Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Letter to Guardian

26 January 2011

Dear Sir,

Ian McEwan is either being extremely naïve or disingenuous in his justification for accepting the Jerusalem prize (letters 26 January). To compare his action with that of Daniel Barenboim completely misses the point. Barenboim is actively bringing together Palestinians and Israelis to work for a common purpose and to begin a dialogue with each other through music. He has been vilified for his efforts by the Israelis. If McEwan thinks the Israelis will see his visit as a gesture of opposition to their policies he is living in cloud cuckoo land. They will rightly see it as an endorsement of the legitimacy of their policies. Like McEwan, many used similar arguments in relation to apartheid South Africa, but such so-called ‘dialogue’ didn’t work, but the boycott did. He thinks ‘literature can reach across the political divide’ - not by collaborating with oppression it can’t. The names of other writers who accepted the Jerusalem Prize he lists to justify his decision did so at a time before Israeli politics took on its present extreme belligerence, inhumanity and arrogant rejection of international law and opinion.
Please think again Ian.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Full letter to Guardian (pblished in a truncated version)

Yet again a case of the police spying on environmental activists (Guardian 10 Jan - Undercover officer who spied on Green activists quits Met). With the ongoing terrorist threat and government cut-backs in police funding, serious questions need to be asked about why the police are squandering valuable resources on keeping legitimate democratic organisations under surveillance. As far as I am aware, no environmentalist organisation has ever been accused of countering or undertaking action that endangers life or threatens the democratic state. At the most extreme, such organisations may have trespassed and perhaps, at times, caused minimal damage to property – actions that can be pursued through the normal legal process. These organisations are not clandestine and make no attempt to hide their views. Of course, when undertaking actions for maximum publicity they will sometimes have to keep exact plans secret. This is no reason to treat them as the ‘enemy within’ or like terrorists.

More sinisterly, it reveals a mind-set at the top of our police forces belonging to the bad old days when the duty of the security services was seen to be serving a governing elite that was intent on maintaining its own class privilege and conservative concept of government. In such a context it is little wonder that many ordinary policeman see brutality against student, environmental and political demonstrators as legitimate because they are ‘the enemy’.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The war crime that they want to hide

Only a few years ago the media were full of discussion about ‘Gulf War Syndrome’ – the mysterious illness affecting British and US troops who had taken part in the Iraq invasion. Then the media went suddenly quiet and nothing more was heard. The concern related only to allied troops, but in Iraq among the civilian population an even more alarming incidence of unexplained illnesses came to light. The renowned German film maker Frieder Wagner was the first to investigate this phenomenon, but his findings and his films about them have run up against a wall of silence. He agreed to tell me about his experiences in an exclusive interview.
‘Prof. Horst-Siegwart Günther, a German tropical medicine specialist and epidemiologist, working in the university hospital in Baghdad was the first to notice, in 1991, an increasing number of patients with, up till then, unseen symptoms such as serious dysfunction of kidney and liver function. He also saw increasing numbers of horrendously deformed babies and children coming to his clinic. He had the awful suspicion that these symptoms could be connected with exposure to radioactivity, perhaps as a result of the increased use of depleted uranium by allied forces. At this time the allies had denied using depleted uranium munitions. To check his theory, he took a small fragment of one of the depleted uranium shells back to Berlin to find out from experts if it was in fact radioactive.’
‘The conclusion came back: yes it was radioactive. It became clear to him that exposure to such radioactive and chemically toxic munitions could lead to 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. These symptoms were also seen among soldiers of the invading forces as well as in Iraqi soldiers, but particularly among the civil population.’
Once it had been established that depleted uranium was being used, allied forces then maintained that the level of radioactivity was minimal and innocuous. What they didn’t explain was what happened when the uranium was vapourised in the explosion and distributed over wide areas.
Mr. Wagner says: ‘The fine and deadly dust released by these munitions after use is then blown by winds all over the place and when inhaled, the residual radioactivity is more deadly than ever. The western allies used around 320 tons of depleted uranium alone in the 1991 Gulf War. Despite Prof. Günther’s findings, his worries were simply ignored.’
When Frieder Wagner, heard about Prof Günther’s findings, he felt it was so important that he decided to make a television documentary film, based on them. He already had a good track record in the field and had made a number of well-received and prize-winning investigative television documentaries.
Depleted uranium is a radioactive substance that is difficult to dispose of and is been used to make military shells heavier in order to increase their ability to penetrate. It was used by US and British forces first in Yugoslavia in 1992 and then in the first Gulf War in 1990-91 and again in 2003. Israel has also been accused of using depleted uranium munitions in Gaza.
Frieder Wagner was the first to document the horrendous consequences of using this type of munition by the US during the Gulf War. That was in 2007. But there has been a conspiracy of silence surrounding this pioneering discovery. Powerful forces appear to be at work to prevent the information receiving the coverage it deserves.
I imagined that Mr. Wagner’s film would have had a sensational impact.
‘No,’ he says, ‘my film didn’t have a sensational impact because the subject of uranium munitions, since the spring of 2001, has been made a taboo subject – and that’s Europe-wide. My film, ‘The Doctor and the Radioactive Children from Basra’, was shown on German television (WDR) in 2004 but that was more of an accident and it was not given a repeat showing and ‘disappeared’ into the archives. Before January 2001, western media took an intensive interest in the so-called “Gulf War Syndrome” and later (after the war in Yugoslavia) what was called “Balkan Syndrome”, particularly as the Portuguese KFOR troops stationed in Kosovo were already 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 taboo. It had to be taken out of the media spotlight because the use of uranium munitions and their horrendous effects was too uncomfortable a truth.’

‘To begin with neither the military nor the government reacted to my film. But in November 2008 and again in June 2010 I and some German-based scientists were invited by the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss the consequences of using uranium munitions, together with other scientists who had contrary views to ours. After about two hours of, at times heated argument, the chair from the Foreign Ministry summarised our discussion as follows: “Both parties presented good arguments and these were impressive but they are in the first instance humanitarian arguments and it is impossible to convince the Americans with humanitarian arguments! (Herr Wagner’s emphasis) It was unbelievable,’ he says.

I asked him if he’d been able to find a distributor for his film.
‘No, since that first showing, I’ve not been able to find a distributor. That could be because every distributor thinks the subject matter is not an interesting subject because the big media are not talking about it. It could also be because if these people check the internet they could become worried about possible negative repercussions if they included such a film in their catalogues. The film says very clearly that the use of such weapons by the USA is an undoubted war crime. And, since that film was shown in April 2004 I’ve not had a single commission from publicly-funded channels in Germany, although that film won a European television award and for previous films I won the Adolf Grimme Prize in silver and gold (Germany’s most prestigious TV award). If you ask me whether I can prove that there is a connection between the subject matter of my film and this ‘blacklisting’, I have to say no, but I am convinced there is. 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 German magazine Der Spiegel, who had 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 there.’

I wondered if his films were available in English language versions.
‘I’ve had an English version of the film Deadly Dust available since 2007, but the film’s Munich distributor has only been able to sell it to the Emirates and Saudi Arabia. That’s unfortunate because I wanted this suppressed truth to reach a wider public as soon as possible. Now there is the danger that it will only come into the public domain once the wives of the soldiers who were stationed in Afghanistan, Kosovo und Iraq start having deformed babies and begin pushing them around in their prams. I wanted to spare these women such a fate.’

But Mr. Wagner is not taking this lying down. ‘I was determined not to let them silence, and that’s why I and my wife raised private finance to make it into a cinema film. I’ve been showing it in independent cinemas and I discuss the issues raised in the film with the audiences afterwards. Up to now we’ve managed 226 showings to around 18,000 people who will then go away and raise the issue with others. In June 2010 I also wrote a book: Uranium Bombs and the Secret Weapon of Mass-destruction, and in this way the subject is slowly being aired. A truth like this can’t be suppressed for ever.’

I asked him if he agreed with John Pilger (in his recent film The War on Truth) that the media have been compliant over the ages as far as war and its consequences are concerned.

‘I agree completely with John Pilger. All wars in recent times began with lies. In the Kosovo war, the Iraq war and in Afghanistan we were led into these wars by lies. And it is a complete mystery to me why we elect these same politicians and representatives who are responsible for these lies, time and time again. Bush and Blair, who took us into these wars of aggression and gave the green light for the use of such weapons, 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?’

I wondered if Mr. Wagner had considered using the internet to publicise his findings. ‘All my films on the subject of uranium weaponry can now be accessed via the internet and I’m pleased that this opportunity exists to publicise such hot topics. In this way we can by-pass the imposed silence by the establishment media. In the meantime many thousands of people have seen these films and that’s wonderful. In this way the many lies and subterfuge by politicians and big business are exposed to the light of day.’

‘The main message of my film is that the deployment of uranium munitions and uranium bombs constitutes a war crime. Their use leaves behind toxically devastated areas. This depleted uranium is dispersed once it becomes vapourised during detonation and this is what makes it so toxic.
These weapons continue to be toxic for years afterwards, affecting the environment and the civilian populations. Such use clearly contravenes the Geneva Convention on the conduct of war’.
Prof. Günther, who is the central protagonist of Mr. Wagner’s film, Deadly Dust, was even imprisoned in Germany, not because he demanded the outlawing of these weapons, but because he imported a 300gm fragment of such a shell into Germany in order to test its toxicity. He asked researchers at three Berlin universities to investigate its toxicity. A Berlin court subsequently fined him 3,000 Euros 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? Mr. Wagner asks rhetorically, ‘a doctor and scientist who is so concerned about children in Iraq dying unnecessarily of leukaemia after playing with pieces of shrapnel from such munitions, that he brings a small piece to Germany to have it tested, and ends up as the criminal. Even three years after this, the allies were still denying that these munitions even contained uranium.’
‘I’ve been lucky; I haven’t been put in prison, but since making that film, which won a European Television Award in 2004, I’ve received no more commissions from the publicly-supported broadcasting channels. I asked a former colleague, an editor at one of the national TV channels about this and, after a long silence, he replied: ‘In the meantime you’ve acquired a reputation at the company as a difficult guy to deal with; your subjects are considered difficult too.’
‘Many areas of Iraq today are de facto 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 renowned scientists like Rosalie Bertell, Asaf Durakovic, Lennard Dietz und Siegwart-Horst Günther are correct when they say that during the next 15-20 years, in Iraq alone between 5 and 7 million people will die from aggressive cancers and leukaemia. That would be a new holocaust.’
‘I’m ashamed for our allied friends. Since George Bush announced victory over Iraq in 2003 and where freedom and democracy were supposed to blossom over 1 million innocent civilians have been killed, particularly women and children, most killed by US soldiers. 1.2 million Iraqis have been maimed and 5 million are refugees. Is that what democracy and freedom looks like? In the last 200 years no Muslim country has attacked a western one. The terror of war will always lead to a war of terror. You can’t build a democracy with oppression, war and bombs, maimed and deformed and dead children. Particularly in a period of weapons of mass destruction, of atomic weapons and against the background of international terrorism and the continuously provoked crises, John F Kennedy’s words of warning now take on a prophetic significance. He said: “Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.” In the Declaration from the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal in 1945 it 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”. The war of aggression against Iraq was such a war crime.’

A study published early in January by a team of international researchers confirms what Prof. Günther and Frieder Wagner have been saying for years. The results have been published in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. It sheds new light on the massive surge in post-war birth defects in Fallujah, Iraq, and argues ‘that an epidemic of reproductive abnormalities is likely to have been caused by residues of munitions used by American armed forces on the city in 2004’.
A total of 547 births in Fallujah General Hospital showed that 15% of babies born in May had massive birth defects, compared to the world average of 2-3%, according to the study, and the rates rose sharply in the first half of 2010.
The study, which surveyed a total of 55 families with seriously deformed newborn babies in May through August shows that metals are potential sources of contamination causing the defects, especially in pregnant mothers within the city, and concludes that they "could be due to environmental contaminants which are known components of modern weaponry." Predictably, Washington has officially denied the claims of the study and there has been little coverage in the world’s media.