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The Silence of the Guilty

By       Message Ross Caputi     Permalink
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Four new studies on the health crisis in Fallujah, Iraq have been published in the last three months. Yet, one of the most severe public health crises in history, for which the US military may be to blame, receives almost no attention in the United States.

Ever since two major US-led assaults destroyed the Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2004, Fallujans have witnessed dramatic increases in rates of cancers, birth defects, and infant mortality in their city. Dr. Chris Busby, the author and co-author of two studies on the Fallujah heath crisis, has called this "the highest rate of genetic damage in any population ever studied." 

In the years following the 2004 sieges, Fallujah was the most heavily guarded city in all of Iraq. All movement in and out of Fallujah was monitored by the occupying forces , which made it nearly impossible for Fallujans to get word out about their nascent health crisis.

One of the first attempts to report on the crisis was at the 7 th session of the UN Human Rights Council in the form of the report, Prohibited weapons Crisis: The effects of pollution on the public health in Fallujah by Dr. Muhamad Al-Darraji. This report was largely ignored. It wasn't until the first major study on the health crisis was published in 2010 that the issue received mainstream media attention in the UK and Europe.

Although the suffering in Fallujah received some coverage and sympathy in Europe, the topic has been met with cold silence in the US. Here it has received minimal media attention, the US government has refused to acknowledge anything but "official" studies of the health crisis, and the American public remains largely oblivious to the indiscriminate harm that our military may have caused.

The report presented at the 7th session of the Human Rights Council gave anecdotal evidence gathered at the Fallujah General Hospital. It included a stomach-turning collection of pictures of babies born with scaly skin, missing and deformed limbs, and horrifying tumors.

Two years later, Dr. Busby and his team of researchers sought to verify the claims in this report. What they found was that in addition to shocking increases in pediatric cancers, there had also been an 18% reduction in male births. Such a finding is a well-known indication of genetic damage. The authors concluded that "[t]hese results support the many reports of congenital illness and birth defects in Fallujah and suggest that there is evidence of genetic stress which appeared around 2004, one year before the effects began to show."

In a follow up study , in which Dr. Busby was a co-author, hair, soil, and water samples were taken from Fallujah and tested for the presence of heavy metals. The researchers expected to find depleted uranium in the environmental samples. It is well known that the US used depleted uranium weapons in Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War, and Iraqis, at least, are well aware of the increases in cancers and infant mortality rates in the city of Basrah, which was heavily bombarded during Desert Storm. However, what the researchers found was not depleted uranium, but man-made, slightly enriched uranium. 

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Dr. Busby has been the most visible scientist behind these studies, and for that reason a lot of criticism has been directed at him. He is considered by many to be a "controversial" figure, which only means that his research has often challenged official government positions.

His studies on Fallujah have similarly earned the title of "controversial". Many journals were afraid to publish his second study because of " pressure " from "outside people". "Outside people" means types like Roger Helbig "-a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the US Air Force who has a history of harassing and cyber-bullying anyone who takes a critical stance against uranium weapons"-and groups with similar agendas. 

Some have criticized the methodology of this study, and they have used this as an excuse to dismiss the entire issue. But as other experts have noted "[t]he role of "quick and dirty' studies like this one, conducted under difficult conditions, is not to inform policy, but rather to generate hypotheses about important questions when resources are not yet available and other research methods are not possible."

Busby is not the only researcher who takes "controversial" positions. His findings are complimented by the work of Dr. Dai Williams, an independent weapons researcher. Williams has been investigating what he calls " third-generation uranium weapons ". He has found patents for weapon systems that could use undepleted uranium or slightly enriched uranium interchangeably with tungsten, either as a dense metal or as a reactive metal. 

Undepleted and slightly enriched uranium have also been found on other battle fields (Afghanistan and Lebanon). These findings lead researchers like Dr. Williams to believe that there is a new generation of weapons being used, possibly by the American and Israeli militaries, that could have serious indiscriminate health effects on the populations living near bombing targets.  

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Many people have dismissed these hypotheses as speculative, and with that they dismiss the research, the issue, and the suffering of the people on the ground. What these naysayers fail to understand is that hypotheses are always speculative to a degree"-they are informed, but they are claims meant to be verified or falsified. This is the nature of the scientific method. First you observe some phenomena in the world; then you come up with a hypothesis to explain that phenomena. Then you conduct an experiment to test your hypothesis.

Many of these naysayers have not responded to these studies by calling for more research and investigation to test the hypotheses of Dr. Busby or Dr. Williams. Rather, they dismiss these hypotheses because they don't like their moral and political implications. In doing so, they show a great deal of antipathy for the scientific method and the pursuit of truth. But more importantly, they also dismiss the suffering of the people of Fallujah, and all people affected by these issues.

One weapon system which may use uranium, in some form or another, is the SMAW NE (Shoulder-fired Multi-purpose Assault Weapon - Novel Explosive). My former unit battle tested this weapon for the first time in Fallujah during Operation Phantom Fury in 2004. It is not my intention to irresponsibly lay blame on the US military. There is a potential connection with this weapons system and the health crisis in Fallujah. This connection needs to be investigated. 

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Ross Caputi is a student, a veteran, and an activist. He participated in the 2nd siege of Fallujah as a Marine, but his experiences there compelled him to join the anti-war movement. Today he is the Director of the Justice For Fallujah Project and (more...)

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The Silence of the Guilty