Sunday, October 23, 2011

Post #13 - Mass Destruction

The use of chemical and biological agents as weapons has been with us since ancient times, at least since the Peloponnesian Wars (5th C. BCE). In the 7th century C.E. “Greek fire,” a forerunner of the modern flame-throwing techology, was invented. Mustard gas, first used in 1917, was one of the aspects of the First World War that led so many to yearn for an end to war. During that conflict over a million persons fell victim to chemical agents, with 90,000 dying. The Vietnam War brought us “agent orange” (not intended as an anti-personnel weapon, but it proved unable to distinguish between plants and persons) and another incendiary agent called "napalm." Though efforts have been made time and again to ban them, such weapons continue to be developed, refined and deployed. The United States stockpile of lethal chemical warfare munitions consists of various rockets, projectiles, mines, and bulk items containing blister agents (mustard H, HD, HT) and nerve agents (VX, GB), stored at eight sites throughout the continental United States. (We agreed, under international conventions, to destroy much of it by April 29, 2007.) In a 1998 assessment by the Federation of American Scientists, the United States exceeded “sufficient level” in every category -- production, dissemination, detection and defensive systems.

Eric Margolis, author of War at the Top of the World: The Struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir and Tibet, wrote an article (April 1, 2007) on the subject of Iraqi chemical weapons for the Toronto Sun, where he was a contributing editor (he retired in 2010). Margolis, who served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam and holds a degree from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, reported from, and wrote on, the Middle East for many years. He calls himself “an Eisenhower Republican.” He confirms much of what Lando told Amy Goodman:

Chemical Ali" [sentenced to death in Baghdad in June 2007] was a brute of the worst kind in a regime filled with sadists. I personally experienced the terror of Saddam's sinister regime over 25 years, culminating in threats to hang me as a spy.

"Saddam Hussein and his entourage should face justice. But not in political show trials just before U.S.-'guided' Iraqi elections nor in Iraqi kangaroo courts. They should be sent to the U.N.'s war crimes tribunal in The Hague [and also] charged with the greatest crime he committed -- the invasion of Iran, which caused one million casualties.

"Britain, the U.S., Kuwait and Saudi Arabia convinced Iraq to invade Iran, then covertly supplied Saddam with money, arms, intelligence, and advisers. Meanwhile, Israel secretly supplied Iran with US$5 billion in American arms and spare parts while publicly denouncing Iran for terrorism. 
"Who supplied 'Chemical Ali' with his mustard and nerve gas? Why, the West, of course. In late 1990, I discovered four British technicians in Baghdad who told me they had been 'seconded' to Iraq by Britain's ministry of defence and MI6 intelligence to make chemical and biological weapons, including anthrax, Q-fever and plague, at a secret laboratory at Salman Pak...Italy, Germany, France, South Africa, Belgium, Yugoslavia, Brazil, Chile and the USSR all aided Saddam's war effort against Iran...
"What an irony it is to see U.S. forces in Iraq now behaving with much the same punitive ferocity as Saddam's army and police -- bombing rebellious cities, arresting thousands, terrorizing innocent civilians, torturing captives and sending in tanks to crush resistance. In other words, Saddamism without Saddam..."

Our hands are far from clean.

U.N. inspectors in Western Iran, 1986
In Tehran, in 2006, I spoke with officials of the Society for Victims of Chemical Warfare, and met survivors of the attacks on Iran's western border regions. Iraq used mustard gas (1800 tons), nerve agents like sarin (740 tons) and conventional bombs in such numbers that health systems and facilities in western Iran were overwhelmed. The atrocities documented to the United Nations and International Red Cross were repeatedly investigated, but the official UN findings came out (uselessly) in August of 1988 -- after the war’s end. In a war crimes tribunal held in the Netherlands, a Dutch trader was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for his part in facilitating the mayhem, but no Americans were indicted. These crimes – second only to Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the number of civilians affected -- oddly played no part in the judicial proceedings that led to the execution of Saddam Hussein. There are lakes in the western region of Iran where still no fish can survive today due to the residual contamination by WMD materials – chemicals and biological agents originally supplied by countries like the United States (e.g. American Type Culture Collection, a Virginia company) and Germany.

The Society's medical director, Dr. Shahriar Khateri, noted that despite international conventions to ban chemical weapons going back to the early 1800’s, “the demon [of WMD’s] is not dead, but only sleeping; we don’t know when it might be awakened.”

Another member of my delegation to Iran, Melissa Van, put it this way when writing to some members of her community back home in Staten Island: "[for Iranians] the idea of another war is...horrible. Everybody I talked to lost family members in that war – brothers, cousins, uncles, nephews – the war was incredibly devastating to the country. There are 50,000 still suffering from the effect of the chemical weapons Iraq used during the war."

Representatives of the Physicians for Social Responsibility (the U.S. affiliate of an international group that won the Nobel Peace Prize in the 1980's) and other U.S. groups, have met with Dr. Khateri about finding ways to allow more Americans to know the facts of this period of Iranian history.

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