In what may be the worst piece of legislation the Senate has passed in decades (and they've had some whoppers), the Senate voted last week for a huge corporate boondoggle that will not only help bankrupt our country, but will guarantee long-term environmental damage, a rise in cancer rates and thousands of years of monitoring of toxic and radioactive waste. They did this without a single public hearing, without a debate, and without much of a conscience.
The energy bill is a major attack on our country and our world's future. First, it authorizes the spending of taxpayer dollars to help build six or more new nuclear reactors -- reactors that the utilities couldn't afford to build on their own. The utilities and proponents of nuclear power would have us believe that per megawatt, nuclear power is both the cheapest and the cleanest form of energy available.
In fact, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the last five commercial reactors cost 11 times as much to build per kilowatt as natural gas plants. Furthermore, they aren't at all responsible for the cost of long-term storage of the nuclear waste they create -- waste that will have to be stored, monitored and maintained for the next 100,000 years.
Mind-boggling, considering that all of recorded human history is only a fraction of that time. Imagine your reaction if your annual tax bill carried a surcharge to maintain toxic waste left behind by Ptolemy II and Nebuchadnezzar.
Worse, the bill indefinitely extends the Price-Anderson Act, passing on the liability for accidents at nuclear plants to the very people who will suffer the consequences -- you and me. George Woodwell, one of the preeminent scientists in America today, recently pointed out that if it weren't for Price-Anderson, there wouldn't be a single commercial nuclear reactor in the U.S., because they couldn't afford the insurance. As it stands, reactor operators are required to carry $200 million of liability coverage per reactor; damages beyond that amount are passed on to the taxpayer.
Ironically, in a 1992 study by Sandia National Labs, commissioned in the wake of the Three Mile Island near-meltdown, the cost of damage from a single nuclear accident is estimated to range as high as $560 billion in current articles. Who pays? We do.
But that's not all. Behind curtain number three is a pilot pebble bed nuclear reactor. The utilities call pebble bed reactors "inherently safe," because if they loose their coolant, they don't melt down. In fact, say the utilities, they are so safe that the engineers don't believe they need containment structures. Of course, if the graphite coatings on the "pebbles" are exposed to, say, oxygen, they'll catch on fire, which is precisely what caused most of the radiation exposure from Chernobyl. But don't worry, say the utilities -- it's "inherently safe." If so, why do taxpayers need to substantially bear the burden of liability in case of accidents?
Let's not forget that if the 9/11 hijackers had taken a detour and crashed into the Indian Point cooling pool (they flew right over it), they would likely have killed 100,000 people instead of 3,000 if the wind was blowing in the right direction.
Outraged yet? Keep reading. The bill, which must seem like a godsend to the utilities, authorizes the pilot construction of a nuclear plant to produce hydrogen for fuel cells. Forget that we can produce hydrogen with wind power at almost no cost; instead, the Bush Administration has in store a plan to build hundreds of nuclear plants to produce hydrogen. We'll have clean power for our cars, at the price of hundreds of millions of tons of nuclear waste spread all over the country. How helpful is that? In fact, this plan is simply a backdoor to build more nuclear plants while they posture at being environmentally friendly.
This isn't just about us. It's about our children, and their children, going forward to all future generations. For some perspective, Julius Caesar was assassinated by disgruntled senators a mere 2,000 years ago. By law, we have to maintain and protect the waste produced by these plants for fifty times that. The entire sweep of human history pales in comparison to the time this stuff will be around, leaking into the environment, causing cancer and birth defects and possibly extinction. It won't reach its peak radioactivity for another 100,000 years.
I hope those campaign contributions from the energy companies make the Senators who voted for this bill feel better, because countless future generations will be cursing them, giving this Senate its own brand of immortality. It's not a legacy I'd want to live with.
Charles Sheehan-Miles is executive director of the Nuclear Policy Research Institute and the author of "Prayer at Rumayla: A Novel of the Gulf War."
It's a surreal fantasy. Here I am again: Dick Cheney and Colin Powell on television talking about Saddam Hussein. Military pundits arguing over strategy. Protesters accused of aiding the enemy.
There's only one difference this time -- instead of waiting it out on the border with Iraq, I'm glued to CNN.
Imagine if in the summer of 1985, President Ronald Reagan had announced that Vietnam had been remiss in its international obligations. In the face of international opposition and internal dissent, he ordered the U.S. Armed Forces to "liberate" Saigon from its Communist masters. Sound like a surreal fantasy? Imagine the reaction of Vietnam veterans. Some might be cheering it on; after all, we need to go back and finish what we started. Most, perhaps, would feel sadness, resignation, even horror.
That's how I feel, every time I see the troops over in Kuwait, every time I see CNN swooning over all of the exciting weapons and hardware, every time my old unit: the 4th Battalion, 64th Armor "Tuskers" is in the media because they are back in Iraq once again.
On the eve of a bad rerun of a bad war, the surreal fantasy played out again, like the same old bad movie our President loves to cite. This time it was the Pentagon, last Friday, describing the delights of the depleted uranium ammunition we are preparing to fling about the desert.
Dr. Michael Kilpatrick of the Pentagon helped preside over the festivities. Dr. Kilpatrick was part of the investigation into Gulf War veterans' illnesses by the Pentagon, which spent $140 million on a PR effort to convince the public that no veterans were sick, in spite of medical evidence to the contrary. Inspires confidence, doesn't it? It should. We can trust them, of course we can. After all, it's the Pentagon.
The fact that the Pentagon's own studies have found cancer in rats, among other problems, is simply brushed aside. The terrible toll in childhood leukemia, birth defects and other problems in southern Iraq is passed off by saying "Saddam didn't allow a World Health Organization study of the population."
Kilpatrick and Col. James Naughton speak in glowing terms of the advantage depleted uranium rounds give Americans in combat. I was a tank crewman in the Gulf, so this is a subject I can relate to, having personally loaded two dozen or so depleted uranium SABOT rounds and sent them into targets in southern Iraq. It is popularly repeated in the media and by the military that depleted uranium gave American forces an incomparable advantage on the battlefield and therefore, in a indirect way, saved lives.
However, according to a report recently released by Dan Fahey, an expert on depleted uranium, only 500 of the 3,700 Iraqi tanks destroyed in the Gulf were destroyed by depleted uranium rounds. In fact, the real danger for enemy tanks was the Maverick missile.
One of the real tragedies of the Gulf War is that the majority of exposures to depleted uranium were completely preventable. The primary danger from DU occurs when it strikes a hard target, when a substantial portion of the depleted uranium burns up into a fine, respirable dust. According to a 1998 report issued by the National Gulf War Resource Center, as many as 400,000 troops passed through areas potentially contaminated with depleted uranium. A former President of the NGWRC who did not fight in any battles, but visited a frontline battlefield some days after the cease fire, had his picture taken next to a tank that had been hit by a DU round. Seven years later, he still had detectable levels of uranium in his urine.
The Pentagon, then as now, insisted that depleted uranium munitions are perfectly safe, and did not warn the troops of basic techniques to avoid contamination. Quite the opposite: The military ferried rear-echelon troops up to the front for "battlefield tours." At the same time, neither the Iraqi government, nor the coalition, made any attempt to clean up the battlefield and remove contaminated tanks and other equipment. As a result, children play on contaminated tanks, and salvaged parts and scrap metal have made their way into the local, devastated economy.
And so it goes. Another war, another fight in the Gulf. I don't know how this war is going to turn out; no one does. Uncertainty and risk are the only guarantee in war. Of one thing I have no doubt: It is the civilians and the troops who will bear the cost of the Defense Department's lies -- friends of mine who are still in uniform today, who are back in the Middle East. They will live or die based on their skill and speed and luck, and possibly our prayers. I'm afraid for them, and I'm afraid for all of us.
Charles Sheehan-Miles is executive director of the Nuclear Policy Research Institute and author of the novel, "Prayer at Rumayla".
A few days ago, someone asked me if I thought war with Iraq had become inevitable. My response, at the time, was yes. The Bush administration had reached the point of no return and was going to war, regardless of what the rest of the country, or the rest of the world, thought.
Saturday, that changed. With the proposal planned by the French and Germans, we may have found our best possible chance for a peaceful resolution.
In short, the Franco-German plan is a reinforced inspection regime: tripling the number of inspectors, reinforcing them with United Nations troops and expanding the current no-fly zone to cover the entire country of Iraq. If the plan can be implemented in such a way that the UN force does not include U.S. forces, and is not perceived as an occupying force by ordinary Iraqis, this may be the best chance to succeed, for several reasons:
- An improved and reinforced inspections regime will be able to effectively disarm Iraq;
- The sooner the UN is satisfied Iraq is disarmed, the sooner crippling economic sanctions can be lifted and the Iraqi people can stop suffering from a policy none of them can affect;
- Bush and Rumsfeld can walk away believing they have given a backbone to the United Nations and forced it to action, and can walk away with the credit;
- Saddam Hussein will be able to claim he stood up to a planned imperialist invasion and prevented it.
- American soldiers won't have to die in an offensive war;
- Tens or hundreds of thousands of Iraqis won't have to die;
- Preventing a U.S. led invasion reduces the risk of inflaming the entire Muslim world against America, a very real risk associated with a unilateral assault on Baghdad.
It's hard to argue with a plan that has all these benefits, but the first reactions of the President's cabal are not promising, because this plan stands in the way of the real goal, which is American hegemony in the Middle East.
President Bush may be between a rock and a hard place. Faced with a real solution for peace, which would accomplish the disarmament he claims he wants, to proceed with plans for war would expose this war for what it is: naked aggression. The biggest stumbling blocks for the plan are two key issues: who will control Iraq's oil fields when it's all over, and the lack of a plan for regime change, one of the Bush administration's key demands.
This may be the last critical moment to prevent a war. If enough pressure is brought to bear by American citizens, Congress and the press, the Bush administration can walk away, stop a war, and declare themselves the winners.
If there was ever a time for action, this is it. The anti-war community should quickly get behind this proposal and urge the Senate to press the administration into considering it. It may be our last chance to stop the war and prevent the deaths of thousands of people.
Charles Sheehan-Miles, a Gulf War veteran and a co-founder of Veterans for Common Sense, is a former president of the National Gulf War Resource Center and author of the novel, "Prayer at Rumayla."
I can't decide if Israel's new policy, or the American lack of outrage, is what disturbs me the most.
For decades Israel has maintained a policy of assassinations, one which has accelerated in recent years as Israel hunted and killed possibly hundreds of suspected or accused terrorists or accomplices of terrorists. Most of these killings took place in Gaza and the West Bank, usually regardless of innocent bystanders. Some spectacularly stupid and tragic incidents have occurred in recent months, including the firing of an American-made Hellfire missile into a crowded apartment block, killing more than a dozen bystanders.
Ostensibly, it is U.S. policy to oppose such assassinations. For example, in November 2002 the BBC quoted State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher reiterating our opposition to such tactics in the Occupied Territories. In almost the same breath, he announced that the CIA-led killing of suspected terrorists--also with a Hellfire missile--was different. "A lot of different things come to play here," he said.
How right he was.
Israel is now citing the U.S. assassination in Yemen as justification for ramping up its own underground antiterror campaign, and they intend to conduct operations within the United States. Richard Sale quotes a former Israeli government official as saying diplomatic constraints have prevented the Mossad from carrying out "preventive operations" (targeted killings) on the soil of friendly countries until now.
"Until now," is an intriguing comment. What exactly is different? Are diplomatic constraints no longer a concern, and if not, why not? Has the U.S. given some signal that it's acceptable to murder people within our borders? If a carload of people are killed by a missile on an American highway, will we shrug and say, "Oh, well, that's the war on terrorism"?
Just as disturbing, UPI was unable to get a single American official to condemn the policy change. The FBI told Mr. Sale, "This is a policy matter; we only enforce federal laws."
So what exactly does that mean? Is the FBI not interested in foreign powers committing acts of murder in the United States? Isn't that what the new FBI is all about?
Of course, some pure speculation is in order, because perhaps Israel was, in fact, given the diplomatic wink-and-a-nudge. After all, we are exporting prisoners to such bastions of human rights as Syria to get down to the serious questioning. Americans don't torture, but plainly the administration sees no reason not to hand over people to other countries for that purpose.
Americans also don't shoot and assassinate suspects, because of that silly doctrine of "innocent until proven guilty." Indeed, despite the sincere efforts of Mr. Ashcroft, we still have all those inconvenient speed-bumps like the Miranda warning, attorney-client privilege, the right to see the evidence brought against you, and the right to counsel. (At least those of us who haven't been labeled as "enemy combatants.")
Instead of going to all that trouble to collect evidence, hold trials and house convicted offenders, what if we just quietly passed some intelligence on to our "friends" in the Mossad and let them take care of it? It's not like we'd be committing assassinations on American soil, it would be those pesky Israelis doing it.
Just remember: what Israel calls "targeted elimination," our laws call murder. Let's hope our government sees it the same way.
Already Israeli and Palestinian Internet hackers have exported their war to America, hacking servers, mail-bombing innocent bystanders and besmirching the reputations of people on both sides of the ideological divide in their conflict. Let us pray they don't export their physical war and its attendant assassinations, car bombs and worse.
It's time for the Bush administration to come down hard on Sharon and his pals. Ariel Sharon, extremist extraordinaire and perpetrator of several documented massacres, is a terrorist in the guise of a head-of-state, no less than his partner-in-hate Yasir Arafat. Unless the administration puts its foot down and holds Israel's feet to the fire, they'll be stupid enough to export their assassination policy to America, and then we'd better all watch out.
Charles Sheehan-Miles, a Gulf War veteran and a co-founder of Veterans for Common Sense, is a former president of the National Gulf War Resource Center and author of the novel, "Prayer at Rumayla".
Imagine if Ronald Reagan had announced in 1985 that we were going back to Vietnam, and this time we were going to take out those commies. That's how surreal the whole discussion of invading Iraq is, because we have just about as much justification today. At least in 1991, we had the very real fact that Iraq had invaded and occupied its neighbor as justification for the war (forget that the U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie gave Saddam the go-ahead), and the just-war theorists had a lively debate. It was a fight in Congress and a very close vote, a vote that was swung by lies of babies thrown out of incubators concocted in a DC public relations firm.
The result of all this is clear: friends injured on the front lines in Iraq, 12 men in my division killed in action and many more wounded, tens of thousands more who came home sick. Only this week new research was published proving that the chemicals we were exposed to not only caused brain damage but also damaged fertility. This research vindicated thousands of veterans who reported their illnesses 10 years ago only to be told their ailment was in their heads.
Now, 12 years later, it is time for the country to sit up and listen to its veterans -- starting with figures including Generals Anthony Zinni and Norman Schwarzkopf who have consistently urged caution, certified war heroes such as Col. David Hackworth, and the hundreds of veterans who have signed petitions for Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans against the Iraq War.
As veterans who have served in wartime, it is our moral responsibility to ensure that those who serve in uniform today are not sent into battle without just cause. It is our moral responsibility to ensure that they don't needlessly die in a faraway desert for motivations that are unclear. Hold no illusions: Hundreds, possible thousands of Americans will die in the coming war. Tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of Iraqis will die in the coming war.
All across America, hundreds of thousands of citizens are marching this week, calling out to their government to listen to the people, and in many cases they are joined or led by veterans. No one knows the horrors of war better than someone who has had a friend die in his arms. No one knows the horrors of war better than someone who lives with the memory of having killed another human being.
The tide is turning. Today, the majority of Americans see war against Iraq as unwarranted and unnecessary. But we must keep at it, keep talking, keep putting up signs, until Bush's war on America and Iraq is brought to a halt.
Twelve years ago, among the lights that flew so high over us in the desert night, Lieutenant Commander Scott Speicher was shot down over Iraq and never came home. Before the war ground to a halt in March untold thousands more died, at least some of them at my hand. Before the decade was over, another million innocent Iraqi civilians died. That must forever lie on the conscience of Americans, and the world, for letting it happen.
When I was in the Army, they taught me to respect and protect civilians, not to kill them. This war does nothing to protect American lives, but it will do everything to destroy the lives of many thousands of Iraqis and Americans. This war will not protect us from weapons of mass destruction, but it will make it more likely Iraq will try to use them. This war will not liberate the Iraqi people, but it will do everything to ensure they receive a new master, one ruled by corporate profits and oil to fuel more American consumption.
This war isn't worth the life of one American soldier. This week, thousands of American soldiers from my old post, Fort Stewart, are loading up on planes and deploying to Kuwait, to fight a war on our behalf. They go because it is their job, and because it is their mission to protect us.
It is now our mission to protect them.
Charles Sheehan-Miles, a Gulf War veteran and a co-founder of Veterans for Common Sense, is a former president of the National Gulf War Resource Center and author of the novel, "Prayer at Rumayla".
"Are you okay?"
My wife asked the question after we learned that Robert Stewart Flores, who killed three professors at the University of Arizona before shooting himself, was a Gulf War veteran.
She asked me the same thing last week, when we learned John Allen Muhammed, better known as the Washington D.C. sniper, is also a Gulf War veteran. Not to mention British Gulf War vet Paul Delaney, who stabbed his ex-girlfriend and mother of two, Colleen Chudley, 30 or 40 times. Or Staff Sergeant Frank Ronghi, a Gulf War vet who murdered and sodomized an 11-year old girl in Kosovo. Or Jeffrey Glenn Hutchinson, also a Gulf vet, who murdered his girlfriend and her three children on Sept. 11, 1998. Or Joseph Ludlam, who murdered his former manager in November 2000. And then there's the most famous Gulf War veteran of all, Timothy McVeigh, who killed hundreds of people in a homegrown terrorist attack in Oklahoma City.
Every time we hear of another incident like this, she asks me the same thing: "Are you okay?"
I can't blame her for asking: I spent the first five years after the war in a rage, writing a novel about a Gulf War veteran whose pain and rage took him over the edge. I lived inside this guy's head, and I felt what he felt, and shudder to think I have anything in common with people who would commit these kinds of crimes. Because while any population of people is bound to have some bad apples, it seems like we Gulf War veterans have had more than our share of late.
See, not all of the fighting happens on the battlefield, and not all of it is against the enemy. As the classic 1946 film, "The Best Years of our Lives," so artfully presented, not everyone readjusts from war so easily. Sometimes we suffer from nightmares, lack of sleep, flashbacks. Sometimes the nightmares are when we are awake. Sometimes veterans inflict their nightmares on other people. War is all about killing and destruction, and the sane reaction to killing and destruction is to go a little bit crazy.
Consider the tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans who have committed suicide, or the tens of thousands of homeless veterans who've never been able to rejoin society. Just ask the growing numbers of incarcerated veterans. Just ask Timothy McVeigh. Oh ... well, you can't ask him.
The good news is that the vast majority of veterans who return from war come home well adjusted. They have their nightmares privately, without inflicting them on anyone else, and sometimes they courteously wait 30 or 40 years before they even realize the war affected them. But for some, they just can't wait. The price of war is often anger, divorce, readjustment problems, drug addiction, homelessness, and sometimes murder.
Remember, when you go to the gas pump to buy your Middle Eastern oil, secured by the blood of American soldiers, this too is part of the price you pay. Not just being party to killings halfway around the world, which our society seems to tolerate with a glib "Let's change the channel" attitude, but also the lives torn apart back home.
You may decide it's okay -- your chances of being murdered by a combat veteran are still less than the risk of being killed in a highway accident. But as we send another few hundred thousand young men and women off to war, the odds are about to get worse.
Charles Sheehan-Miles is a decorated Gulf War combat veteran and the author of "Prayer at Rumayla."A former president of the National Gulf War Resource Center, he qualified as "Expert" on pistol and rifle, but doesn't currently own any weapons.
It was early in the morning, even for me, and I stared astonished at my inbox, replete with some pretty strong hate mail, with three general themes: "Shut up and toe the line," "Nuke Iraq," and worst of all, "Who are you to question the President?"
What did I do to warrant this flood of not-so-nice mail, which included threats of bodily harm, as well as some biologically implausible suggestions?
Last week a group of Gulf War veterans formed a team to raise questions about our impending invasion of Iraq. Together, we agreed on some basic principles, none of which was "anti-war." Rather, our goal is to ensure before we commit our forces to war, we consider all the key issues.
Those issues are simple: whether or not the invasion will destabilize the region; full medical care for returning soldiers (which never happened in 1991); the Bush administration should release any information justifying an attack; Congress is the body that should approve any war and ensure adequate oversight; we should meet our international obligations, including working through the UN Security Council, and a full accounting must be made for those who are missing-in-action.
In the first 24 hours after we announced our site, quite a few veterans signed on to the statement. But a small minority sent hate mail. To give you an idea of the tone, I'll quote three of them:
"Get over your-stupid-selves. Dumbass Liberal pussies."
"I say turn the place into glass!"
"Where in God's name did you ever get the idea to countermand the commander-in-chief of our nation?"
Okay. I have to take exception to this. Let's make one thing clear -- George W. Bush is indeed the commander-in-chief of the military; but last I heard, the President works for the people, not the other way around -- even if they didn't vote for him.
Since when did patriotism equal silence? Did that happen about the same time peace activists were added to the "no-fly" list? Will we let the terror war, or the Iraq war, or the oil war, or whoever it is we're fighting this week destroy the very foundations of our democracy?
It's time for people to sit up and pay attention. We've reached a turning point in history, where Americans say they'll cash in their freedom and liberty for security. We defeated communism and dictatorship, so now we'll try capitalism and dictatorship?
Unless we all speak out, we just might. Because the tenor of the debate is exactly what President Bush said: If you're not with us, you are against us. If you don't support war on Iraq, you must be Saddam's best friend. If you don't support "turning the place into glass," you must be anti-American. If you don't support slaughtering innocent civilians abroad, you must support terror against Americans at home.
I'm a combat veteran, and I reject that argument. If we give up the civil liberties on which our society was founded, then what are we fighting for? If we trade in our brains for the spin of the oil-company-controlled White House, we're in trouble.
But then again, if I believe what I read in my inbox, I'm just a radical with a liberal left-wing nut, anti-everything agenda.
Charles Sheehan-Miles, a decorated Gulf War combat veteran, is the author of "Prayer at Rumayla" (XLibris, 2001) and a former president of the National Gulf War Resource Center.