By Dave Lindorff
U.S. Army Cyber Command shoulder sleeve insignia
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The howling in government and the corporate media and among many liberals about an alleged Russian information war, with bots, trolls and fake news being placed in social media to mislead and incite Americans against each other, might lead one think, like Sen John McCain, that we are practically at war with Russia. Yet it's all actually pretty silly. After all, our own government has been playing this game for decades, both abroad, and also right here inside the "Land of the Free and Home of the Brave" and against us American citizens.
I know. I was a victim of such an attack, though initially I didn't realize what was happening.
Back on August 25, 2005, I published a piece in In These Times titled Radioactive Wounds of War about the devastating damage caused by the US military's use of depleted uranium weapons in its brutal assault leveling Fallujah, the Iraqi city of 300,000 people that was destroyed by US marines in 2004 as retribution for the killing of four US contractors by the Iraqi insurgents who at the time controlled the city, and for their humiliating defeat of a smaller Marine assault on the city earlier in the year.
At the time I was and had been a contributing editor at ITT, a publication for which I had written regularly since it was founded back in 1978, and was listed on its masthead as such.
As I recount in an article published in Counterpunch on November 19, 2005 titled R.I.P In These Times, the left-liberal news magazine had been promptly bombarded with letters criticizing my article after it came out. The critiques were not about the main topic of the article, which was evidence discovered in medical studies done on returning Iraq veterans from a unit of New York National Guard soldiers, funded by the New York Daily News and reported on by Juan Gonzalez, which had found evidence of exposure to depleted uranium dust that was causing serious health damage in these soldiers, and even birth defects in their young children. Those findings were undeniable. What attracted the critical mail, which would now be called trolling, was my reporting on how much depleted uranium weapons had been dumped on Iraq by invading and occupying US forces.
Based on my research into reports, mostly by European sources, I had written in that article:
U.S. forces first used DU in the 1991 Gulf War, when some 300 tons of depleted uranium--the waste product of nuclear power plants and weapons facilities--were used in tank shells and shells fired by A-10 jets. A lesser amount was deployed by US and NATO forces during the Balkans conflict. But in the current wars in Afghanistan and, especially, Iraq, DU has become the weapon of choice, with more than 1,000 tons used in Afghanistan and more than 3,000 tons used in Iraq. And while DU was fired mostly in the desert during the Gulf War, in the current war in Iraq, most of DU munitions are exploding in populated urban areas.
The Pentagon has expanded DU beyond tank and A-10 shells, for use in bunker-busting bombs, which can spew out more than half a ton of DU in one explosion, in anti-personnel bomblets, and even in M-16 and pistol shells. The military loves DU for its unique penetration capability--it cuts through steel or concrete like they're butter.
In later years, I've done more reporting on the US military's use of depleted uranium, which the Pentagon loves because of its unique ability to penetrate even thick solid steel tank armor and reinforced concrete bunkers with ease, bursting into intense flame on impact and spreading super toxic uranium oxide dust in the aftermath. There is no dispute about the use of these weapons by US forces. But in 2005, the Pentagon was fighting a brutal rear-guard battle to claim the stuff is safe and at the same time that it was not being used in populated urban areas. Both claims were official lies.
Particularly active and voluble in this letter-writing campaign to ITT targeting my article, all of which correspondence was posted on the ITT website, were people like Jack Cohen-Joppe, retired Air Force Col. Roger Helbig, and US Army Col. Rick Thomas.
I could not figure out what Cohen-Joppe's motivation was, or who if anyone is behind him. A self-described opponent of nuclear weapons and especially nuclear power, Cohen-Joppe, from Tucson AZ, has for some reason had what I have described as an "Ahab-like obsession" with attempting to debunk claims of US depleted-uranium weapons, although such use has been admitted by the Pentagon. Meanwhile Helbig and Thomas appear to have more sinister connections to the Pentagon. Both show up in troll campaigns whenever articles about depleted uranium weapons appear. They also have had a years long campaign to smear and discredit one of the main whistleblowers about DU, Dr. Doug Rocke, a former Army Captain who conducted a Pentagon study on the safety (lack of safety) of DU weapons, and who also ran a campaign to decontaminate sites in Kuwait where DU weapons had been used, scattering toxic uranium oxide dust. For example, Helbig has claimed Rocke was never ranked higher than Lieutenant, and that he never ran a DU study or worked on decontamination after the Gulf War. Yet I was shown documents by Rocke showing his recommendation for promotion to Captain, and commending him for his study and his work in Kuwait.
Their attack on my ITT article was a success, in large part because of the cowardice and lack of principle of ITT's editor, Joel Bleifus. As I wrote in my Counterpunch article, Bleifus ran Cohen-Joppe's letter criticizing my article in a subsequent issue of the magazine without warning me and giving me an opportunity to respond to his fact-free criticism. This despite it being standard policy at ITT for its writers to get a chance to respond to any such published letters in the same issue. When I complained, I was eventually allowed to write a letter of response, but Bleifus cut it and added a note of his own saying he didn't agree with my response. It was shabby behavior of the worst sort, and also in retrospect a huge embarrassment to Bleifus and In These Times, as more and more evidence has come out of the dreadful multi-generational impact of the US military's use of DU weapons all over Iraq, including in its cities.
But more important than ITT's lack of courage and principle was the success of the Pentagon's fake news and trolling campaign, in this case in defense of its grotesque DU weapons.