by John Green, MorningStar, Wednesday 02 February 2011
Only a few years ago the media was full of discussion about the so-called "Gulf war syndrome," the mysterious illness affecting British and US troops who took part in the Iraq invasion of 1991.
Then it dropped off the radar.
But in Iraq the civilian population was subject to even more alarming incidences of unexplained illnesses.
A recently published study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health confirms what film maker Frieder Wagner has been saying for years.
It sheds new light on the massive surge in post-war birth defects in Fallujah and indicates that the "epidemic" of reproductive abnormalities is likely to have been caused by the residue of munitions used by US armed forces in the city during 2004.
Predictably, Washington's response was to switch instantly to "plausible deniability" mode.
Depleted uranium is a radioactive substance which is difficult to dispose of.
It is used to increase the penetrative ability of artillery shells including tank, airplane and helicopter cannon.
It was deployed by US and British forces in Yugoslavia in 1992, the first Gulf war of 1990-91 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The increasing number of patients presenting with serious kidney and liver disfunctions and horrendously deformed newborn babies was first noticed by Professor Horst-Siegwart Gunther in 1991 while working in Baghdad university hospital.
The professor suspected that the symptoms could be the result of exposure to radioactivity from the depleted uranium munitions and had a small fragment of one such shell checked in Berlin.
"His suspicion was correct, it was radioactive," Wagner says. "It became clear that exposure to such radioactive and chemically toxic munitions could cause a collapse of the body's immune system and the breakdown of kidney, liver and lung functions. In addition aggressive tumours could develop and genetic damage caused."
The fine and deadly dust released by these munitions after use is blown by wind everywhere and is particularly deadly when inhaled.
Western forces used around 320 tons of depleted uranium alone in the 1991 Gulf war.
Professor Gunther's findings were ignored, but Wagner deemed them so important he decided to make a television documentary The Doctor And The Radioactive Children From Basra based on his conclusions.
But it had no sensational impact because according to Wagner the subject of uranium munitions from the spring of 2001 had become taboo.
The documentary was shown once on German television in 2004 before it disappeared into the archives.
Before January 2001, the Western media took an intense interest in "Gulf war syndrome" and later – after the war in Yugoslavia – what became known as "Balkan syndrome," particularly as the Portuguese Kfor troops stationed in Kosovo were experiencing deaths from aggressive cancers and leukaemia, just like veterans from the first Gulf war.
Then the Pentagon and Nato general secretary George Robertson declared the subject off limits.
"The depleted uranium munitions and their horrendous effects were too uncomfortable a truth," Wagner claims.
In 2008 and again in 2010 Wagner and a number of other scientists based in Germany were invited by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Berlin to discuss the consequences of using uranium munitions.
Two hours of argument, at times heated, ensued.
The chair from the Foreign Ministry concluded that both parties presented good and impressive arguments "but they are in the first instance humanitarian arguments and it is impossible to convince the Americans with humanitarian arguments!"
Unbelievable, Wagner says.
He hasn't been able to find a distributor for the film following its first screening.
"That could be because every distributor thinks the subject matter uninteresting because the big media are not talking about it," he reckons.
"It could also be because these people are worried about possible repercussions. The film makes it clear that the use of such weapons by the US is a war crime."
Since the film was screened in April 2004 Wagner has not had a single commission from publicly funded channels in Germany, although the documentary won a European television award and Wagner has twice won Germany's most prestigious TV award.
"When one realises that the political powers, with the help of the big media concerns, are staying mute about the effects of these weapons then it's not particularly surprising. A colleague from the magazine Der Spiegel who reported on this subject long before me took early retirement some time ago because the top editors there censored such articles, time and time again. So you can see there is a logic to it all," he adds.
Deadly Dust, an English version of the film, has ben available since 2007 but has only been sold in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, Wagner reveals.
"There's the danger that it will only come into the public domain once the wives of the soldiers who were stationed in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Iraq start having deformed babies and begin pushing them around in their prams," he says.
But Wagner is not taking all this lying down.
"I was determined not to let them silence me and that's why my wife and I raised the finance to make it into a film that can be screened in cinemas. I've been showing it in independent cinemas and I discuss the issues raised with the audiences. We've managed 226 showings up to now and around 18,000 people have seen it."
"I've also written a book Uranium Bombs And The Secret Weapon Of Mass Destruction to get the subject aired. A truth like this can't be suppressed for ever."
He agrees with John Pilger who in his recent film The War You Don't See demonstrates how the media have been compliant as far as war and its consequences are concerned.
"All wars in recent times began with lies. In Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan we were led into war by lies," he asserts.
"And it is a complete mystery to me why time and again we elect the very same politicians and representatives who are responsible for these lies. Bush and Blair should be hauled before an international war crimes tribunal."
"After 1945 top nazis were justifiably convicted in Nuremberg, so why not these modern war criminals?"
The deployment of uranium munitions and uranium bombs constitutes a war crime, he emphasises, because the depleted uranium is dispersed once it becomes vapourised during detonation and this is what makes it so toxic.
"The shell fragments continue to be toxic for decades afterwards affecting the environment and the civilian populations. Such use clearly contravenes the Geneva Convention on the conduct of war."
Ironically, Professor Gunther was imprisoned in Germany not because he demanded the outlawing of such weapons but because he imported the shell fragment into Germany in order to test its toxicity.
A Berlin court subsequently fined him €3,000 for the crime of "releasing ionising radiation." Because the Western allies in Iraq had released several hundred tons of this material and went unpunished, he refused to pay.
As a result he spent five weeks in prison.
"Isn't that absurd?" Wagner asks rhetorically. "Many areas of Iraq today are uninhabitable. On one battlefield at Abu Kassib near Basra we measured levels of radioactivity in the shell holes of the Iraqi tanks that had been destroyed in the war.
These were 30,000 times higher than expected normal background levels. That's why it is to be feared that during the next 15-20 years, in Iraq alone, between five and seven million people could die from aggressive cancers and leukaemia. That would be genocide."
"You can't build a democracy with oppression, war and bombs, maimed, deformed and dead children".
In the final declaration the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal states:
"To initiate a war of aggression ... is the supreme international crime, only different from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of all the others. To initiate a war of aggression is a crime that no political or economic situation can justify."
Wagner is convinced that the war of aggression against Iraq was such a war crime. That's why his film deserves the widest possible audience.
The English version of the Deadly Dust DVD (€19.90) is available directly from Mr Wagner at email@example.com