Saturday, September 30, 2006

Special Report From Dennie Williams

News & Commentary

The Politics Of Cluster Bombs

Special To The Cool Justice Report
Sept. 30, 2006

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column is available for reprint courtesy of The Cool Justice Report,

There are a number of alarming news stories recently about the Israeli use of cluster bombs in Lebanon as well as the accidental deaths of two Lebanese soldiers and the critical wounding of a third who were trying to defuse the bomblets sprayed over a wide area. The little bomblets have reportedly injured Lebanese civilians as well.

The news reports say the United States has been supplying Israel with cluster bombs for three decades. The United Nations reports an average of 30 duds a day are being discovered on the ground in Lebanon, and endangering civilians. News reports said the US State Department has opened an investigation into whether Israel’s use of US-made cluster bombs in Lebanon violated pacts Israel had made with the U.S.

As a long time investigative reporter for The Hartford Courant, since retired, I wrote several stories 13 years ago about the deadly hazards of these munitions to soldiers and Iraqi civilians alike during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The articles were followed by a U.S. General Accountability inquiry and by Connecticut Republican U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays’ call for a congressional inquiry into future Army plans for U.S. use of the bomblets, also known as "metal rain."

At that time, U.S. Army weapons experts were admittedly aware that the rocket system, carrying the bomblets, was faulty. Their own tests before the war showed that the rocket-launched bomblets had a dud rate as high as 23 percent, far higher than the 3 percent to 5 percent rate that the Army deems acceptable, the GAO’s conclusions said.

Because National Guard troops were not properly trained in handling the bomblets or even knowing their dangers, more Connecticut troops were injured or killed by them than by any other explosive munition. They picked them up as souvenirs, kicked or stepped on them.

An undisclosed number of Iraqi civilians were also maimed or killed.

After the war, bomb specialists from the U.S. and allied forces spent several million dollars carefully picking up the dud bomblets to keep soldiers and civilians out of harm’s way.

Pentagon officials should have been very aware of these hazards. They had a special unit in Florida, which was called upon many times to pick up bomblets from the recent widows of military veterans who collected them as souvenirs.

Even more shocking about the story was the fact that many of the munitions were faultily manufactured in various U.S. plants, and the Pentagon decided to use them anyway even after threatening legal action against at least one manufacturer. In 1988, the Department of Defense found the quality of those munitions from its most modern plant in Mississippi to be so deficient that 50 percent to 60 percent of the plant's bomblets had to be destroyed in subsequent years.

A fellow reporter I have known for a long time, George Krimsky, formerly with the Associated Press now with the Waterbury Republican, told me that he too had experiences with writing about cluster bombs.

Here is what he said:

In 1978, when Israel first invaded Lebanon, I was AP's Middle East news editor, based in Beirut.

Lebanese civilians were reporting cluster bombings in the south (from airplanes then), but Israel emphatically denied it. So, I went down there with a photographer, and we found hundreds of the nasty little buggers in farmyards, fields, all over the place.

After my story ran, with photos, Israel recanted, admitting they had used them. Congress raised such a fuss, the bombings stopped, at least for the moment.

As a memento of the time, I have half a cluster bomb here at home, which I use as an ashtray.

Thomas D. "Dennie" Williams covered courts and was an investigative reporter for The Hartford Courant, retiring recently after 38 years on the job.


BrewerFactor said...

As a Field Artillery Officer on active duty in Germany in the early 80's I am familiar with many munitions. The use of cluster type rounds was primarily to take out large concentrations of the enemy personnel. The flechettes in use at that time exploded in the air, via a radio wave that bounced from the nose of the munition to the ground and back. At around 20 meters in the air the round would "burst" and spread one inch size flechettes all around the 50 meter kill area. It was called Variable Timed or "VT in effect"

We even had a "mistimed" round burst over our observation post during a training exercise in Grafenwohr. It was an experience I will never forget. (the round "activated" early and 20 meters over our heads it went off). Since we were highly trained no one ever looked for trinkets or kicked anything. That was a lesson drilled into us by the Viet Nam era veterans that still made up most of the military. Sadly that real world experience is unavailable for newer troops and especially the less trained national guard troops.

The truth is that as we have advanced our kill technology, we have also failed to look at or control the fall out. I followed closely Dennie's great work on the illness to our troops and others from the depleted uranium (radiation) used in our tank and other rounds. The fall out from that was devestating, yet we used them with impunity.

I was a duty officer at a NATO (nuclear weapons depo) site during my tour in Europe and God only knows how much radiation flowed from those bunkers. We had absolutely no radiation screening. I still wonder. . .

We spend billions on munitions, so a few million to make sure they don't have 'unintended' consequenses seems reasonable.

Keep up the good investigative reporting.

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