Wednesday, September 18, 2013

WHO sits on Iraq report

CRIME does not pay, they say. That must bring smiles to the face of many successful criminals, especially governments, which can find ways to make the victim pay, twice over. In 1986 I saw for myself a new home destroyed by Israeli forces in a hamlet near Um el Fahm, and the family scrambling amid the rubble to rescue some possessions.

I learned that the homeowner had been detained for building in breach of discriminatory planning restrictions, and would be ordered to pay for the cost of demolition.

I was unkindly reminded of how the Nazis found ways to make Jews pay for damage to their own premises during Kristallnacht, told insurance companies they need not pay out, and ordered synagogues be razed to the ground and replaced by car parking lots.

But crimes against property are one thing. A US court has gone one better, ordering that Iraqis who had sought some redress for having been tortured in Abu Ghraib prison should have to pay the costs of the US contractors they accused of torturing them.

Not that I should be so surprised at anything coming from US courts (unless it was justice), especially where the Middle East is concerned. It's almost a year since a US judge found Iran and Hizbollah liable for the 9/11 attack, along with their bitter enemies in the Taliban and Al Qaida. Anyone except the Saudis, in fact, though Saudi money funded both Taliban and Al Qaida (as it does jihadis in Syria), and the hijackers were Saudis. 

Guess the judiciary has to keep US foreign policy in mind, but if the US courts are not independent what about international organisations?

Murder will out, is another saying, but what if those investigating the crimes are sitting on their information?

While the world has been rightly horrified by the use of chemical weapons such as sarin gas in Syria, whichever side is to blame, people are still suffering and dying in Iraq after the war which the US and its allies waged there. There has been considerable evidence of abnormal rates of cancer and birth defects in places like Faluja, where US forces used white phosphorus and depleted uranium.

But as former UN humanitarian co-ordinator  Denis Halliday reports:
 September 13, 2013 "Information Clearing House -  The World Health Organisation (WHO)  has categorically refused in defiance of its own mandate to share evidence uncovered in Iraq that US military use of Depleted Uranium and other weapons have not only killed many civilians, but continue to result in the birth of deformed babies.
This issue was first brought to light in 2004 in a WHO expert report “on the long-term health of Iraq’s civilian population resulting from depleted uranium (DU) weapons”. This earlier report was “held secret”, namely suppressed by the WHO:
The study by three leading radiation scientists cautioned that children and adults could contract cancer after breathing in dust containing DU, which is radioactive and chemically toxic. But it was blocked from publication by the World Health Organization (WHO), which employed the main author, Dr Keith Baverstock, as a senior radiation advisor. He alleges that it was deliberately suppressed, though this is denied by WHO. (See Rob Edwards, WHO ‘Suppressed’ Scientific Study Into Depleted Uranium Cancer Fears in Iraq,  The Sunday Herald, February 24, 2004)
Almost nine years later,  a joint WHO- Iraqi Ministry of Health Report on cancers and birth defect in Iraq was to be released in November 2012. “It has been delayed repeatedly and now has no release date whatsoever.”
To this date the WHO study remains “classified”.
There is an international petition asking the WHO and the Iraqi ministry of health to release their information, and here is a doctor in Faluja who introduces it:

My name is Dr Samira Alaani and I am a pediatrician working in Fallujah General Hospital. In the years since US forces attacked our city my colleagues and I have recorded a horrifying increase in the numbers of babies born with congenital defects: spina bifida, heart abnormalities and defects that I do not even have a name for. Many do not survive. For those that do, we care for them as best we can with the limited resources we have.
I have worked in Fallujah as a Pediatrician since 1997 but began to notice something was wrong in 2006 and began logging the cases; we have determined that 144 babies are now born with a deformity for every 1000 live births. We believe it has to be related to contamination caused by the fighting in our city, even now, nearly 10 years later. It is not unique to Fallujah; hospitals throughout the Anbar Governorate and many other regions of Iraq are recording increases. Every day I see the strain this fear puts on expectant mothers and their families. The first question I am asked when a child is born is not ‘is it a boy or a girl?’ but ‘is my child healthy?’

When I heard that the Iraqi Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation (WHO) were going to carry out research I finally felt a glimmer of hope. I knew it would only confirm what we already knew; that there had been a rise in birth defects, but I saw it as a stepping stone to finally spur Iraq and the international community into action.

The research is now complete and we were promised that it would be published at the beginning of 2013, yet six months later the WHO has announced more delays. We worry that this is now politics, not science. We have already waited years for the truth and my patients cannot wait any longer. The WHO has another option. The data should be published in an open access journal for independent peer review. The process would be fast, rigorous and transparent.
My patients need to know the truth, they need to know why they miscarried, they need to know why their babies are so ill but, most importantly, they need to know that something is being done about it. The Iraqi Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation need to release this data and give us answers.
I have signed this petition and urged my friends to do likewise. Here is the link:

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