November 21, 2005
Gerard Matthew has broad shoulders and beefy hands. He's built like a bear. Yet
as sturdy as this 31-year-old may look, he is a very sick man.
Matthew suffers, for example, from facial swelling,
double and triple vision, muscle weakness, bouts of extreme anger that sometimes cause him to lash out at his wife, erectile
dysfunction and, most serious of all, a tumor in the pituitary gland at the base of his brain.
"And these are just
the big ones," he told the audience at the Foreign Correspondents' Club Japan in Tokyo earlier this month.
in New York, he said, he's got "a pharmacy" of medication -- and he worries both for himself and his family that his "days
All the more reason to speak at this media venue now, before things get worse.
a specialist in the U.S. Army National Guard's 719th Transport Unit, and his job, from April-September 2003, was to drive
trucks collecting war debris from around southern Iraq. He thinks that Samawah, the city where Japan has some 550 SDF members
participating in the U.S.-led "coalition of the willing," was among the many locations he passed through.
believes the dust from spent depleted-uranium (DU) ammunition in his cargo accumulated in his lungs, irradiating his body
and causing most of the ailments that trouble him today. Urine tests taken as part of a New York Daily News story investigation
in 2004 showed that DU levels in his sample were up to eight times higher than in control samples from Daily News journalists.
Matthew showed reporters a letter from the Department of the Army that rejected this claim.
Most pertinent to his
audience at the FCCJ: Matthew worries that radiological contamination may be afflicting Japanese troops posted to Iraq --
not to mention local Iraqis.
"I came all the way to Japan to convey the message," said Matthew, who, with his wife
Janise was the guest of Tokyo-based activist group Campaign for Abolition of Depleted Uranium Japan. In other words, he believes
that Japanese troops should be warned: "They may be susceptible to it."
With Janise, also 31, seated beside him on
the dais, the couple together held up glossy photographs of their 1-year-old daughter Victoria, who was born without a right
hand. It is a birth defect they both blame on DU.
"Yes, the military has paid for my education," said Matthew. "But
I would give all of that up to have my daughter with five fingers on her hand."
The Matthew family is caught up in
a raging worldwide debate over DU that extends into areas both scientific and geo-political.
Depleted uranium, an
enormously dense and hard biproduct of converting naturally occurring uranium into fuel for nuclear reactors, is used by the
U.S. military both in supertough armor plating for fighting vehicles and in "penetrators" -- ammunition fired against armored
vehicles and concrete emplacements that, instead of mushrooming on impact as regular bullets do, grows sharper as it bores
forward and through.
According to the U.S. Department of Defense, 290.3 metric tons of DU projectiles were fired by
U.S. forces during the 1990-91 Gulf War. By press time, the department had not responded to repeated requests for comment
on Matthew's case and current use of DU by the U.S. military.
Whatever the strategic benefits of DU ammunition, critics
-- including many in the scientific community -- claim that particles of it released upon impact are easily inhaled by humans,
either then or much later, and remain in the body for years, possibly causing cancers and many other health problems. With
local Iraqis in mind in particular, Matthew said: "We're hurting innocent civilians, and we don't need to do that."
United Nations would seem to agree.
A 2002 working paper by the UN Commission on Human Rights itemized a long list
of diseases and birth defects among Gulf War veterans, Iraqis and the offspring of both -- linking them strongly to the use
The same UN working paper concluded that use of DU in warfare contravenes the International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights; the Charter of the United Nations itself; and, "in certain situations of armed conflict," the Genocide
Convention. The working paper, if read closely, also suggests violation of the Hague and Geneva Conventions.
for its part, says on its Web site that radiation is not a "primary hazard" with DU "under most battlefield exposure scenarios."
Citing its own and several high-profile international studies, it concludes that DU is "40 percent less radioactive than natural
uranium," and is "not considered a serious external radiation hazard."
That stance is, in large part, supported by
the World Health Organization which, in its 2003 fact sheet No. 257, title "Depleted Uranium," said that "for the general
population, neither civilian nor military use of DU is likely to produce exposures to DU significantly above normal background
levels of uranium."
Consequently, some tough questions were to be expected at the Matthews' news conference.
can you scientifically establish that the syndrome you claim has been caused by depleted uranium was caused by depleted uranium?"
asked Naoaki Usui, a freelance reporter who described himself as a proponent of nuclear energy.
Matthew fixed his
eyes squarely on his questioner. "Look at my daughter, and that should answer your question about the exposure," he said.
"My daughter is the evidence."
Matthew said that his and Janise's other children from earlier relationships were born
without deformity, while genetic screening at a New York hospital turned up no predisposition to birth defects on either side
of the family.
That being the case, Matthew said that he and eight other soldiers with similar symptoms -- all of
whom, except Matthew, were stationed at Samawah -- have each sued the Department of Defense for $5 million. His daughter Victoria,
who to date has been denied disability benefits by the Social Security Administration, is also a coplaintiff with her father
-- claiming an additional $5 million. The cases are pending.
The plaintiffs are not alone in their battle. For years,
U.S. and British veterans of the first Gulf War have demanded that their governments grapple more aggressively with the mysterious
illnesses collectively known as Gulf War Syndrome -- symptoms of which Matthew says match his own.
Movement on this
front is afoot: BBC News reported earlier this month that the Pensions Appeal Tribunal in Britain had ruled that Daniel Martin,
an ex-soldier and Gulf War veteran, could use Gulf War Syndrome as an umbrella term to cover the diverse health problems afflicting
him. As a result, other British veterans hope this will improve their access to disablement pensions.
At his FCCJ
talk, Matthew said he expected news from his lawyer upon his return home to the Bronx.
While he was still here, though,
there was something else Matthew wanted to tell the Japanese. Describing his visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial some days
earlier, he said: "I felt like I made a connection . . . because I was exposed to radiation just like they were. My own government
did it to them.
"My government probably would not say sorry," he added. "But I say sorry."
The Japan Times:
Nov. 20, 2005
Article nr. 18067 sent on 22-nov-2005 01:40 ECT
The address of this page is:www.uruknet.info?p=18067
The incoming address of this article is: www.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/getarticle.pl5?fl20051120x1.htm