A continuation of the reports from the Bruxelles Tribunal on the Israeli War Against Lebanon. By Mary Rizzo
Three expert witnesses gave scientific testimony about the weapons that were used by Israel against Lebanon in the war that lasted 33 days, as well as the effects these armaments had on people and objects. Lebanese nuclear physicist and expert in nuclear radiation measurements, Mohammed Ali Kobeissi, Italian Geneticist Paola Manduca and British Work Psychologist and independent weapons researcher Dai Williams each presented the results of their research, complete with corroborating data.
Dr. Kobeissi premised his testimony with these words, “I am a scientist that was part of the scientific committee to investigate the state of things after the war. I don’t play politics and I keep the committee out of the declarations, but I know what I witnessed and the results of the research and I am here, speaking in my own name and assume full responsibility for what I say. I am not under the influence of any organization to declare anything but the facts.”
The scientist was called to measure data in various places, but one in particular, the Khaim crater, showed measurements of uranium in the bottom of the crater fourteen times higher than the measurements on the edges. One of the first things he made clear that his independent testing needed to be verified in another laboratory so that his results could be confirmed. It was the necessary to send samples out of Lebanon for testing, since no other laboratory in Lebanon had the equipment necessary to measure the data. “We had to bring samples out, using soil samples and urine samples.
“In its turn, and upon the request of the Lebanese Government, UNEP used something that is called a “smear”, which is a collection of dust samples. These smear samples were brought by UNEP to the research laboratories of the Swiss Army and they are connected to those of the NATO. To take samples, you have to be clever, because dust can be anything. What is relevant as far as weapons go is a specific type of dust which might be uranium dust or not.
“Because uranium is the most dense metal of them all, at certain temperatures it is able to melt everything that it is in contact with and it actually serves as a guide, transforming everything around it to dust.” Kobeissi collected two kilograms of soil material from a crater at Jallahieh, which was likely to have been hit by a bomb with a Uranium head, given the damage. “Our soil samples and urine samples were sent to Harwell Laboratory in the UK for uranium measurements.”
Kobeissi had made some of his own measurements, including testing the water that collected in one of the craters, and he had gathered enough information to be quite sure that this crater was indeed caused by the use of unconventional weapons, precisely those missiles with depleted uranium heads.
When the report by UNEP came back from Switzerland and was published, he was very shocked at the results. “I read the report and what I was reading was poetry, not science! It was very descriptive regarding the case of uranium. The numbers obtained from the smear dust were far too small, compared to the analysis and measurements I made on the soil samples.” At this moment in the testimony, the scientist shook his head and perhaps recalled the thoughts he had at the time, looking at the devastation caused by the missile, “I pity the founding fathers of America that today this country is lead by Bush. To make weapons like this and use them against civilians and their homes is something I cannot come to terms with.” Later, Dr Williams would explain with more precision what these weapons were intended to do, but for the time being, we listened to a scientific presentation that was almost like the telling of a moral fable.
“(Bernard) Kuchner came to Lebanon after the war and it happen he was visiting the town of Khiam. To convince himself he went down with me to this crater, because in a war that is conducted in inhabited zones where people are going to hopefully return to live, dirty bombs can’t be used. There are reasons for it, it will bring damage to the land and people for who knows how long. When I told Kuchner that dirty bombs were used, he said, ‘Impossible!’ but as soon as he saw the crater with radiation and he was witnessing that, what did he say? ‘Well, C’est la guerre’.”
This kind of disregard for the impact of the bombs being used in southern Lebanon, and the possibility that they contained radiation, was indicative of much of the attitude of the international community when it was mentioned that these weapons were utilised. The physicist explained that a bit of uranium is present in nature anyway, but beyond a certain level, it is extremely dangerous. Uranium is used to increase the power of thermonuclear missiles. Few nations have the capacity to produce these weapons, and as a matter of fact, the largest weapons used in the war were American made. In order to extract the uranium for these weapons, a process is carried out which results in the creation of another toxic substance that is known as Depleted Uranium. “This is the dirty bomb. It is the result of the trash that comes out of making other bombs or for nuclear use and it is disposed of generally by being used in other weapons. America gives or sells this trash to others, and the others use it against their enemies.”
The next expert witness explained the effects of the unconventional weapons. Dr Paola Manduca is a Geneticist specialised in the effects on the human body of these new weapons, and in the past had also investigated the wounds from other victims of Israeli weapons, the people of Gaza. “Weapons of this sort do not distinguish between their victims. They are aimed at an area and those who are in that area are subject to the effects, whether they are military, civilian, adults or children. In this way, since these new weapons strike indiscriminately, we can also think that they have an ideological use. They leave wounds that are different than any kind we are used to. When the body is subject to the old kind of traditional weapons, the material that harms the body has an entry place, a bullet wound, cuts and abrasions that come from objects that are in disintegration, or foreign bodies that one can identify and possibly extract. In the case of these weapons, there are simply entrance holes in the body, internal damage, but no exit wound and no presence of shrapnel either. The wounds we have here are invisible wounds that give no clear answers to what they are. They cause dramatic effects on the body, spots, burns, incapacity for muscles to react, pain and so forth, but they do not have a clear cause, there is no specific ‘entry point’ at times and the variation of types of wounds on a single individual is also great. These wounds do not indicate how they can be treated. Psychologically, this is another effective weapon against whoever might be in an area where weapons like this are used.”
She showed us many photos of the kinds of effects by these ‘new’ weapons, which she nominated as ‘experimental’ ones. “They represent a new development in the strategy of war.” Some of them are thermobaric, which means that they explode and reach high temperatures. DIME, Dense Inert Metal weapons cause extreme and intense heat which can be localised even to certain parts of the body. She showed pictures where one side of the torso was scorched and charred, and the other was unharmed. The damage from these bombs includes alteration of the DNA and reproductive damage, in addition to the severe tissue damage and deformation as from burning. “Then there are the bombs using Depleted Uranium but not only. There are bombs with Enriched Uranium. These weapons are deadly even though the period it takes to bring about their full effects is not yet known. They are still ‘experimental’ weapons, and therefore, not permitted to be used by international rules of war.” She showed examples of the effects of cluster bombs, white phosphorus, the use of microwaves and the bombs that were responsible for the damage of the crater that Dr Kobeissi had focused much of his specific presentation on, the Bunker Buster.
“There has been lack of institutional response to the wounds that the victims had. As if they were simply caught in the crossfire of a standard battle. But this is not what happened to them. From within their homes and in shelters they were exposed to these weapons and their wounds are inexplicable, if not by deducing that Israel had used unconventional weapons that penetrated in ways that normal weapons are incapable of doing. I saw bodies covered with black powder, a kind of dust that darkens the bodies and when tested, the skin is tested as positive for the presence of iron. While some people were being evacuated from Bint Jbeil and Tyre, they were wounded, and I examined them. It is clear that they were exposed to unconventional weapons and it was a mystery as to the precise nature of these weapons. Three of the more seriously wounded people in this attack were brought to Israeli hospitals for treatment. They spent one month in the hospital.” When asked what the clinical reports were following the admission and treatment, Dr Manduca told us that they came back with no clinical reports whatsoever. “Whether or not any serious clinical investigation took place is unknown to me or to those in Lebanon. The fact is, that one may not obtain information from Israel. Whatever secret weapon was used against these people, we will never get information from anyone in the country that used it. Doctor or not.”
The third expert witness, Dr Dai Williams, stated that he was only going to make statements that could be backed by evidence, and he wished to qualify any interpretation he might make as being supported by scientific and photographic evidence. All of it, however, pointed to his conclusion that Israel had indeed made use of illegal weapons in the war.
“One has to understand what a weapon is used for. There are certain weapons used for specific purposes. In fact, weapons are developed according to the aim that is defined by the military strategy of the conflict. Arms control legislation is ten years behind technology. I have been researching uranium weapons since 1999, focusing on the aspects of health and safety, and all of these weapons, since they are not allowed by any country as legal and acceptable weapons, are all classified as ‘secret weapons’. Not only are there uranium weapons, which are guided bombs having a warhead that is considered to be a ‘magic metal’ for its destructive capacities, but there are many other kinds of secret weapons; pressure waves, vacuum bombs and a combination of the two, weapons using depleted uranium, including a one ton bomb with a US patent dating from 1947, and high temperature bombs.”
Dr Williams described in great detail the Bunker Buster, which is a bomb that has a specific explosion pattern and devastating results. Both of these were documented by a series of photographs and by testing the soil and water in the craters which occupied the space where buildings previously stood. “There is a military reason to use a Bunker Buster. It is because the military aim is to penetrate deeply into that space. In the case of southern Lebanon, they were certain that Hezbollah was located under the buildings and that there were stocks of WMDs or missiles, or else, they wanted to kill the people who were down that low, in the most sheltered part of the buildings, which the Israeli strategists claimed were Hezbollah militants. These bombs are not ordinary bombs. In fact, they are so large that only several places have the capacity to produce them, including the US. These are guided bombs produced in the US, which travelled via the UK and arrived in Israel to be used.”
The Bunker Buster has a particular explosion pattern which Dr Williams called a ‘blast profile’. First there is an intense explosion and fire, followed by a subsequent explosion generally creating a great amount of dust. He showed photographs where it was clear that two distinct explosions with visibly different characteristics were used on some targets. “Then there are thermobaric weapons that use heat and cause physical wounds that actually show exposure to different kinds of temperatures that are registered on a single body. There are ‘flash burns’ where one side of the body is burnt, as Dr Manduca had already said. An unknown number of different kinds of weapons were used in these 33 days of war, and the estimates range from 50 to 100 varieties of weapons. On the 11th of August I went to the Human Rights Council, because the wounds that I had seen caused me to wonder about the nature of the weapons and I asked them to investigate not only the illegal weapons, but also to investigate the use of uranium weapons such as the Spike or Hellfire Missiles. What is important in these cases is to investigate the targets and I have to say that the International forces worked very quickly to clean most of the sites. In fact, what this did was remove much of the evidence that is needed to do a proper investigation of the sites. I asked for tests to be carried out not only on depleted uranium, but also uranium. The UN Environmental commission did not take the reports into account that I had carried out on the terrain, where I had evidence of uranium far above normal levels. As a matter of fact, and this is what is so sad, the tests that were carried out used unsound methods and only one site was tested. The site was declared ‘clean’ and therefore, the case was closed as far as they were concerned.”
Dr Williams stressed the fact that there was no doubt that Israel had used weapons containing uranium. One of the ways of measuring the material that remains after a bombardment is to measure the chemical composition of the dust. A colleague of Dr Williams, Dr Chris Busby, had suggested that the best automatic dust collecting device is an automotive filter, so a filter that was in immediate proximity of a bombardment was sent for analysis. It was from a semi-destroyed ambulance that was bombed at Khaim. “There was a small amount of low enriched uranium in it. It is unusual to have uranium in dust, and this was definitely the consequence of a bombardment with bombs containing uranium. The quantity was enough to be an absolute fingerprint, small but legally sufficient. It was present in two of the locations that I tested, in Beirut and Khaim.” 200 samples underwent Gamma testing in Geneva. “It is logical that they came up with the wrong analysis, because they used the wrong test. This is not the appropriate test to analyse the presence of depleted uranium. Mass Spectroscopy should have been used.” He also showed the results of tests analysing samples of human urine of the people who were in the vicinity of the bombing there and the concentrations of uranium were high.
Robert Fisk published the report made by Dr Williams, and it received a very negative reaction from the UN and Israel. “There was some collaboration with the UNEP (United Nations Environmental Program) scientists and Achem Steiner, but so much misinformation started to circulate that the inquiry was actually forced to be stopped.” The conclusions drawn from that by Dr Williams are unequivocal: “There are still the effects of the dirty bombs that were used on Lebanese soil and there are consequences of this that unfortunately we will not know as long as we do not continue investigation. One thing is certain, new arms control discussions are needed. Weapons are being used against people without any kind of control or adequate safety measures. We don’t know all the harmful side effects that can still be triggered, and this also reflects upon a negligence of the Lebanese government in not doing anything to investigate.”
>When asked for more details by the Lebanese barristers present, he mentioned that these weapons produce a fine dust that has the consistency of pepper. Since the heat is so great, most of it goes straight up, but then it gets blown by the wind very far away and it can spread. In some areas it is concentrated. “Most of the bombs used in the war were conventional ones, and the amount of unconventional weapons used in Lebanon is very small when compared to those used in Iraq or Afghanistan. But, the problem is that radiation is forever, even if in very small amounts. There was not adequate human or environmental testing done, and the damage was indiscriminate and permanent in some cases.” He suggested that there was the possibility of a variety of bombs being used, containing both enriched uranium and depleted uranium, and that perhaps the sites had themselves been cleaned or altered between various moments of testing. He also pointed to the variation in the results (between the determination that the bombs used depleted uranium or enriched uranium) as being explained in the hypothesis that at least two bombs were dropped on each site. He indicated that once enriched uranium is burnt, it becomes indistinguishable from uranium present in nature – but of extreme rarity – and test results can be politically charged by stating that these things are not the result of bombs, or even that the machines used to test were not properly cleaned, something quite absurd to state about a laboratory with the reputation of Harwell.
After his talk, I had the opportunity to speak with Dr Williams. Being a psychologist, he is very concerned with the emotional or psychological impact of communication, and we spoke at length about the importance of the ‘human filter’ when listening to this kind of information. Actually, to the profane in material, the difference between a conventional and unconventional weapon is marginal, if the result is destruction. Yet, Dr Williams mentioned that there is an element that makes informing about these weapons complicated, and that is the will to inform tempered by the desire to not cause undue stress and worry. “These bombs can cause damage in the future, since they operate at a genetic level. This means we don’t know what effects there are going to be, and this can cause a level of alarm that, in the end, is psychologically just as critical. Where does one draw the line about saying the possible effects and assuring people that perhaps things are not as bad as we fear? How do we inform without creating panic? Not getting any information about the weapons leaves us in that condition. As scientists and investigators, we are not even allowed to make any genuine conclusions because we are denied the possibility of having a scientific response.”
If this is indeed the case, the Israeli war against Lebanon had as its most damaging and pervasive weapon the psychological one of fear, fear that would remain intact for generations.