Courtesy William Thomas
Despite a just-released U.S. national intelligence consensus that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons, apocalyptic fundamentalists George Bush and Dick Cheney remain intent on ordering an all-out attack against one of the worldâ€™s oldest (and best armed) civilizations. As governments and citizenry protest this folly, an overriding question torments many minds: Will the architects of more than one-million civilian corpses in Iraq choose to go â€œgo nuclearâ€ against Iran?
Many believe they will not dare. If the inhibition against killing is one of the strongest human impulses (just ask a returning veteran), the ethical revulsion and international prohibitions against using nuclear weapons seem strong enough to rule out their first aggressive use since Americaâ€™s atomic attack on Nagasaki.
But what if the post-WWII nuclear Rubicon has already been crossed? According to a U.S. Army veteran with extensive boots-on-the-ground connections, the United States Government has dropped five nuclear weapons on Afghanistan and Iraq.
And gotten away with it.
Shortly after the terror attacks of 9/11, Lt. Colonel Eric Sepp of the USAF Air War College lamented that going after Osama bin Ladenâ€™s granite redoubts in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan presented â€œone of the more difficult operational challenges to confront U.S. military forces.â€
While precision-guided weapons doom above-ground buildings (and any civilians inside or nearby), deeply buried bunkers can be used as â€œan effective sanctuary,â€ declared the USAF Air War College, â€œto manufacture and store weapons of mass destruction.â€ As the Air Force Times pointed out, Osamaâ€™s â€œdifficult to locateâ€ mountain bunkers â€œare often beyond the reach of most conventional weapons unable to survive passing through tens of meters of rock and concrete.â€ [Deeply Buried Facilities Implications for Military Operations USAF Center for Strategy and Technology Air War College May 2000; Air Force Times Apr 14/97]
But it wasnâ€™t for lack of trying. In 1972, Melvin Cook, a professor of metallurgy at the University of Utah and an author of works on explosives and Creationism, had sought to undo Godâ€™s handiwork by developing the ultimate chemical bomb. Professor Cook borrowed aluminized slurries used in mining to fracture, heat and pulverize extremely hard rock. [workingforchange.com Nov 8/01; globalsecurity.org]
Extensively field tested during the Vietnam War, where they raised havoc with the peoples and ecology of Vietnam and Cambodia – and later deployed against terrified Iraqi conscripts and cast-off Soviet armor during the 1991 Gulf war – giant 15,000 pound BLU-82 bombs dubbed â€œDaisy-Cuttersâ€ were next dropped in pallets rolled out the back of C-130 transport planes to seal cave entrances in Tora Bora.
London Daily Mail reporter David Williams witnessed one of those â€œDaisy Cutterâ€ attacks: â€œThe sound split the air. It was like a thunder clap directly overhead at the height of a ferocious storm. I could see the massive oily black cloud of the explosion as it rolled across the hillside, a mixture of thick smoke, chunks of earth and debris.â€ [www.workingforchange.com Nov 8/01; www.commondreams.org]
â€œThe effect of the BLU-82 is astonishing, and rare film shows a detonation, shock wave and subsequent mushroom cloud very similar to a small nuclear weapon,â€ writes Paul Rogers in The Mother Of All Bombs. â€œJournalists who visited areas where the bomb had been dropped reported scenes of extraordinary devastationâ€ from a firestorm that sucked all the oxygen from the air, crushed human organs and incinerated an area the size of five football fields in a single mighty blast. [openDemocracy.net Mar 7/03]
By December 13, 2001 the U.S. Air Force had dropped at least four 17-foot-long â€œDaisy Cutterâ€ bombs on tunnel complexes and Taliban concentrations in Afghanistan. [globalsecurity.org; commondreams.org]
They also began dropping two-and-a-half-ton GBU-28 â€œdense metalâ€ penetrators from B-52s and B-1 Stealth bombers. Exploding deep underground, the bombâ€™s explosive energy â€œcoupledâ€ with bedrock under immense pressure from the weight bearing down on it. The resulting seismic shock wave could crush an underground bunker – or the internal organs of anyone caught in the â€œoverpressureâ€ from a blast wave 20-times stronger than the bomb blast itself. [ucsusa.org May/05]
In order to penetrate rock and concrete, each â€œGreat Big Uraniumâ€ bomb is shaped like a spear tipped with tons of radioactive Uranium-238 nearly twice as dense as lead. Using nuclear waste left over from making atomic bombs and reactor fuel, the amount of radioactive Depleted Uranium (DU) particles spread by each GBU â€œdirty bombâ€ eclipsed any terroristâ€™s fantasy – one-and-a-half metric tons of aerosolized particles capable of causing genetic mutations and death for the next four billion years! [Le Monde March 2002]
The similarities of BLU and GBU detonations to nuclear blasts was not lost on U.S. war planners, who realized that the blast effects and resulting radioactive fallout from conventional bunker-busters could mask the detonation of so-called â€œlow-yieldâ€ B61-11 tactical nuclear bombs.
The Bush administrationâ€™s first U.S. Nuclear Posture Review had already called for fast-track development of new tactical nuclear weapons, a resumption of nuclear tests, and more â€œflexible, adaptable strike plansâ€ – including â€œoptions for variable and reduced yields.â€ Submitted to Congress on December 31, 2001, the neoconâ€™s follow-up CONPLAN 8022 would reverse the decades-old U.S. policy against â€œfirst useâ€ of nuclear weapons by authorizing their rapid deployment to destroy â€˜time-urgent targetsâ€™ anywhere in the world. [ Peopleâ€™s Weekly World Newspaper Mar 16/02]
As the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists jumped the minute hand of their Doomsday Clock forward two minutes to seven minutes to midnight, White House fundamentalists eagerly sought ways to test their new â€œbaby nukesâ€ against real-world targets. Proponents insisted, â€œMany buried targets could be attacked using a weapon with a much lower yield than would be required with a surface burst.â€ [smh.com.au Sept 7/02]
Those buried nuclear targets were specifically located in Afghanistan and Iraq.
As Dr. Mohammed Daud Miraki of the Afghan DU & Recovery Fund observed, â€œThe White House and US-DOD spoke frequently about the development and use of fission, low-yield and non-fission, seismic bunker- and cave-busters,â€ â€œThe US Strategic Military Plan and US Nuclear Posture Review expresses intentions to use new classes of weapons in Afghanistan and other states. This program was known to be accelerating its weapons development and experiments in readiness for a possible Iraqi incursion.â€ [Afghan DU & Recovery Fund]
Soon after commencing aerial bombardment against Afghanistan, Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld told the press â€œhe did not rule out the eventual use of nuclear weapons.â€ [Houston Chronicle Oct 20/01]
Still reeling from the relentlessly televised images of September 11, the American public was told that only nuclear blasts could safely vaporize caches of chemical, nuclear or biological weapons not authorized by Washington, which retained its own banned stockpiles of biological weapons, along with more than five-thousand nuclear warheads. [AP June 11/07]
As I was told by an extremely well-connected Desert Storm veteran, whom I have to call â€œHankâ€ during our 15-year collaboration, pursuing al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters across Afghanistanâ€™s â€œwide flat open spacesâ€ is like target shooting. But the â€œhills that crop out of nowhereâ€ in this desolate region â€œare craggy and rocky with holes in them that we canâ€™t detect. We know they had access to the Russian biologicals. They could have it in the cave. The container could be openâ€¦â€
For this reason, â€œin caves 75 to 89 percent of the time, our guys are wearing an NBC (Nuclear, Chemical, Biological) suit as a precaution,â€ he went on. â€œYou never know what these guys might have in there – Taliban and Al Qaeda. We knew categorically that they had captured a lot of Soviet munitions, so we knew that whatever these guys fielded they captured: last ditch stuff.â€
But blowing up chemical-biological munitions is a really bad idea – as Hank and other coalition forces posted downwind of Iraqâ€™s detonated CBW stockpiles at Khamisiyah learned to their cost following the first Persian Gulf War. As Benjamin Phelan pointed out in Harperâ€™s, â€œA well-designed granite bunker could with-stand four times the shock produced by [a conventional bunker buster]. If the bunker housed weapons of mass destruction, studies have shown that a canister of, say, mustard gas could be insulated from the heat of the blast by a few meters of earth, and thereby escape being vaporizedâ€¦ In the likely event that a canister is ruptured but not destroyed, the chemical agentâ€¦ would be blasted up into the air, carried away in the fallout cloud.â€ [Harperâ€™s Dec 1/04]
Another risk, Hank cautioned, â€œIf you nuke something thatâ€™s already [fissionable], youâ€™ll get a cook off you didnâ€™t expect.â€ Even doing â€œa flash bangâ€ over stockpiled yellow cake, or Depleted Uranium debris â€œcould cause those pieces to reciprocateâ€ by absorbing and then reflecting incoming Alpha, Beta, Delta, Gamma and X-rays from a supposedly low-yield detonation.
Risks are compounded when countries facing Americaâ€™s willingness to use nuclear weapons against them respond by developing their own 4th generation, low-yield nuclear bombs. â€œThe concern is that countries are starting to see these weapons as useable, whereas during the Cold War they were seen as a deterrent,â€ warns Ian Anthony, a nuclear expert at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. [AP June 11/07]
Recognizing that â€œlow-yield nuclear weapons blur the distinction between nuclear and conventional war,â€ a 1994 law banned research and development on nuclear weapons of less than 5-kilotons in the United States.
But Bushâ€™s 2001 Defense Authorization Bill passed by a Republican Congress overturned these earlier restrictions. Just as â€œLittle Boyâ€ and â€œFat Manâ€ were rushed to the Pacific Theater in time to be tested on the starving Japanese citizenry before the emperorâ€™s surrender pleas leaked to the press, the nuclear version of the bunker-busting GBU-28 was rushed to Afghanistan to conduct remote field tests before the Taliban surrendered.
Point Toward Enemy
The nuclear version of the GBU-28 bunker buster is the B61-11. When American forces targeted Tora Bora in 2001, there were 150 B61-11s in the U.S. arsenal. Featuring nuclear warheads that could be dialed from 0.3 to 340 kilotons – equivalent of 300 to 340,000 tons of radioactive TNT – these new Earth Penetrating Weapons were, according to atomic scientists, capable of â€œdestroying the deepest and most hardened of underground bunkers, which the conventional warheads are not capable of doing.â€ [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists May/June 1997; Wired Oct 8/01]
â€œWhen a bunker buster burrows in, the blast is directed downward,â€ Hank explained. â€œItâ€™s a lens and itâ€™s focused straight down instead of outward.â€
Designed to penetrate deep into the earth before detonating, the shaped warhead directs a blast hotter than a thousand suns in a shock-coupled seismic shockwave that shakes several hundred meters of bedrock. â€œEven a short penetration distance accomplishes this goal of â€˜couplingâ€™ the energy of the explosion to the ground,â€ notes the Union of Concerned Scientists. â€Penetration of a few meters increases the underground destructive effects by more than a factor of twenty.â€ [Defense News Mar 2/97; [ucsusa.org May/05]
Stripping away the numbers, Hank summarized the effects of dropping an earth-penetrating nuclear bomb with typical GI directness: â€œDo an overpressure wave in a cave, everything in there is squished.â€
With the resulting hard radiation supposedly sequestered underground, the 1,200-pound B61 was enthusiastically hailed by Bush and his backers as a â€œrelatively safeâ€ atomic bomb that would not kill too many innocent bystanders. [Philadelphia Inquirer Oct 16/00]
Or freak out the world.
Nuclear explosions are also handy for locating buried bunkers. Ground Penetrating Radar can â€œseeâ€ through only about 15 feet of sand. But in a process called â€œecho-rangingâ€, oil prospectors hoping to detect underground deposits at depths greater than 300-feet routinely bounce shockwaves from small explosions to reveal underground objects and cavities. Recorded by sensors fitted with precise Global Positioning Satellite locators, reverberating echoes can be computer-plotted to create precise, three-dimensional maps of deeply buried features, similar to a submarine â€œpingingâ€ a target. [USAF Air War College May 2000]
Except in this case, each â€œpingâ€ is a nuclear detonation.
â€œYou get a 3-D map of the area,â€ Hank confirmed. After a nuclear blast â€œrings the mountains like a bell, you know where the holes are; where the people are.â€
But the air force was worried. In June 2001, its study on using even the smallest nuclear bombs concluded: â€œThe political repercussions of employing nuclear weapon may be greater than the United States would want to contemplate, and the environmental consequences of potentially spreading a warehouse full of potentially deadly biological or chemical agents would be unacceptable.â€ [USAF Air War College May 2000]
The political fallout could be as bad as the â€œlarge area of lethal falloutâ€ scientists warned would follow â€œ the large amount of radioactive dirt thrown out in the explosionâ€ from a weapon as â€œsmallâ€ as 5-kilotons. [Philadelphia Inquirer Oct 16/00]
This dust would be deadly. In Yugoslavia, where 30,000 radioactive uranium projectiles fired by NATO warplanes had released thousands of tons of easily inhaled or ingested microscopic particles, medical doctors were already reporting â€œmultiple unrelated cancersâ€ in families with no previous history of cancer, who lived in highly contaminated areas.
A previously unknown phenomenon, these â€œvery rare and unusual cancers and birth defects have also been reported to be increasing, not only in war torn countries, but also in neighbouring countries from transboundary contamination,â€ the European Parliament found. [ Global Research July 8/04; American Free Press Aug 27/04; European Parliament Verbatim Report of Proceedings Apr 9/02; Bundesforschungsanstalt fÃ¼r Landwirtschaft Nov 8/05]
The tonnages of radioactive Uranium-238 and toxic heavy metals detonated in hundreds of cruise missiles fired into neighborhoods in Afghanistan and Iraq was never tabulated. But after conducting extensive research on DU weapons, former Naval officer Daniel Fahey declared, â€œYouâ€™re talking about something that should be stored as a radioactive waste, and [instead theyâ€™re] spreading it around other countries. [Mother Jones June 23/99]
Just as veterans of Desert Storm came to call their mysterious maladies â€œGulf War Syndrome,â€ soldiers posted to Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s began referring to the â€œBalkans Syndrome.â€ By January 2001, more than a quarter of the more than 1,400 Greek troops stationed in Kosovo were demanding to depart due to the increased risk of cancer.
United States law and U.S. Army Regulations AR 700-48 and TB 9-1300-278 require the army to â€œClean and Treatâ€ all persons affected and all areas contaminated by the radioactive uranium munitions. But Lt. Col. Mike Milord confirmed that the Pentagon had zero plans to clean up radioactive contamination in Kosovo – or anywhere else . [Vanity Fair Nov/04; Daily Telegraph Jan 15/01]
The ability of Depleted Uranium missiles and shells to burn through the densest concrete and armor made these weapons too useful to give up. DU attacks could also be used to mask the cancers and leukemia incurred downwind of a low-yield nuclear detonation.
If the â€œDepleted Uranium explanationâ€ somehow failed in the Tora Bora region, Hank told me, â€œwe could blame radiation on the terrorists.â€
Why not? The United States of America had already dropped a nuclear bomb on Iraq.