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2003-01-31

Part 2 of Our Discussion On Depleted Uranium, with the Scientific Secretary with the European Committee On Radiation Risk, and a U.N. Human Rights Lawyer

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Today we continue with Part 2 of our special coverage on depleted uranium. Yesterday, we spoke in a rare interview, with Dr. Asaf Durakovic, the VA doctor who first discovered DU contamination in veterans after the Persian Gulf War.

Today, we will look at recent findings on the risks of radiation contamination and discuss more about the legality of Depleted Uranium weapons.

Depleted uranium is the most effective anti-tank weapon ever devised. It is made from nuclear waste left over from making nuclear weapons and fuel. As an unwanted waste product of the atomic energy industry, it is extremely cheap. It is also the densest material available on the market, and can smash through all known armor. US gunners say DU rounds save lives on the front line.

But when DU rounds punch through tanks, they create a firestorm of uranium dioxide dust. Those invisible particles are still "hot." As the Christian Science Monitor’s Scott Peterson writes, the particles make Geiger counters sing. They stick to the tanks, contaminate the soil and blow in the desert wind — as they will for the 4.5 billion years it takes for the DU to lose its radioactivity.

Last Friday, a group of more than 100 legal experts and NGO’s led by the Center for Constitutional Rights here in New York, warned President Bush that he and other senior government officials could be prosecuted for war crimes if military tactics in the upcoming attack on Iraq violated international humanitarian law.

"Our primary concern ... is the large number of civilian casualties that may result should U.S. and coalition forces fail to comply with international humanitarian law in using force against Iraq," the group said in a letter to Bush and War Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

According to a Reuters news report, the letter, which had more than 100 signatories, said the rules had been broken in other recent wars.

It said air strikes on populated cities, carpet bombing and the use of fuel-air explosives were examples of inappropriate military action taken during the 1991 Gulf War, the 1999 Kosovo campaign and the 2001 Afghan conflict that led to civilian casualties and might be used again in Iraq.

Ironically, Bush on Wednesday advised Iraqi officers and soldiers to disobey any orders to use weapons of mass destruction in the event of a conflict. "If you choose to do so, when Iraq is liberated, you will be treated, tried and persecuted as a war criminal," he said.

We will be joined today, by Karen Parker, an attorney in Humanitarian law, to talk about the legal implications of using depleted uranium weapons. We will also be joined by Pekka Haavisto, of the United Nations Environmental Program. The UNEP just completed an environmental study on the after-effects of war in Afghanistan.

But first, we go to Dr Chris Busby, Scientific secretary with the European Committee on Radiation Risk, who has been researching the health risks of low-level radiation exposure to human populations. The ECRR has just published a report which you presented in Brussels a couple of days ago. Your report has determined that previous risk-models for depleted uranium exposure are incorrect. Can you explain?

Guests:

  • Dr. Chris Busby, Scientific Secretary with the European Committee on Radiation Risk, a group of scientists and risk specialists within Europe who assess the risk of low-level radiation exposure. The ECRR has just published a report which determines that previous risk-models for depleted uranium exposure are incorrect. The report determines that depleted uranium is 100 to 1000 times more carcinogenic than the present risk model suggests.
  • Karen Parker, attorney specializing in humanitarian law. She has been working with the UN Commission on Human Rights since 1996 to expose the illegality of DU munitions under international law.
  • Pekka Haavisto, Chairman of the UN Environmental Program’s Afghanistan Task Force. They published a report on Wednesday which assessed the environmental damage to Afghanistan as a result of war. Says Afghan govt. didn’t ask them to do any testing for uranium.

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