATRICIA AXELROD:

Essentially, I have examined the effects of all America’s weaponry, including those involving what I would prefer to call uranium-238. I think when we call this material “depleted uranium,” we do a disservice to the public and the people and the soldiers at large, because that’s an oxymoron, which is a very, very convenient way for the Department of Defense to marginalize the toxic effect of this. I would really urge everyone to begin to think of this as uranium-238. It is really not depleted of its toxicity and its impact on the citizens and the civilians and the soldiers, in general.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, can you tell us what you found in your research in both Yugoslavia and Iraq, when it comes to U-238.

PATRICIA AXELROD:

Uranium-238. Well, I found — I went to postwar Iraq. It took me eighteen months to get in, I might add. And eighteen months after the war, I was and traveled to Iraq to conduct an independent bomb damage assessment of the impacts and consequences of what had been termed a clean war. And I found at that time, already, that in 1992 there were beginning to be civilian effects in Iraq. There were increased cancers. And I might add that, already by that time in 1992, veterans were coming home ill. And it was all a great mystery in those days.

We didn’t really understand all the secrets that had been kept from us in the course of that war, including myself, I might add. I learned a great deal in Iraq. And I learned that this was certainly not a clean war, that it was a filthy war, that as many as 300,000 civilians had died in the course of the bombing, and that there were already a great number of sickened civilians and veterans returning home. So I was able to correspond that on-site inspection with interviews, countless interviews, with veterans returning home. And by 1993, I had conducted — at the behest of the National Institute of Health, I had conducted a literature review of the factors contributing to what we then called Desert Storm Syndrome. And I was able to do that via a review of the literature databases available to not only the National Institute of Health, but to the larger medical profession and defense departments as a whole. So as early as 1993, I cited uranium-238 as a possible factor contributing to Persian Gulf War illness.

AMY GOODMAN:

I understand you also have taken soil samples in Yugoslavia after the bombing.

PATRICIA AXELROD:

That’s correct. I was in — actually, by August 1st of last year, I traveled to Yugoslavia. The firing had just barely ended, as I think your own correspondent knows. You courageously had some people over there, I understand.

AMY GOODMAN:

Our producer, Jeremy Scahill.

PATRICIA AXELROD:

Yeah, good for him. I conducted an independent bomb damage assessment. I went from site to site, from bomb site to bomb site. And I brought with me a Geiger counter. And I didn’t have the best — and certainly, I surely didn’t have the best technology available to me, but I did have a Geiger counter that was suitable for detecting Alpha, which is a primary emission of uranium-238. And in doing so, I gathered soil samplings. That’s correct. I brought back soil samplings and water samplings, as well. And I might add, I would love the opportunity to have them tested. I don’t have the funds available to me.

I did find — what I found were spikes over there. As I went from bomb site to bomb site, in and out of the buildings that had been bombed, and as I interviewed people in the surrounding neighborhoods, and as I crawled around on my hands and knees through the wreckage of those buildings with a Geiger counter — and Doug knows this is the correct procedure with the technology I had. I crawled around on my hands and knees and tried to find what might have been evidence where there were missiles used, and I found spikes. What I would do is I’d find, you know, I’d get a spike on the Geiger counter, and then I’d do my best to get a soil sampling or a dirt sampling or a piece of whatever it might be from a site, and I brought it home with me. That’s correct.

AMY GOODMAN:

And those spikes, let me ask you, Doug Rokke, do they indicate that uranium is present?

DR. DOUG ROKKE:

Yes.

AMY GOODMAN:

I want to thank you both for being with us. We’re going to continue this conversation on Tuesday, the day after Memorial Day. On Monday, we’ll be speaking with Phil Berrigan. He’s in jail, along with three other Plowshares activists. They hammered on A-10 Warthog planes. The A-10 Warthogs fired depleted uranium in Yugoslavia.

Dr. Doug Rokke, former US Army Depleted Uranium Project director, and Patricia Axelrod, military scientist who specializes in weapons systems analysis. She has studied the use of depleted uranium in Iraq and Yugoslavia.

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