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Bush Sr., Clinton, Bush Jr. and the War Crimes Left Behind
by Heather Wokusch
June 5, 2004

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Given repercussions over Abu Ghraib, it isn't surprising that Washington recently asked the UN Security Council for another one-year extension on its war crimes exemption for peace-keepers. The prison abuse scandal is just the iceberg's tip of Geneva Convention violations by the United States, and closer inspection could send Bush Jr., Bush Sr., not to mention Bill Clinton, straight to the courtroom docks.

Back in the heady days of 1991's Persian Gulf War, Commander in Chief Bush Sr. was widely praised for the invasion's rapid end, but the true battle had only begun for many on the ground: the United States had dumped 375 tons of depleted uranium (DU) weaponry on Iraq during the war, despite foreknowledge its radioactivity would make food and water in the bombed regions unsafe for consumption on an indefinite basis (DU remains radioactive for 4.5 billion years). And according to the Geneva Conventions, that's a war crime.

DU is a highly radioactive nuclear waste product valued by the US military for its ability to penetrate tank armor, but it's also a remorseless enemy. A region's food chain is devastated by the trails of carcinogenic dust left in a DU bomb's wake, and of course, humans inhale and absorb the dust as well; even nine years after the war, veterans afflicted with Gulf War Syndrome ailments still had DU traces in their urine. Depleted uranium is also suspected in dramatically elevated levels of birth defects and cancer cases among those in bombed areas, as well as in a wide litany of Gulf War vet health complaints.

But the use of DU weaponry wasn't Bush Sr.'s only transgression in Iraq. US forces also bombed electrical grids that powered 1,410 water-treatment plants for Iraq's 22 million people, even though the Geneva Conventions clearly state that destroying or rendering useless items essential to the survival of civilian populations is illegal under international law and a war crime. An excerpt from "Strategic Attack," a 1998 US Air Force document, explains: "The electrical attacks proved extremely effective ... The loss of electricity shut down the capital's water treatment plants and led to a public health crisis from raw sewage dumped in the Tigris River." A second US Defense Intelligence Agency document, 1991's "Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities," predicted how sanctions would then be used to prevent Iraq from getting the equipment and chemicals necessary for water purification, which would result in "a shortage of pure drinking water for much of the population" leading to "increased incidences, if not epidemics, of disease."

That's where Bill Clinton came in. Far from heeding the dangers of radioactive weaponry, he contributed to the estimated 11 tons of DU weaponry used by NATO forces in the 1999 Balkan conflict. Clinton also strongly supported the devastating sanctions against Iraq that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Notoriously, in 1996 when his Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was asked about the estimated over half a million Iraqi children who were thought to have died as a result of the sanctions, her response was "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price--we think the price is worth it."

Fast forward to 2001, when Bush Jr. used DU weaponry in the invasion of Afghanistan. Cities subjected to allied bombing were later reported to have uranium concentrations at 400% to 2000% above normal, with birth defects sharply on the rise. Then during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, US and British forces deployed an estimated 1,100-2,200 tons of depleted uranium weaponry, with untold future health implications for both Iraqis and coalition service members.

It's worth considering the future of warfare Bush-style, as can be gleaned by his administration's funding of weaponry. Despite the Cold War's end, the Bush administration is spending 12 times more on developing nuclear weapons than on securing/reducing existing stockpiles or on non-proliferation efforts. The administration has also repealed the ban on low-yield nuclear weapons, dismissed international non-proliferation agreements, and pushed development of the so-called "bunker buster" which in fact is a nuclear weapon. It is safe to say the Bush administration won't be backing off nuclear or radioactive weaponry anytime soon.

In testimony on the Abu Ghraib crisis, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld recently told the Senate Armed Services Committee, "It is the photographs that give one the vivid realization of what actually took place. Words don't do it." So if our leaders really can't grasp pain and suffering without Polaroids, then bring out the cameras. Bring out pictures of populations devastated by WMD such as radioactive weaponry, tainted water supplies and the starvation wrought by sanctions. Splash those images across the media along with photos from Abu Ghraib.

Because if as a nation we can bring ourselves to face the horrors inside one prison far away, then the scope can be widened to consider other war crimes. And when that happens, Bush Sr., Clinton and Bush Jr. will have some explaining to do.

Heather Wokusch is a free-lance writer with a background in clinical psychology. Her work as been featured in publications and websites internationally. Heather can be contacted via her website:

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