Faisal had taped up all the windows and sealed the air conditioners to keep the gasses out. On January 27, 2012 the police shot tear gas inside the garage. When Faisal's wife opened the garage door, the gasses filled the house. Everyone felt sick, especially Faisal's father--a healthy 58-year-old. He started vomiting, and went to bed early in the hopes that he would feel better the next day. When Faisal opened his father's bedroom door the next morning, he found him lying on the floor. Five days later, he was dead. The doctor said he died from tear gas but he was not allowed to put that on his death certificate.
Faisal showed me about ten of the canisters that had been thrown into his house. Three of them came from Combined Systems in Jamestown, Pennsylvania and three from factories in Brazil. The rest had no markings at all. Faisal thought that the unmarked ones were the most toxic.
A Bahraini doctor told Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) about the different types of gas she found in the villages. "[There was] a white gas and a yellow one, but I also saw a third gas of a blue color from a distance. The gas felt like a poison, like a thousand knives and needles all over your body; what kind of tear gas is supposed to affect people this way? I have seen tear gas patients who are in a state of convulsion that never ends, like a prolonged seizure."
Other Bahraini doctors have noted that the symptoms of the tear gas are unusual. When they asked the Ministry of Health to run tests on the gas canisters, their requests were denied.
Since the long-term effects of prolonged and repeated exposure to tear gas has never been studied, physicians and environmentalists in Bahrain have begun to worry about the impact that repeated exposure to these chemicals may have on the general population.
On January 26, 2012, Amnesty International called on Bahrain to investigate 13 deaths that followed the misuse of tear gas by security forces. At least three of those deaths occurred after Timoney was hired.
Environmentalist Moh'd Jawad Fursan told me that there are no accurate records of how many people have died from the tear gas, since doctors are not allowed to report this as the cause of death. He thinks more than 13 people have died and thousands have been affected, particularly the young and the elderly. Fursan says the rates of miscarriages and stillborn babies have increased, and he expects the rates of cancer will soar, as well as babies born with deformities.
The day before I was deported from Bahrain, I visited the home of a poor extended family where 44 people lived in an open-air complex. They had one tiny, windowless room that was covered; they called this the "safe room" for the little children. The day I visited, there was a nursing mother of a 2-week-old child, another baby and a two year old. This "safe room," just like the open space around it, reeked of tear gas. "The babies cry, their eyes are all red and swollen, they get skin rashes, but what can we do?, sighed the young mother. "We have no way to protect our children. We have nowhere to hide."
Mr. Timoney, I suggest you take another tour of Bahrain, led not by government minders but by women from the villages. (Make sure you bring along a gas mask.) I also suggest you donate the blood money you're taking from the Bahraini government to a fund for the tear gas victims.
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