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Defying the World: America’s Weapons of Mass Destruction

Mike Burke
Date Published: 
July 14, 2002

“We cannot put our faith in the word of tyrants who solemnly sign non-proliferation treaties and then systematically break them.” Those were among the words the US Commander-in-Chief George W. Bush shared with officers at West Point at their early June 2002 graduation ceremony. Based on such a definition of ‘tyrant,’ it would be hard not to list Bush in the company of the Saddam Husseins of the world as his administration has rejected international treaties on the development of nuclear, chemical, biological and germ weapons in defiance of world opinion. “Bush is fast becoming the new proliferator-in-chief,” declared the Guardian newspaper last summer shortly after Washington rejected a key component of an international treaty limiting biological and germ warfare. The scathing editorial from the London paper came in response to the Bush administration’s opposition to a provision in the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention which would have allowed foreign investigators to monitor any nation’s chemical and biological plants, including the United States. “By rejecting the proposed inspection regime, it further, dangerously, suggests to others that the US is not really worried about germ-warfare controls and wants to develop its own, advanced biological weapons,” the Guardian noted on July 26, 2001. Six weeks later the American press reported that both the CIA and FBI were indeed involved in secret plans to produce, among other things, highly potent forms of anthrax and germ warfare bomblets, in violation of the 1972 treaty. The reports broke on September 4, a week before the devastating attacks in New York and Washington and Bush’s war against terrorism. Now as the “war” spreads beyond Afghanistan—the US has troops stationed in more nations than at any time since World War II—“rogue” nations such as Iraq, Iran and North Korea are expected to be targeted for producing weapons of mass destruction. Meanwhile the US continues to defy international convention by developing chemical, biological, germ and nuclear weapons that by most definitions would be categorized as weapons of mass destruction and illegal under international law. The nation’s stance on biological weapons inspections is notably hypocritical as the government prepares to wage war on Iraq based on charges that Saddam Hussein, like Bush, has refused to allow international monitors access his nation’s plants. And chances are, as with Hussein, the US has much to hide. Nuclear proliferation To prevent Iraq and other enemy states from hiding weapons of mass destruction underground, the Bush Administration has approved plans to start developing the nation’s first new nuclear weapon since the Cold War, the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator. The Penetrator will be two million times more powerful than the bunker buster bombs used to destroy caves in Afghanistan and 100 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. Described by supporters as a “clean” weapon or a “mini-nuke,” studies show a single bomb would kill 10,000 to 50,000 people within 24 hours if detonated in a city. Anti-nuclear activists fear a new arms race will ignite and non-nuclear nations will seek more advanced chemical and biological weapons in response. Most alarming to international observers, Bush’s decision comes in defiance of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which bars the creation of new nuclear weapons and the use of such weapons against non-nuclear states. “The development of a Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator would have disastrous consequences for the international arms control regime,” reports the Friends Committee on National Legislation. “A nuclear weapon designed for battlefield use would increase the perception that nuclear weapons were as usable as any other part of the US conventional weapons arsenal and that the US was preparing to use them.” Germ warfare After the New York Times revealed that the CIA and FBI were secretly creating super strands of anthrax and biological bomblets, the government quickly responded that the experiments were conducted for defensive purposes and thus legal under international conventions. Critics disagree noting that the US even mislead the United Nations on the existence of the programs. “By keeping the projects secret, the United States violated a political commitment it made in 1986 to declare the scope and purpose of any such activities under the treaty’s confidence-building mechanism. Projects Bacchus and Clear Vision were not listed on any of the annual reports it submitted to the United Nations,” reported the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. The 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Treaty forbids signatories from creating biological, chemical or germ weapons for offensive purposes, but the pact still has no enforcement provision due to the Bush’s administration refusal to allow foreign monitors into the nation’s military and private chemical plants. American scientists, such as Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, are questioning connections between the government’s insistence on secrecy within its chemical and biological warfare programs and the stalled investigations of last year’s anthrax attacks. Weeks after learning the FBI and CIA were secretly developing military-grade anthrax, the nation learned firsthand the dangers of such concoctions as letters laced with as many as one trillion anthrax spores per gram of anthrax were mailed to US governmental and media leaders. While evidence based on the genetic strand of anthrax implicates a top-level US microbiologist from the Fort Detrick laboratory in Maryland, the government’s investigation appears to be at a standstill. Not until March did the FBI even seek records from Fort Detrick and other labs. “Several prominent scientists have suggested that the FBI’s investigation is being pursued with less than the rigor we might have expected because the federal authorities have something to hide,” noted British columnist George Monbiot in late May. Human subjects While the public may never know why an American scientist would mail anthrax-laced letters, there remains little indication that the mailings were orchestrated by the government. But as recently unclassified Defense Department documents show, the military has used human subjects to test such deadly toxins as sarin nerve gas in the past. After decades of inquiries from Navy veterans, the government in May revealed that thousands of men stationed aboard ships in the Pacific were secretly sprayed with live nerve gas and other biological agents during Cold War experiments over a 15-year-period ending in the early 1970s. Not surprisingly survivors of what was known as Project SHAD have publicly aligned themselves with victims of the Gulf War Syndrome who continue to suffer from ailments believed to have been caused by either an anthrax vaccine gone astray or from the massive use of depleted uranium during the invasion of Iraq. The US government’s hypocrisy on weapons of mass destruction is captured with the use of depleted uranium. During the Gulf War the army quietly deployed over 300 million tons of the radioactive material across Iraq. After first denying the existence of DU, the government admitted its use but denied it was more harmful than traditional armaments. During the war in Bosnia and Kosovo, the US continued course. When reporters recently asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld if the military had found any evidence that the Taliban were in possession of weapons of mass destruction, Rumsfeld said the military had “found a number of things that show an appetite for weapons of mass destruction,” including, guess what, depleted uranium-tipped warheads. Reporters unfortunately did not question him on the United States’ “appetite for weapons of mass destruction.” About the Author Mike Burke is a freelance journalist living in Brooklyn. He is regular contributor to the Indypendent<, a monthly activist newspaper in New York City, which he helped found. He can be reached at mikeburke99(at)