- Sgt. Agustin Matoswas deployed in Iraq with the 442nd Military Police. He is among the first confirmed cases of inhaled depleted uranium exposure from the current Iraq conflict.
- Sgt. Herbert Reedassistant deputy warden at Rikers Island with the 442nd Military Police Company of the New York Army National Guard. He did not test positive for depleted uranium, but has uranium-236, a uranium isotope not found in nature.
- Dr. Asaf Durakoviccolonel in Army Reserves who served in first Gulf War. He is one of the first doctors to discover unusual radiation levels in Gulf War veterans. He has since become a leading critic of the use of depleted uranium in warfare. He tested the nine men at the request of the Daily News.
- Leonard Dietzretired physicist from Knolls Atomic Laboratory in upstate New York. Pioneered the technology to isolate uranium isotopes.
- Sgt. Hector Vegaamong the first confirmed cases of inhaled depleted uranium exposure from the current Iraq conflict.
A special investigation by Democracy Now! co-host Juan González of the New York Daily News has found four of nine soldiers of the 442nd Military Police Company of the New York Army National Guard returning from Iraq tested positive for depleted uranium contamination. They are the first confirmed cases of inhaled depleted uranium exposure from the current Iraq conflict.
After repeatedly being denied testing for depleted uranium from Army doctors, the soldiers contacted the Daily News, who paid to have them tested as part of their investigation.
Testing for uranium isotopes in 24 hours’ worth of urine samples can cost as much as $1,000 each.
In a Democracy Now! broadcast exclusive, three of the contaminated soldiers speak out.
Army officials at Fort Dix and Walter Reed Army Medical Center are now rushing to test all returning members of the 442nd. More than a dozen members are back in the U.S., but the rest of the company, mostly comprised of New York City cops, firefighters and corrections officers, is not due to return from Iraq until later this month.
After learning of the Daily News’s investigation, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) blasted Pentagon officials yesterday for not properly screening soldiers returning from Iraq.
Clinton, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said she will write to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld demanding answers and soon will introduce legislation to require health screenings for all returning troops.
Depleted Uranium is considered to be the most effective anti-tank weapon ever devised. It is made from nuclear waste left over from the making of nuclear weapons and fuel. The public first became aware the U.S. military was using DU weapons during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. But it had been used as far back as the 1973 Yom Kippur War in Israel.
Amid growing controversy in Europe and Japan, the European Parliament called last year for a moratorium on its use.
Read Juan González’s Exclusive Reports in the New York Daily News:
Related Democracy Now! Coverage:
- Radiation Is 1,000 Times the Normal Levels Where U.S. Troops Used Depleted Uranium Shells in Baghdad
- U.S. Reportedly Fires DU Shells in Basra: Despite Evidence of Health and Environmental Effects, Pentagon Denies DU Is Dangerous
- 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
AMY GOODMAN: Ten U.S. soldiers and at least 50 Iraqis were killed in one of the most turbulent days yet in U.S.-occupied Iraq. The number of U.S. troops killed since Washington’s invasion is now over 600, and the number of casualties in just one year is an astonishing 12,000. That figure does not include a hidden casualty, that up until last week had gone unnoticed: exposure to depleted uranium.
Today, an explosive exposé by Juan González and the New York Daily News. Congratulations, Juan, for this report.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Thank you.
And, yes, Amy, our report, which we’ve been working on for several months, found the first four of nine soldiers from the 442nd Military Police of the New York National Guard were found with depleted uranium, contaminated with depleted uranium. They are the first confirmed cases of inhaled depleted uranium exposure from the current Iraq conflict.
Army officials at Fort Dix and Walter Reed Army Medical Center are now rushing to test all returning members of the 442nd. More than a dozen members are back in the U.S., but the rest of the company, mostly comprised of New York City cops, firefighters and correction officials, is not due to return from Iraq until later this month.
After learning of the _News_’ investigation, Senator Hillary Clinton of New York blasted Pentagon officials yesterday for not properly screening soldiers returning from Iraq. Clinton, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said she will write to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld demanding answers and soon will introduce legislation to require health screening for all returning troops.
Depleted uranium is considered to be the most effective anti-tank weapon ever devised. It is made from nuclear waste left over from the making of nuclear weapons and fuel. The public first became aware the U.S. military was using DU weapons during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. But it had been used as far back as 1973 during the Yom Kippur War in Israel. Amid growing controversy in Europe and Japan, the European Parliament called last year for a moratorium on its use.
AMY GOODMAN: Today we’re joined by three soldiers who came home sick from Iraq. We’re going to begin with Sergeant Agustin Matos.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
SGT. AGUSTIN MATOS: Thank you. Good morning.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s very good to have you with us. Can you talk about what happened to you in Iraq?
SGT. AGUSTIN MATOS: Well, basically, we were living in areas that were bombed out or very dirty, as far as — we lived in one train station in Samawah where it was filled with bird droppings and grease pits and asbestos from brakes. And we were forced to clean these areas, because we had to live in them. And as far as dust is concerned and sandstorms, they were constantly. Every time you went out on missions and came back, all your equipment, all your gear was filled with sand. Sometimes you slept and woke up, you had sand behind your ears, sand in your nose, everywhere.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And one of the things that — in the process of talking to several of you, you had one of the medics, Sergeant Juan Vega, who told me when you got to Samawah sometime — was it in June of last year? — that suddenly a lot of men in the company started coming down with similar symptoms. He had as many as a dozen of the 160-member company had high fevers and kidney stones and urinating in the blood for many of the soldiers. Could you talk, some of you, about what happened there in Samawah?
SGT. AGUSTIN MATOS: Well, I, myself, while I was out there, experienced a couple — a fever one night, unexplained. I was fine during the day, and then it just hit me. It just totally knocked me out. I was in bed. I couldn’t get out. I can’t remember exactly what the fevers were. But also I had — I was urinating blood while I was out there. It wasn’t good. It was just a place not to be when you were sick like that.
AMY GOODMAN: Where were you?
SGT. AGUSTIN MATOS: We were out in Samawah.
AMY GOODMAN: Which is how close to Baghdad?
SGT. AGUSTIN MATOS: I’d say it was about 40 minutes, 40-minute ride to an hour ride.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Juan, how did you first hear about this story?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I initially got a call back in, I’d say, mid-November from the mother of a soldier who’s still there, actually, and who had come back because his grandfather had died for a few days for the burial, but who was sick, and he hadn’t been shipped out. And she was concerned about him. He eventually went back to Iraq with the company. The whole company is not due to return until — until April 23rd, is it, it’s coming back?
SGT. AGUSTIN MATOS: Anytime after the 17th, right.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But then she told me, “You know, there’s a whole bunch of others from the same company that are at Fort Dix who are also having all kinds of problems.” So she put me in touch with them. And one by one, I started meeting with some of the soldiers and finding that they had very similar types of complaints about their physical conditions, a lot of kidney problems, either urination or blood in the urine or kidney stones, which is a sign of depleted uranium, because uranium, as a heavy metal, attacks the kidney as one of the first organs. So, I talked to several of the men about the possibility of their getting some independent testing, because they were having trouble with the military dealing with their testing. I don’t know, maybe Sergeant Herbert Reed, who is also one of the men, might want to talk about the problems that you had. You were one of the few that actually did get tested. But what were the problems in getting the results?
SGT. HERBERT REED: Well, what happened was, it was several of us that went to Walter Reed to be tested. And you had to fill out a survey, but a lot of us were turned away. I was tested in early December, when we submitted the specimen back to Walter Reed. But after numerous tries to retrieve the results, we were told they hadn’t come back. Just recently, last week, we went back to the office to get the results, and we met with this colonel who told us that they still hadn’t returned. But they made a telephone call to the lab, and the lab indicated to them that all the results had been completed. And they didn’t know why ours hadn’t reached Walter Reed yet. So he told them to send him an email, and he would get him the results. And about an hour later, we were telephoned that they had our results and that myself, Specialist Phillips and Sergeant Ruiz had came back negative, but I was positive for 6.1 nanograms of uranium and 6.0 nanograms of — what’s that? [inaudible]? I think it’s like that.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, Sergeant Herbert Reed, you’re assistant deputy warden at Rikers Island?
SGT. HERBERT REED: Yes, I am.
AMY GOODMAN: And the 442nd Military Police Company of the New York Army National Guard is made up of what? Cops, correction guards —
SGT. AGUSTIN MATOS: Firemen.
SGT. HERBERT REED: Firemen.
AMY GOODMAN: — firefighters. And, Augustin, what do you do?
SGT. AGUSTIN MATOS: I’m a New York City correction officer. I work right close to here.
AMY GOODMAN: In the Tombs.
SGT. AGUSTIN MATOS: Correct.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break. And when we come back, we’re going to also hear from Hector Vega, who is with us, who has tested positive, in this Daily News special investigation, also for depleted uranium. Again, upon reading this investigation, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York is calling for all soldiers returning from Iraq to be tested.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes, yes, and she says she’s going to introduce legislation on it this week.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, she’s done that before. Is that right? Or she has at least called for some kind of questioning.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, she spoke to me yesterday, and she said that last spring she met with the Pentagon as a member of the Armed Services Committee and specifically asked them, “What are you doing about the soldiers that are going over there in terms of their health, and specifically in terms of depleted uranium?” And she was told at the time that all the soldiers were going to be screened when they were coming back. So that’s why now she’s so angry that she had been told one thing, but now she’s finding out that a lot of these soldiers are having trouble even getting tested or screened when they have ailments.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, here with Juan González, as we continue with this Daily News exposé, Juan González’s special investigation that is cover story of the New York Daily News yesterday with the headline “Shell-Shocked,” and today another cover story with the headline “Uranium Ammo Furor: Army Tests Them All.” Juan, very interesting results of this, or a response to the investigation yesterday, the Army announcing, after you first called them last week, that they will be testing everyone from the for 442nd, is that right?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes. Well, they haven’t actually announced it. They just did it, as last week, after we started inquiring, they sent a couple of colonels down from Walter Reed to Fort Dix and called all the men from the 442nd in and said, “Look, we’re going to test you all. We’re going to do everything possible to find out if you’ve got any problems.” But this is after months. Some of them have been asking for depleted uranium testing for months and have gotten no response.
AMY GOODMAN: Juan, why don’t you introduce Dr. Asaf Duraković, a guest we have had on before on Democracy Now! talking about depleted uranium, and the role he played in your investigation?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes. Well, what happened is, when we first began to get a sense that these soldiers might be — have some common problem, I contacted Dr. Asaf Duraković, who is a Gulf War veteran, a colonel in the Army Reserves, and who is an expert in depleted uranium. He was one of the first doctors, when he worked at a Veterans Administration hospital in Wilmington in the mid-'90s, who identified soldiers contaminated with depleted uranium. And we asked Dr. Duraković if he would do some independent testing of the soldiers, if they would volunteer to do so. And he did. And back some couple of months ago, we did examinations of the soldiers. He took urine samples of them, and then we had them analyzed at a laboratory at Goethe University in Frankfurt. And I'd like to welcome Dr. Duraković to Democracy Now!
DR. ASAF DURAKOVIĆ: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Duraković, it’s good to have you with us.
DR. ASAF DURAKOVIĆ: It’s good to be back.
AMY GOODMAN: Can I start off by asking: Why did you have to send the samples to Germany?
DR. ASAF DURAKOVIĆ: Well, our first laboratory for determination of uranium isotopes was in Newfoundland, Canada. And after our first results were published, the laboratory was closed, and a scientist who was operating the lab and doing studies for us was fired. So we went from Canada to England, and we continued the British Geological Survey. And then, from England, we went to Frankfurt because of my personal connections with an outstanding scientist, Dr. Axel Gerdes, who is head of the Mass Spec Laboratory. It’s a good university in Frankfurt. It is one of the best laboratories in the world for determination of actinides, especially uranium isotopes.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Dr. Duraković, could you talk a little bit about what the — because one of the things that there’s a concern now is that the Army is saying they’re going to test all the soldiers, but there is a question as to the sophistication and the kind of testing that they do as to whether they’re actually going to get results or not, or whether they’re going to be able to essentially clean the slate without really identifying whether these men are contaminated with DU. Could you talk a little bit about the kind of testing that’s necessary?
DR. ASAF DURAKOVIĆ: Well, all the results that are done by the government so far are inferior, because methodology used was inferior methodology, which could not distinguish between different isotopes of uranium. Most of the studies done by the government teams included total uranium, and most of those studies did not include ratio between uranium-238 and -235, which is the single most important factor in determining depleted uranium contamination. In addition, government studies could not or did not want to perform the analysis of uranium-236, which, although in very small quantities, indicates that uranium in the patients we are studying or they are studying is not natural. Uranium-236 does not exist in nature. And we have been able to determine uranium-236 in the urine of current group of American soldiers.
So, question is: What is government doing about testing of the people from Iraqi conflict? I would say that studies have not been scientifically sound in most of the cases and most of the reports. And the fact that they’re going to start studies now on the large groups of the Iraqi veterans are bit too late, because question that I asked everybody is: Why does not the government of the United States, which has funding and equipment and universities and laboratories — why are they not capable of doing proper studies? Why is independent institution, like our Uranium Medical Research Center, capable of doing it, and government is not capable? It is either desire not to present the true story to the public or plain government incompetence, of which I am very familiar because I worked in the government scientific and healthcare facilities. I don’t know the answer to it, but I do know the fact that it’s a little bit too late to start these studies, after our work has been presented already in the public.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Duraković, just to clarify, you are a veteran of the Persian Gulf War, and you worked for the U.S. government.
DR. ASAF DURAKOVIĆ: Of course, I did. I advanced from the ranks of captain to the colonel in the United States Army. I hold the rank of the U.S. Army colonel, for which I am quite proud. And my work is dedicated to help the soldiers and the veterans of the United States and other countries, as well as to help civilians who are contaminated with uranium isotopes.
AMY GOODMAN: So, why are you not still working for the U.S. government investigating the effects of depleted uranium?
DR. ASAF DURAKOVIĆ: I was fired in the year 1997, because after the Persian Gulf War 1, I was approached by the officials of the different departments of the U.S. government, who asked me to stop my work on the depleted uranium, which I obviously could not agree with me, because I was mandated by the government of the U.S. to take care of my patients, and I was the head of nuclear medicine department at the VA Hospital in Wilmington, Delaware. So when I discovered high percent of contamination with DU of the Gulf War 1 veterans, every effort was made to stop my work, which I obviously couldn’t. I’m a medical doctor, and my responsibility is for the well-being of my patients. So, in 1997, I was fired. I lost my job after 19 years’ service for the government of the United States.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Dr. Duraković, in terms of this whole issue, I spoke with the Pentagon, with Dr. Michael Kilpatrick, who is in charge of a lot of the health services for the Pentagon, who insisted that all of the Army’s tests have shown, number one, that only soldiers who have shrapnel wounds or who were inside tanks that were hit with depleted uranium shells are in danger of exposure to DU, and that even those soldiers, in about 70 of them that the Army has been following up since the Persian Gulf War, or since shortly after the Persian Gulf War, that none of them have gotten sick, so that, one, you have to be very close to a DU shell exploding to be able to be exposed, and, two, even if you are exposed, there’s no proof that you’re going to get sick from it. What’s your response to that?
DR. ASAF DURAKOVIĆ: My response is very simple. Out of nine patients whom I examined in the current report from the New York Daily News, some of them were very sick indeed. And their sicknesses are containing the same symptoms as the symptoms of contaminated veterans from the Persian Gulf War 1, and also similar to the symptoms of the contaminated veterans from the Balkan conflict.
So, the fact that the Pentagon is insisting that soldiers are not sick does not surprise me, because I’d like to see how those patients were selected. Was it random selection, or was it selection by the symptoms? To say that shrapnel wounds are the main source that would contribute to the illnesses of exposed soldiers is plain nonsense, because we know that shrapnel does not wound too many soldiers. And we also know that shrapnel does indeed cause internal contamination. But it is really focusing our attention to the outside issues, because main issue is contamination by the respiratory pathway, by breathing. When uranium shell hits the tank or hits the target, radioactive dust is formed. And billions upon billions of the submicroscopic micrometer particles are released into the air, baked on the particles of dust and inhaled by people in the area, whether they are military or civilians. So, shrapnel really is not an important issue. Important issue is the mass contamination by the inhalation of the radioactive dust. That is my answer.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And we’re also joined, Dr. Duraković, by Leonard Dietz, who’s on the phone, who was a longtime nuclear scientist, more than 30 years at the Knolls Atomic Laboratory, and who actually discovered something that contradicts much of what the Pentagon is even saying right now. I’d like to welcome Professor Dietz.
LEONARD DIETZ: Yes. Hello.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Professor, I’d like to ask you, because the Pentagon insists that DU, this radioactive dust that’s emitted, because it’s twice as heavy as lead, it’s going to fall to the ground, and it doesn’t disperse or move around, so that there’s no danger except in the immediate spot of an exploded DU shell. Could you talk to our listeners about your research and what you found back over 20 years ago?
LEONARD DIETZ: I worked at — I was a physicist, and I worked at the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory in Schenectady, New York, for 28 years. In 1979, we accidentally discovered the emissions of depleted uranium particles from the National Lead Industries site in Colonie, which is on the western boundary of the city of Albany, New York, and this is 10 miles from the Knolls site. The particles were in 16 different air filters that we analyzed. Three of the air filters were exposed for one month each at West Milton, New York, where a naval training site is, and so it’s 42 kilometers.
The transport of these tiny particles, which indeed do have the density of lead, are unlimited. For example, at the 10-mile distance, we isolated four individual uranium particles that proved to be pure depleted uranium in our mass spectrometers, mass spectrometer analyses, and they were of the size that is slightly below — they were four to six micrometers in size, irregularly shaped particles except for one, which was a perfect sphere of 3.8 micrometers diameter, and these are slightly below the size of what I would call the respirable-sized particles. In other words, you can inhale them into your lungs. They will be there for many years. The particles that — these large particles at the 10-mile distance had unlimited range. It depends on the atmospheric conditions of how the wind is blowing and what the specific conditions are. For example, a one-micrometer-diameter uranium dioxide particle with a density of lead falls at the rate in still air of four feet per hour. A one-half-micrometer-diameter particle falls at the rate of one foot per hour. Both of these size particles are literally floating in air.
So, when the military says that they fall out within a range of 50 meters or so from a tank that’s been hit by a depleted uranium penetrator, they’re just — it’s just not true at all. They have unlimited range. They could go hundreds and hundreds of miles.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And your sense from seeing the reports of the sandstorms that were constantly bedeviling the troops in Iraq, in terms of the capacity of some of that DU to travel?
LEONARD DIETZ: The particles attach themselves to dust particles or silicon dioxide, which is dirt particles, and they can become resuspended in air, so that when you have these sandstorms in the Persian Gulf region, that just spreads it all around the country. For example, Firyal Bou-Rabee, who was a Kuwaiti scientist, in 1992 and 1993, took samples of the desert soil and analyzed them in a laboratory in Kuwait using mass spectrometry. And it is clear from his mass spectrometer results that the depleted uranium, which we estimate was about — produced about 10 metric tons of these particles in Kuwait, were spread all over Kuwait within two to three years.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask Dr. Duraković a question before he has to leave. Juan writes in his exposé in the New York Daily News yesterday and today that in August a contingent of Dutch soldiers arrived in Samawah to replace the Americans. Press reports in the Netherlands revealed that Dutch authorities questioned the U.S. beforehand about the possible use of DU ammunition in Samawah. According to Sergeant Juan Vega, senior medic for the 442nd, the Dutch swept the area around the train depot with Geiger counters, and their medics confided to him they found high radiation levels. The Dutch unit refused to stay in the depot, Vega said, and pitched camp in the desert instead. And in February, after Japanese troops moved into the same town, a Japanese journalist equipped with a Geiger counter reported finding radiation readings 300 times higher than background levels. What does that mean for these men?
DR. ASAF DURAKOVIĆ: Well, it is very simple to answer this question. The areas which are as highly contaminated with uranium isotopes as Samawah should really be off the limits for either active-duty or civilian personnel, until or unless the area is cleaned to acceptable levels of radiation.
I, incidentally, am going next week to Japan, because I’m giving a presentation of my current findings to Japanese parliament. And I’m also doing some studies of plutonium in American soldiers’ urine. I’m going to be asked in Tokyo: What is significance of Samawah region deployments to Japanese soldiers? And I simply have to tell the truth, that if the area is unfit for the Dutch soldiers, it is equally unfit for the soldiers of the United States or Japan to do active-duty work in the highly contaminated area.
Our soldiers from Samawah, nine military police personnel, show close to 50% of DU contamination in their urine, which means it is not fictitious. It is actual physical evidence of actinide contamination of the soldiers who were not even involved in the active battles in the frontline. That is very simple to conclude, that areas that are highly contaminated have to be surveyed, have to be followed up and have to be declared fit or unfit for the work of the civilian or military authorities.
AMY GOODMAN: What does this mean for these men? What is their prognosis?
DR. ASAF DURAKOVIĆ: I’m sorry. Perhaps we have bad connection. Could you please repeat it?
AMY GOODMAN: What does the readings, what does the finding of depleted uranium, even of U-236, mean for the men? What is their prognosis?
DR. ASAF DURAKOVIĆ: Well, prognosis is still being debated in the scientific literature. I can tell you what the government of the United States’ studies indicate. The Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, studies were done that confirm carcinogenesis of depleted uranium, which means depleted uranium isotopes in the cell culture show transformation of the immature cells of the human tissues into cancer cells, which means carcinogenesis or capacity to cause cancer is definitely proven in the scientific experiments. Genetic changes are definitely proven by the studies that were done on my patients from the Gulf War 1 at the University of Bremen in Germany, where scientists confirmed significant changes in the chromosomal structure in the patients who were referred to them for their chromosomal analysis. Immune system can be affected. Reproductive system can be affected. Central nervous system can be affected, and many tissues, kidneys, obviously, because of the chemical toxicity of uranium. So we are talking about multi-organ risk to the people who are contaminated with uranium isotopes.
And how realistic is that risk? We don’t know, because epidemiological studies have been either insufficient or not even started, even at the institutions like World Health Organization. We don’t know practical implications of the levels of contamination we are dealing with now. But we do know that science has no contradiction about harmful effects of uranium isotopes in the human body.
Prognosis, that you were asking about, cannot be really determined without many studies to be conducted in the future.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Asaf Duraković, we want to thank you very much for being with us. We know that you have to leave, and we thank you for this report. But we’re going to stay with our guests, the men from the 442nd, again, the 442nd of the New York Army National Guard. Juan González’s special investigation in the New York Daily News yesterday and today, front-page stories, where the Daily News tested nine men returned from Iraq, four of the nine testing positive for depleted uranium, and the other five not off the hook, the other five, some of them having raised levels of uranium-236. And we’re going to talk with them, also Dr. Dietz, when we return. This is Democracy Now! Our website is democracynow.org, as we broadcast on more than 200 radio and television stations around the country. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: Paul Kamm and Eleanore MacDonald singing “I’ve Got to Know” by Woody Guthrie. This is Democracy Now!, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, with Juan’s explosive exposé in the New York Daily News yesterday and today called “Shell-Shocked.” Yes, the story of men. The headline, “They served us in Iraq. Have they been poisoned by the uranium in our own ammunition?” And our guests today in the studio are three men from the 442nd. They are Sergeant Agustin Matos, Sergeant Hector Vega, as well as Sergeant Herbert Reed. Herbert Reed, assistant deputy warden at Rikers Island in New York. Agustin Matos is a corrections officer at the Tombs here in New York. And Hector Vega, who we have not spoken with. Sergeant Vega, what do you do in New York?
SGT. HECTOR VEGA: I’m a retired postal worker. Right now, temporarily, I’m working in Manhattan in a high-rise building.
AMY GOODMAN: And what happened to you in Iraq? How do you feel now? What about the tests that the New York Daily News did on you?
SGT. HECTOR VEGA: Well, I got wind of it from Juan Vega a few months back, and he told me it was possible I might be tested positive, so to get tested. I didn’t know nothing about this until he spoke to me. But I was suffering through headaches and urinating problems. And lately I’ve been having a lot of like rashes and itching. You know, I’m itching a lot. So, then, when I was told that I tested positive, it was very, very concerning.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: What did you know about depleted uranium when you went to Iraq, when you came out? Because I know in conversations we had, when you were in Iraq, you would like to shoot photographs. So, quite a few times you went up to — shot up Iraqi tanks and were shooting photographs. So, then, what did the Army tell you?
SGT. HECTOR VEGA: I knew nothing about this. I found out about this back here in Fort Dix. And Juan Vega has been keeping me in touch with all what’s going on. I didn’t know nothing. We went up, you know, and we saw these tanks, and we just took pictures of them.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Agi Matos, you were telling me that when you — at Fort Dix, when they called you in last week, they were telling you all that you should have — you were supposed to have gotten training video about depleted uranium?
SGT. AGUSTIN MATOS: Right, they were talking about this video that they kept on referring to, if we saw the video. We go through a process of being certified before we go away on deployment. You go to ranges. You go out and perform your tasks as a soldier, and you have to pass them. At no time did we ever see a tape regarding depleted uranium informing us what to do if we saw a tank or anything.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you know about the Dutch and the Japanese that followed? Did you know about these Geiger counter tests and the fact that the Dutch were so concerned, that they wouldn’t even sleep where you slept? They went out and pitched their tents in the desert?
SGT. AGUSTIN MATOS: The Dutch came into Samawah right before we left to go to al-Hillah. And when they came in that first week, almost 50% of their soldiers went down, with unexplainable — as far as diarrhea, they were going to the bathroom a lot. They were walking around like zombies with actual IV bags, and they had to be helped to the bathroom.
AMY GOODMAN: Were you with them then?
SGT. AGUSTIN MATOS: Well, they were in the same base camp until their base camp was built outside, because they refused to be there, but they had to stay somewhere until the construction was done. So, they had a nice air-conditioned room and everything, and they just went down, I mean, to the point where they were incapacitated. They couldn’t do any kind of missions.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what did you think?
SGT. AGUSTIN MATOS: At first, I was saying, “Wow! Maybe it’s the heat that’s getting to them, or the change in food,” because when we all got there, we all had the same symptoms: right away our stomachs, and nobody wanted to eat, and the heat was intense, and we just started going to the bathroom a lot. And everybody started coming down with stones. And I just figured it was due to the heat. I had no idea. I only found out about them testing the soil when I got back to Fort Dix.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And how long have you all been in the National Guard?
SGT. AGUSTIN MATOS: I have 20 years as of February 22nd. I joined the military when I was 17.
AMY GOODMAN: And when are you going to retire?
SGT. AGUSTIN MATOS: Actually, I’m going through my board process now. Now because of my injuries I sustained in Iraq, they consider me a non — I can’t be in the military anymore. So, I don’t fit medical standards. Well, it’s well and good anyway, because I have 20 years as of February 22nd. And I’m being processed out now.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And Herb Reed?
SGT. HERBERT REED: I have eight years of active Army, and I was in the Coast Guard for about 10 years. And I just recently got transferred over to the Army National Guard. So I’ve been about two years in the Army National Guard.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And Hector?
SGT. HECTOR VEGA: I have 27 years in. I just completed 27 years March 28th.
AMY GOODMAN: And how do you feel about the military’s treatment of you? I understand some people who’ve been participating in this investigation have really been called on the carpet. Like, why did they turn to an outside tester rather than inside, inside the military? Why did you participate in this? Why didn’t you stay with the Pentagon and let them take care of you?
SGT. HERBERT REED: Because we were being frustrated. Every time you turned around and you asked to be treated for something, they just gave you more medication instead of seeing doctors. When you proposed to them that you — this was hurting, or that was hurting, they said, “OK, we’re going to take care of one thing at a time. One thing at a time.” And they never got to the next thing. So, when we reached out to Juan González, we were happy that the Daily News was going to test us.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you facing pressure right now?
SGT. HERBERT REED: Well, I’m on leave right now. So I don’t know. I guess I’ll find out when I get back.
SGT. AGUSTIN MATOS: We probably will face pressure when we get back. But my point is this: I’ve been asking to get tested since October. OK? They looked at me like I had two heads when I told them I wanted to get tested for depleted uranium. They actually told us at one point that there was no such test for depleted uranium. And when Sergeant Reed went to Walter Reed on his own and actually went and inquired about it, I guess they gave him a test because they were tired of seeing him. OK? Whether he got his results on time or whether the results are accurate, who knows?
But my thing is this: I was very upset, because I came down with an episode of urinating blood while I was at Fort Dix, and then they found a 2.5-centimeter lesion in my liver, unexplainably. And all of a sudden they rushed in to try and check to see if it was cancerous. Walter Reed Hospital told me it was benign, it wasn’t cancerous. But the fishy thing about it is my wife came down just last month with abdominal pains, severe abdominal pains, that I had to take her to the hospital. She got tested. They thought it was stones. They put her on Vicodin and painkillers and as far as antibiotic. And they’re still trying to find out what was it that caused it. So now I’m waiting to go to the doctor for her to find out what happened.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In terms of the rest of the company, the rest of the company is still — I think they just left Iraq this week, and they’re on their way being processed to come back to the United States
AMY GOODMAN: About how many of them are there?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: There’s what? A hundred sixty or so in the company?
SGT. AGUSTIN MATOS: Right, there’s about 150, because some of them are back here now.
AMY GOODMAN: Were they all in Samawah?
SGT. AGUSTIN MATOS: They were all same places we were. They’re all in Kuwait right now. And they should be coming anytime after the 17th.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And have you had any contact with those folks downrange in the company about what’s going on with you guys and with the results?
SGT. AGUSTIN MATOS: I tried not to explain what was going on back here, not to get them excited or concerned, because they need to be focusing on being safe and doing what they have to do. They noticed it in my voice, a couple of my friends, and they kept on asking me what was wrong. I had three phone calls with different friends of mine on three different occasions, and all of them wanted to know what was happening. I finally broke down and told one guy. He’s another correction officer, his name, Frank Morales. I told him about it, because I know he was able to keep a secret. And I told him, “Don’t tell anybody about it. When you guys get back, then we’ll discuss it.”
And I received another call from another friend of mine. His name is Bobby Matthew. And he told me that it was told in a meeting out there that members that are from the unit back here in Fort Dix tested positive, and that now they’re going to be testing the whole unit when they get back. So now they were calling me and Frank: “What is this thing about this DU? You know, what did we get exposed to out here? What’s going to happen to us?” It’s like, “I’m up in the air, as you are right now.”
But we’re trying to — we’re trying to get this done, so when the whole unit comes back, they get tested. They have a four-day process window to actually process out of Fort Dix. In those four days — you know, they’ve been out there for over a year — they’re not going to want to stay around and get these tests. They want to go back home and see their family. So, now at least, supposedly, when they get back, all they have to do is ask for the test, and they’ll test them and then notify them the results later.
SGT. HERBERT REED: But my concerns are, you know, I have —
AMY GOODMAN: Sergeant Herbert Reed.
SGT. HERBERT REED: I have two young children. And although I tested low for depleted uranium, which is, what, 138.9, I still tested positive. Now, I also tested positive for U-236. My thing is, you know, what is this doing to me? You know, am I going to be able to pass this on to my wife or my children? So I’m going to my local physician, and I’m going to have the biopsy done that was recommended by Dr. Duraković.
AMY GOODMAN: Juan, you write, the interviews you’ve done, the soldiers talking about two Iraqi tanks, one all shot up, had been hauled onto flatbed railroad cars less than 100 yards from where the company slept. This raises also questions about Iraqi civilians. You’re talking about a whole country that’s been shot up, and depleted uranium has been used extensively. What do you think this means for them? And does it matter to you?
SGT. HERBERT REED: Yes, it matters. I mean, we’re all human beings. I don’t know if they’re suffering from any of the symptoms that we’re having. We worked very closely with them while we were there. I can only attest to, you know my symptoms right now.
SGT. AGUSTIN MATOS: If we’re feeling like this now, and they’re living in that country, I can imagine that their symptoms are probably much worse than what we are. Now, you just have to think about it. 1991, I didn’t deploy in 1991 out there. They went through it. They went through the bombings. Now, as far as this war, they’re going through it again, plus all those years, those 12 years, they were living in that stuff. I was only out there maybe seven months, and I came back, and I’m already having shortness of breath and stuff. So, whatever I’m feeling, I’m pretty sure theirs is magnified.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you ever go through a day where you feel like you did before, before you went to Iraq?
SGT. AGUSTIN MATOS: No.
SGT. HERBERT REED: No.
SGT. AGUSTIN MATOS: Ever since I came back, I’ve been so different, as far as my demeanor. I was always an energetic person. I stayed awake to the very last minute, maybe four or five hours of sleep, and go right to work. I live out on Long Island. My commute is on — I’m on a 4:06 train coming into Manhattan, and…
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you all very much for being with us. We’ll continue to follow the story. And, Juan, thanks so much for this explosive exposé in the New York Daily News. Sergeant Agustin Matos, Sergeant Hector Vega and Sergeant Herbert Reed.
That does it for the program. I look forward to seeing folks at Le Moyne College in Syracuse tonight. And on August 13th, the launch of The Exception to the Rulers book and media tour will start in New York at Cooper Union at 7:00. And you can call us at 212-431-9090. A very special thanks to Angie Karran, who started this investigation, Mike Burke Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Ana Nogueira, Elizabeth Press, John Hamilton, Jeremy Scahill. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Thanks for joining us.