By Asad Ismi
In a speech on September 11, U.S. President Barack Obama charged that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s government “gassed to death” more than a thousand people in Damascus on August 21. “What kind of world will we live in if the United States of America sees a dictator brazenly violate international law with poison gas and we choose to look the other way?” Obama asked. “Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at stake in Syria, along with our leadership of a world where we seek to ensure that the worst weapons will never be used.”
This was a bizarre statement from the leader of a country that historically has been the world’s biggest deployer of “worst weapons” against innocent civilians, and in blatant violation of international law and of any ideals or principles.
Since 1945, the United States has killed about 46 million people in other countries, most of them civilians, either directly or through proxy by its puppet regimes. Given this blood-stained record, Obama’s threat to punish Syrian President Al-Assad for allegedly gassing non-combatants is sickeningly hypocritical. By his criteria, he should bomb his own country, especially the Pentagon.
The grisly U.S. catalogue of war crimes includes 4.3 million people killed in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos during Washington’s war on all three countries (1962-1975); three million killed in Iraq; six million killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (by proxy); up to three million killed in East Pakistan (by proxy); 1.5 million killed in Angola and Mozambique (by proxy); one million killed in Latin America (by proxy); and 100,000 killed (so far) in Afghanistan.
On Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, the U.S. dropped 20 million gallons of the deadly chemical herbicide Agent Orange. In Vietnam’s case, the aim was to destroy forests where Viet Cong guerrillas were hiding. Agent Orange damaged foliage extensively but obviously failed to stop the guerrillas who eventually won the war. What the chemical did accomplish was to kill hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese civilians and destroy three generations of Vietnamese children (up to the present), many thousands of whom were and are born with serious mental disorders and physical deformities. Many babies were still-born or without brains, arms and legs.
I spent two years teaching in Vietnam and visited the Museum of American War Crimes in Ho Chi Minh City, where the aborted foetuses deformed by Agent Orange are displayed in glass jars. I will never forget that horrifying sight.
As U.K. journalist John Pilger informs us, “In 1970, the U.S. Senate reported: ‘The U.S. has dumped on Vietnam a quantity of toxic chemical (dioxin) amounting to six pounds per head of population.’ This was Operation Hades — the source of what Vietnamese doctors call a ‘cycle of foetal catastrophe.’ I have seen generations of children with their familiar, monstrous deformities. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, with his own blood-soaked war record, will remember them.” [Kerry fought in Vietnam].
The BBC reported on September 9: “The Vietnam War ended nearly 40 years ago, but the casualties continue as birth defects plague the country. There are claims that thousands of children continue to be born with horrific facial deformities due to the Agent Orange chemical sprayed by the United States. The Vietnamese call the disfigured youngsters ‘the children of Agent Orange.’ [The city of ] Da Nang in central Vietnam is thought to have the highest level of congenital deformity in the world.”
Vietnam estimates that 400,000 people were killed or maimed by Agent Orange and 500,000 children were born with birth defects due to it. According to the Vietnamese Red Cross, up to one million people are disabled or have health problems due to Agent Orange. The illnesses suffered by the Vietnamese include non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, several types of cancer, diabetes, soft tissue sarcoma, birth defects in children, spina bifida, and reproductive abnormalities.
Nguyen Pham, age 11 today, is a third generation Agent Orange victim. He is deaf, blind, and mute, and has been confined to bed for much of his life. The hands of Nguyen Van Dung, age 12, have to be tied “because he compulsively tears at his own face.”
The U.S. has refused to compensate Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos for the horrific atrocities caused by its massive spraying of Agent Orange.
The U.S. has committed similar crimes in Iraq with the extensive use of white phosphorus and depleted uranium bombs, which have condemned future generations in that country to frightful and hideous suffering. In March of this year, journalist Dahr Jamail reported from the city of Fallujah on the tenth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq: “According to Dr. Samira Alani [a doctor in Fallujah], it’s common now in the city for newborns to come out with massive multiple systemic defects, immune problems, massive central nervous system problems, massive heart problems, skeletal disorders, babies being born with two heads, babies being born with half of their internal organs outside of their bodies, Cyclops babies literally with one eye — really, really, really horrific, nightmarish types of birth defects.”
According to Jamail, “The current rate of birth defects for the city of Fallujah has surpassed those of Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the nuclear attacks at the end of World War II.” Those attacks, of course, were also launched by the U.S. Jamail adds: “Dr. Alani actually visited with doctors in Japan, comparing statistics, and found that the amount of congenital malformations in Fallujah is 14 times greater than the rate measured in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in the aftermath of the U.S. nuclear bombings.
“Dr. Alani said these types of birth defects include some congenital malformations they don’t even have medical terms for, that some of the things they’re seeing they’ve never seen before. They’re not in any of the books or any of the scientific literature that they have access to. And she — lastly, to really give you an idea of the scope of the problem — said that this is happening now at a massive rate. And she said her being the only person cataloguing and registering cases… she said that she could probably safely estimate that the number of cases, as high as the rate that she’s seeing, could probably be doubled, because so many people are having their babies at home. ‘You know, most of these babies are being born dead, and then they’re not reporting it whatsoever. So, this is an ongoing crisis.
“’I mean, these are extremely hard to look at. They’re extremely hard to bear witness to. But it’s something that we all need to pay attention to because of the amount of depleted uranium used by the U.S. military during both of their brutal attacks on the city in 2004, as well as other toxic munitions like white phosphorus’.”
Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, one of the main authors of a 2012 study of birth defects in Fallujah and a toxicologist at the University of Michigan, told The Independent newspaper (U.K.) in 2012 that there is “compelling evidence” to connect the number of birth defects to the military attacks on Basra and Fallujah. According to Savabieasfahani, there is a cancer and birth defect “epidemic” in Iraq which constitutes an “extraordinary public health emergency.”
Jamail points out that “International law is very clear about these types of weapons: Any weapon that is known to have a lasting negative impact on the civilian population in the general area where it is used is technically a banned or a highly restricted weapon. And in this case, these types of weapons should not be allowed to be used. As I reported back in 2004, when it came out that white phosphorus was indeed being used in Fallujah, that’s another restricted weapon where the Geneva Conventions state very clearly that, if there is any possibility of civilians being in the area where it is going to be used, it is not allowed to be used. The Geneva Conventions are very, very clear about this.”
The U.S. has treated Iraq’s concerns about depleted uranium’s effects with even more contempt than it has Vietnam’s concerns about Agent Orange. When questioned in 2003 about Iraq’s complaints about depleted uranium, Colonel James Naughton of the U.S. Army Material Command said in a Pentagon briefing: “They want it to go away because we kicked the crap out of them.”
Published in the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Monitor, October 2013
Asad Ismi is the CCPA Monitor’s international affairs correspondent. He is an expert on U.S. foreign policy and has published more than a hundred articles on this subject. He is also author of the book Informed Dissent: Three Generals and the Vietnam War available from 10 booksellers on the internet.