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Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

December 12, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 166




Claire Schaeffer-Duffy What about those weapons of mass destruction?

By Claire Schaeffer-Duffy, NCR contributor

I'm beginning to think weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), like beauty, are in the eye of the beholder. Our government sees what isn't there and won't see what is. Speaking before Congress last October, David Kay who leads the weapons hunt in Iraq on behalf of the CIA, said, "We have not uncovered evidence that Iraq undertook significant post-1998 steps to actually build nuclear weapons."

Iraqi physicist Imad Khadduri says the United States won't find anything because his country's atom bomb program was thoroughly and utterly halted when U.N. weapons inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency dismantled it way back in 1991, after Iraq lost the first Gulf War. With weapons inspectors breathing down their necks, Iraqi specialists scattered, making the necessary coordination for a nuclear weapons program virtually impossible.

"Where is the scientific and engineering staff required for such an enormous effort?" Khadduri asks. "Where are the buildings and infrastructure?"

Khadduri, an American and British-educated physicist and former member of Iraq's Atomic Energy Commission was a key player in Iraq's nuclear weapons program during the '70s and '80s. He has just written a book titled, Iraq's Nuclear Mirage and is one of several Iraqi physicists, coming forward to debunk Washington's claim that Baghdad had "robust plans," as Vice President Cheney put it, to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program. Now free to reveal their country's secrets, they say that even when their atomic bomb program was up and running, Iraqi scientists indulged in "blatant exaggeration" when telling Saddam Hussein how much bomb material had been produced. Iraq's hope for an atomic bomb was never realistic. In the words of Abdel Mehdi Talib, Baghdad University's dean of sciences, "It was all like building sand castles."

Does this mean we went to war over ... sand castles?

Evidently, Congress hasn't read Iraq's Nuclear Mirage and they must have dozed off when Kay was speaking because last month they doled out a reported $600 million to the WMD hunters. So Kay and his staff of a thousand intelligence analysts, interrogators and translators, known as the Iraq Survey Group, are out there still looking.

Meanwhile Dr. Asaf Durakovic, working with a much smaller staff and a much, much smaller budget, has conducted his own Iraq Survey. Durakovic, who worked for 19 years as a military doctor with the Department of Defense, is now director of the Uranium Medical Research Center. Last month, his team spent three weeks in Iraq collecting about 100 samples of soil, civilian urine and tissue from corpses of Iraqi soldiers. Preliminary tests of these samples show they contained "hundreds to thousands of times" the normal levels of radiation.

"The high level of contamination is because much more depleted uranium (DU) was used this year than in (the Gulf War of) 1991," Durakovic told The Japan Times.

Depleted uranium is a by-product of the enriching of uranium-235 for weapons and nuclear reactors. Cheap, plentiful, and popular with the military because of its ability to penetrate armored tanks, the heavy metal is also highly toxic. The DU tipped projectiles, tucked into our Gatling guns and sprayed from A-10 aircraft, helicopters, Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles merit a new classification: WOD -- Weapons of Ongoing Destruction. Upon impact, they ignite and burn, releasing radioactive particles easily absorbed by plants, animals, and humans. Let the particles get into the soil and groundwater becomes contaminated. Inhale them and they remain in your lymph nodes and bones for years, deforming your children, contaminating your spouse, and killing you slowly.

The Pentagon admits to dumping more than 300 tons of DU on Iraq during the first Gulf War. (DU critics say 800 tons were used.) Since then, the number of Iraqi cancer patients and children born with defects has spiked and the United States has thousands of veterans suffering and even dying, from an ailment called Gulf War Syndrome. Its symptoms include leukemia, liver disorders, and lung cancer.

Durakovic estimates that 1700 tons of DU were used in the latest war on Iraq. A lower estimate of 500 tons, much of it fired in urban areas, was given by a US Special Operations Command Colonel, speaking on condition of anonymity. Whatever the final tally, we know the WMDs are in Iraq because we used them.

Schaeffer-Duffy, a longtime contributor to NCR, is a part-time writer and full-time member of the SS. Francis and Therese Catholic Worker in Worcester, Mass.

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