The NYTimes found film records of naked humans being used for radiation testing by Saddam. That appears to have been one alternate “choice” from being beaten in the prisons.
As for the entire report, in my notes it does not follow closely what actually happened, what the theater commander(s) said, what the Pentagon requested, etc. Additionally, if an inspection team actually recommended the towers be guarded it may have been “some time” before that bit of info actually took on the force and effect of orders and made it down to the troop level.
An interesting article, but read with your pencil ready to mark what appears to me to be liberal license in reporting. 😉
Theft of Cobalt in Iraq Prompts Security Inquiry
AMIRIYA, Iraq — A seeming lapse in surveillance by American forces has led to the looting of dangerously radioactive capsules from Saddam Hussein’s main battlefield testing site in the desert outside Baghdad and the identification of at least one 30-year-old Iraqi villager, and possibly a village boy, as suffering from radiation sickness.
The two capsules, taken from a site once used by Mr. Hussein’s government to test the effects of radiation on animals and perhaps humans, have since been recovered after an American sweep through the area.
But American officers fear that more cases of the sickness may follow, and that they will be powerless to help unless people in the villages of Amiriya and Shamiya break their silence and identify men who looted the desert site in early September.
Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the American commander in Iraq, has ordered an investigation to discover why an arc of eight 75-foot radioactive testing poles at the site was not more closely guarded after American nuclear experts filed a report to the Pentagon identifying them as dangerous after a visit to the site on May 9, American officers said. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has also taken a personal interest in the case.
Under investigation is how American surveillance of the area, now under the control of the 82nd Airborne Division, failed to spot villagers entering the testing site with heavy vehicles to dismantle
three of the poles, or towers, for scrap, leaving heavy tire tracks in the desert.
One of the cobalt capsules was found by American troops on Oct. 6 lying in the yard of a villager’s house in Amiriya, less than 15 feet from the outdoor clay oven the family used to bake bread.
The second capsule was found partly buried about 75 feet from a house in Shamiya, just east of Amiriya and about 10 miles north of the nuclear testing site, in a position where it, too, would have
been approached by family members and neighbors. Along with the capsules, parts of the giant testing poles were found, dismantled for scrap metal.
“We’ve made every effort to unscramble this thing,” said Lt. Col. George Krivo, a spokesman for the American command in Baghdad.
Looting of military depots has been a persistent problem since the fall of Mr. Hussein, prompting suggestions that the 130,000 American troops in Iraq may be too stretched.
The radioactive capsules, less than five inches high and shaped like stainless steel miniatures of the Apollo spacecraft’s command module, contained thumbnail amounts of cobalt-60, a radiation source
commonly used in X-ray machines and in other medical and industrial applications. The capsules were situated in concrete crypts at the base of the towers, and raised on cables into the towers to create an irradiated environment on the simulated battlefield.
American experts say they have not been able to verify whether the radioactive poles were used under Mr. Hussein for live tests on humans and animals that simulated battlefield conditions under
nuclear attack, as reports from Iraqi exiles in the years before the American occupation suggested.
But documents recording tests on humans, including dust-covered strips of film showing the naked upper bodies and heads of men who
appeared to have been alive when the films were made, were found by The New York Times at the site during two visits there in mid-November.
American officers who oversaw the complex operation to recover the two unshielded capsules of cobalt-60 have hinted that the failure to identify the looting in September until two weeks later may have resulted from a work overload among experts who gather data from spy satellites.
In a somber reflection of the hostility toward Americans in this area at the southern end of the so-called Sunni triangle, Colonel Krivo said, “If for any reason there are people in those villages who cannot or will not come forward to be tested, that would be very much to their detriment.” He added, “The attitude out there is `Why should we trust the Americans?’ “
The two houses where the cobalt-60 capsules were found were identified after United States Army Black Hawk helicopters fitted with powerful radiation detectors flew wide patterns across the
desert near the testing site, the officers said.
American experts say cobalt could be used in the making of “dirty bombs” — cheap, improvised nuclear devices. But American commanders
here are convinced that the looters wanted the metal only for scrap.
American experts, and others from the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, which had the towers under surveillance for much of the 1990’s and just before the American invasion of Iraq, say the cobalt capsules were strong enough when Mr. Hussein’s scientists first used them in the early 1980’s to emit potentially lethal gamma rays. Recent American tests have shown that the
radioactivity of the capsules has decayed to about 10 percent of its original potency. But the fact that the capsules were unshielded, American experts say, still posed a danger to anyone exposed to them for a protracted period.
At both villages, local people have steadfastly refused to identify the men who dismantled the towers and moved them to the villages, along with the two capsules, or to tell American and Iraqi
investigators where the men are now.
The officers said they believed that after the lapses in spotting the looting, the American command — particularly a Pentagon unit called the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, working in Iraq to
dispose of materials found at former chemical, biological and nuclear weapons sites — deserved credit for moving quickly into the villages and taking the capsules back to the testing site.
The testing site was then made safe by moving the capsules from all eight towers to an undisclosed but “safe” place.
In a measure of how concerned the Americans were when they reached the two villages to recover the capsules, the officers described how
an American soldier in Amiriya wearing no protective equipment had approached the capsule, mounted atop a 60-pound steel counterweight,
had run with it, and had “heaved it over the fence, 100 feet from the house.”
So far, about 70 villagers have been tested by teams from the Iraqi Ministry of Health and assisted by Americans, who took blood samples
and conducted other tests.
Of those villagers, American officers say, four showed “abnormal results,” and two, the 30-year-old man and the 4-year-old boy, were found to have symptoms consistent with radiation sickness. The man, who has the more serious of the two cases, had muscle pains, fatigue and multiple ulcerations in his mouth, the officers say, all classic
symptoms of radiation sickness.
The officers did not identify the two victims or give their current state of health, but said they remained under observation.
In the case of the house in Amiriya, only women and children remain there, a situation almost unknown in the male-dominated life of Iraqi villages. American officers did not say in which village the two suspected radiation victims lived, or whether they believed that the 30-year-old man was among the looters.
The officers quoted the Iraqis living at the Amiriya house as saying that all the men in the family had been killed in the American invasion of Iraq, and that they knew nothing about how the radioactive capsule and the two 38-foot lengths of heavy steel lying just beyond a fence marking their yard had gotten there.
In Shamiya, the officers said, the family offered an even less credible explanation, given that American experts inspected all eight towers in May and found the capsules intact.
“They said, `An Iraqi soldier came to the house in April and told us to bury the object here, and to stay away from it,’ ” the officers said.
The American investigation set in motion by General Sanchez appears to be a rigorous one. “He’s investigating this in great detail, and
he’s personally engaged,” Colonel Krivo said of the general. “We will get to the bottom of this.”
For years, Western human rights groups reported claims by Iraqi defectors that prisoners were being taken from Mr. Hussein’s overcrowded prisons, including his main fortress at Abu Ghraib, about 30 miles north of the testing site, to be used as human guinea pigs.
But initial translations of the Arabic documents found at the site have not yet shown whether the tests recorded in the films involved biological, chemical or nuclear weapons, or who the men in the filmstrips were.
The looting of the capsules seems likely to become a parable for much of the nature of the American occupation of Iraq.
Some defense officials who discussed the incident on the basis of anonymity said events at the desert site showed the Bush administration’s error in sending too few troops to Iraq, a decision that high-ranking American officers in Baghdad shortly after its capture said had curbed their powers to crack down on the looting that ransacked the city.
So far, experts working for the Iraq Survey Group, mostly Americans and Britons with long knowledge of Iraq’s secret weapons programs, have failed to discover, or at least to announce the discovery of,
materials indicating that Mr. Hussein was developing illicit weapons in the final years of his rule.
The site looted was known to the West. In the Persian Gulf war in 1991, it was heavily bombed. Although the site carried several names, the most common of them, the Saddam State Company, left
little doubt of the direct link to Mr. Hussein.
After the site came under close inspection by United Nations weapons inspectors who arrived in the wake of the 1991 war, it lost much of its importance as top-secret programs were transferred.
Now, it is a desolate, windswept wasteland, evocative of the billions of dollars Mr. Hussein spent on weapons programs at a time when Iraq was being steadily impoverished by the wars he started and by the United Nations economic sanctions that followed.
But the site’s size, about 20 square miles, its history and its strategic positioning in an area that was Mr. Hussein’s main political stronghold, made it an inevitable place for American experts to visit shortly after Baghdad fell on April 9.
In the first half of May, a member of a United States Army unit searching for secret weapons said the team had found the eight radioactive testing towers and the concrete crypts beneath them, and
had discovered a large radiation source in each crypt.
As reported by The New York Times on May 12, the team recommended that the area be secured by American forces until the radiation sources could be removed.
But the unit’s recommendation was evidently ignored. American officers fear that because the villagers may have been continuously exposed to the gamma radiation for as long as a month before they were taken away by American troops on Oct.8, the risks of sickness among the missing villagers could be high.
Judith Miller contributed reporting for this article from New