KPFA Flashpoints: Doug Rokke Interview

Dennis Bernstein: Depleted uranium is now a key aspect of the US military's forward fighting capacity. It's currently being used in giant bunker-buster bombs ... penetrator missiles. The Pentagon swears by its effectiveness and is again using it widely in the current deadly attack on Iraq. While the US praises its effectiveness it says little about the short and long dangers of DU, both to the troops that use it and to the civilian populations who are subjected to it. While the Pentagon is busy covering up the danger of DU, army reserve Major Doug Rokke is blowing the whistle on its dangers. Major Rokke in fact considers it his patriotic duty to tell the world about the dangers this radioactive material poses to his fellow soldiers and to the public at large. Flashpoints spoke with Doug Rokke about the toxic nature of DU and the military's ongoing cover up regarding the thousands of vets who may now be sick due to exposure to it. We began by asking Rokke to talk a little bit about his own military background and his expertise on DU.

Rokke: I enlisted in the military in 1967 and spent my first few years and beyond as a bomb nav hardhat specializing in avionics and also involved with nuclear weapons and regular conventional munitions as a bomb nav hardhat during combat missions over Vietnam. In 1980 I went back into the army as a combat medic and spent three years as a combat medic in a light infantry unit, and went on from there to become a medical instructor and also with expertise in nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare as one of their instructors. in 1986 I received a direct commission as a nuclear medical sciences officer some 19 years after I had initially enlisted in the military. At the time most people are retiring I started all over at the bottom of the ladder as an officer again. In 1990 I went over to theater in the Gulf War as a theater health physicist, and was assigned to Bauer's Raiders as an additional duty. And Bauer's Raiders was the 3rd US Army Medical Command's nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare special operations and teaching team. With the completion of the ground war, I was reassigned by name, by direct order from Central Command that's General Norman G. Schwarzkopf, to clean up the depleted uranium mess that was caused by deliberate use of uranium munitions by US and British forces during Gulf War I. After we finished that job, it took us three months to clean up 24 vehicles; we went back to the United States in June of 1991 and continued to write reports and trying to get everything done. 1992 while I was working for the US army at their construction, engineering and research lab, trying to ensure that they did come under compliance with the National Environmental Policy act which they were in violation of, I got involved with the preparation of the US Army environmental policies institutes report on depleted uranium. 1994, '95 I was recalled to active duty as the depleted uranium project director for the US Army and the Department of Defense which then blossomed into a NATO project. As part of that responsibility, my tasking was to identify what are the true health and environmental effects of uranium munitions on the battlefield, how do you clean it up on the battlefield. Another phase of this was to develop all the training and education materials that all soldiers and military personnel would receive to make it safe or to respond to the use of uranium munitions in combat.

Bernstein: Well that gives us a sense of how much you know about depleted uranium. Are you still in the military?

Rokke: Absolutely. I'm still an Army Medical Services Corps officer ... that's well over 30 years since I initially enlisted in the military.

Bernstein: First of all, Doug Rokke, remind people what depleted uranium is used for by the US military.

Rokke: US military uses depleted uranium to kill and destroy everything in its path. Uranium munitions are a high-velocity kinetic energy penetrator. Each individual tank round that's fired by the Abrams tank is over 10 pounds of solid uranium 238. We know from US Department of Energy reports and also from the US Army Environmental Policy Institute report it is also contaminated with plutonium, neptunium, and americium in many cases. Uranium munition that's fired by the A10 "Warthog" aircraft, is approximately 3/4 of a pound for each individual round, and the A10 can fire at a rate of up to 4000 rounds a minute. That's a ton and a half of solid uranium fired into a target per minute. The uranium munitions are also contained in a lot of the bunker buster bombs, and also sub-munitions -- land mines -- such as the ADAM and PDM. We also have it in a 25mm round that is fired by the Bradley fighting vehicle, and also by the US Marine Corps's LAV. In addition to that we have a 20mm round that's fired by the Navy --- that's the Phalanx Naval System. So what we're seeing is because uranium munitions are absolutely effective in combat, they are an absolute killer and destroyer, the military has put them into almost every munition they can think of. It's extremely effective. It kills and destroys everything that it hits.

Bernstein: You're saying that, for instance, these 5000 bunker buster bombs that we're seeing dropped on the people of Iraq, in civilian areas, may very well be full of depleted uranium.

Rokke: Yeah. They very more than likely contain uranium. The thing called depleted uranium is kind-of a confusing term. There's nothing really depleted about it. If you take -- for every 100 pounds of solid uranium that you have, which is put into the enrichment process, you're able to retrieve .6 pounds of fissionable component. The other 99.4 pounds is what we call uranium 238, and that's what they deem depleted uranium. So there's nothing really depleted about it other than the fissionable component's been removed. Now Guy Williams, who's an independent researcher over in England, has done extensive research, looking at the Patent Office applications and US Patent Office reports, to verify and to identify that a lot of these bunker busters now contain uranium munitions. Independent researchers that have done on site investigations to measure the contamination following these detonations have also verified that uranium was contained in these bombs. And then the other thing, too, is when you watch them go off on TV, uranium munitions, if they are contained in them, leave a very distinctive signature. You'll see in a conventional explosion, the fire and the blast, and the concussion, and everything going. With a uranium munition, you'll see sparklers and heavy metal ... uranium which is pyrophoric, will continue to burn for an extensive period of time after all of the other detonation, initial fireball, and explosion with the smoke and everything is over. Very distinctive.

Bernstein: Talk a little about the dangers of depleted uranium the way it's being used now, and how it will impact on civilian populations, and on the troops that are using it.

Rokke: Well when you use uranium munitions, what happens is each individual round, once it leaves the barrel of the gun that fired it, catches fire, 'cause uranium is pyrophoric. So it's already on fire as the round races down range to hit any target. It can be a building it can be a lightweight vehicle, a car or a truck, it can be a tank or it can be an armored personnel carrier. It's effective on everything. When I did the research in Nevada for the US Army between '94 and '95 I actually shot up wood. And it worked just as great hitting the wood target as it did anything else. Now when it impacts, you have a 10 pound round of solid uranium, that's fired by the Abrams tank. When that impacts, about 40% or about 4 pounds turns into what we call uranium spalling and oxides. That stuff is on fire, moving extremely high velocity across a confined space, and causes secondary detonations, either due to concussion, or due to ignition (burning). And then what you have is a whole bunch of oxides forming all contamination, in and around the vehicle. My actual measurements go out to 400 meters around a single vehicle for a single incident, and what we've found, and what the army has also agreed on, is that within 25 to 50 meters the contamination is so extensive that the US soldiers must wear respiratory and skin protection to be in that region. So it's real simple. You end up with massive contamination. Now, the health effects: what we saw immediately and were documented as early as I can verify in what was called the "Grove's Memorandum" that was issued in October 30th of 1943, and in there it stated that respiratory problems and rashes and everything would start within hours and permanent damage within days. This is exactly what happened to myself and the others that were tasked to clean it up. I mean, not even a question. So with the overall health effects of uranium and heavy metals, you got a heavy metal radiological toxin, that once it's ingested into the body, absorbed into the body, or shrapnel's deliberately left on the body, as the military directed to be done for the friendly fire casualties, you end up with cancers, neurological problems, fibromyalgia, cataracts, respiratory problems, rashes, and the whole host of things associated with heavy metal toxicity and radiological exposure.

Bernstein: Now what can you tell us, in terms of, if use in recent wars and the first Gulf War, in the former Yugoslavia, how can we determine what impact it had, and how it did or didn't make people in the region or those who were using it ill?

Rokke: Well one thing that we know for sure is that during Gulf War I, that we fired close to a million rounds, if not over a million rounds from the A10. So each individual round was 3/4 of a pound of solid uranium. So that's about 750,000 pounds, ok. So that's an unbelievable amount of solid uranium left all over the desert. We fired close to 15,000 tank rounds and we left them there. Much less any of the other large missiles such as the cruise missile, which does have uranium in it, again verified by the Patent Office, and also verified by direct on site measurement of the impact holes. What we saw was always gettin' sick right away. We initially, originally -- I mean immediately directed medical care that should be provided. I did that as a theater health physicist. The theater medical commander sent a written order for medical care in June of 1991 for medical care for all exposures. What happened is even though we were gettin' sick and everything, medical care was denied -- deliberately denied. The reports that we were put out there again were supposed to be covered up. The famous Los Alamos memorandum that I received in March of 1991 was very clear. If we don't put out a case to use this stuff and cover up the health and environmental effects of uranium munitions we will lose it. A Defense Nuclear Agency report that I received in March of 1991 was very clear. It said that uranium munitions are not only a health threat, they are a serious health threat. And that's what every document that I've been able to find from the military completely states, over and over. And then my own health effects, my team members and my own health effects, the friendly fire casualties that are sick, the individuals that have died where the autopsies have verified it, the individuals that work where they mine and produce uranium munitions, are all sick. It's not even a question. The book Discounted Casualties was published a couple months ago. Totally explains and clarifies and reveals the extent of the health effects all over the world.

Bernstein: Now, are you yourself ill? Did you get sick from it?

Rokke: Absolutely. My exposure was due to inhalation, and that was faulty gas masks, which are faulty today and the Department of the Army has acknowledged that, the Department of Defense has acknowledged it, the US General Accounting Office has verified that the gas masks are defective. The filters are inadequate to take out the primary, less than .1 - .3-micron uranium particles, that go right in the lung. And so therefore we have problems. When I got tasked by the army to clean it up in 1991we were all sick within 24 hours with respiratory problems and rashes. And they continued. The first cancers in our team developed within 8 to 9 months; the first death from cancer within a couple years.

Bernstein: Let's talk just a little bit more about the protection side of this. We assume from US reporting or lack thereof that the reason why soldiers are wearing gas masks and are all suited up is to defend against an attack by chemical or biological weapons. Can we assume in part that they're suited up to protect themselves from the use of depleted uranium?

Rokke: The United States Army common task training manual that all soldiers must comply with, and again, this is the depleted uranium task, requires full respiratory and skin protection in an around any uranium munitions use downwind, or in a vehicle that's been hit. Absolutely required. The other problems that you have is, yes, Iraq did possess chemical and biological weapons. And that area is totally contaminated. The reason we know it's still contaminated is the measurements that have [been] done. In December of 1991 a decision was made at General Schwarzkopf's headquarters -- this is verified in his book It Doesn't Take a Hero, on page 390 -- that we would deliberately and willfully blow up chemical and biological stockpiles, weapons stockpiles, and nuclear reactors that Iraq has. And the reason we knew that he had 'em, because the United States deliberately and willfully gave it to him. Again, that's verified in the United States Senate Riegle commission report, written by James Tooth, which was the subject of a made-for-TV movie that we did on Showtime called Thanks of a Grateful Nation. There's not doubt about it. What we're seeing today, and I was reminded by a phone call not even an hour ago and this is March 31st, that the White House and the Department of Defense is still stating that the health and environmental effects of uranium munitions are a propaganda move by those nations that don't want uranium munitions used against them. Ladies and Gentlemen, that's an absolute lie. The health and environmental effects of uranium go back to 1943 and were restated explicitly in the Grove's Memorandum then where it stated explicitly, and the Defense Nuclear memorandum that I received from the US Army as I cleaned up the DU mess in the Gulf War I, and numerous other documents. Not even a question. In 1992 I went to a US military medical conference at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, and I presented all of this information before members of the Secretariat and other senior military physicians, identifying the health effects, the hazards and stating that something must be done. It's been there. It's not propaganda; it didn't come from outside the country. The warnings came from the US military's own experts. And those experts were basing that on the absolute health effects that occurred in all of us.

Bernstein: Now what do we know - I know there hasn't been a lot of testing - the Pentagon has not been forthcoming in terms of trying to answer questions by veterans in terms of the toxic soup that they were exposed to in the first Gulf War. So there's not a lot of testing, but what can we say about the impact on the region and on what's happening to people in Kuwait, in Iraq, in Saudi Arabia.

Rokke: Well uranium munitions have been used extensively, not only in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, but they were fired extensively throughout the Balkans, first in '94, '95 and '96, then again in 1999. They were fired extensively in Vieques, Puerto Rico, which is American territory, which is American citizens. And also in Okinawa in Japan, on Hirashima Island and many other places. What we can state, and what we do know, is that the deliberate willful denial of medical care has been ongoing. In a report issued by the Department of Defense, by individuals that I know and that I reported directly to just several weeks ago, they stated they've given medical care to 90 individuals that were exposed to uranium contamination during the Gulf War I. I am one of those. I'm sick. And they haven't done anything for me, nor many of the others. I want to repeat, I had over 120 known friendly-fire casualties that survived DU impacts. I had another 250 to 350 individuals with known exposures to uranium munitions. In a directive, in a report that was given to the presidential oversight board, in 1998, the Department of Defense formally acknowledged that there were 424 individuals absolute known uranium exposures, and that at that time they had only notified 120. As of several weeks ago they were acknowledging medical care for only 90 individuals. And they're not even accomplishing that. What we also know is that all the medical directives that have been issued, have been issued numerous times. In October of 1993, again based on the research and input that we had - I worked on this - the Department of Defense issued a very specific medical directive. This we call the "Somalia Message" and that's what it's head titled and its Medical Management of Unusual Depleted Uranium Exposures. This Department of Defense, the Department of the Army medical directive requires medical care within 24 hours for all individuals who are "being in the midst of smoke exposures, being in the midst of smoke from DU fires resulting from the burning of vehicles uploaded with DU munitions, or depots in which DU munitions are being stored, or were within environments containing dust or residue from DU fires, and being within a structure or vehicle while struck by DU munitions. This requires a radio-bio assay within 24 hours and then consequent medical care based on exposures." This was issued in October of 1993, and the purpose of this was - we were going to use uranium munitions when we attacked Somalia. Astonishing. Now if medical care has been required, going back to what I directed right after Gulf War I, at completion of the ground phase, and what was directed by the theater medical commander, what was directed by the General Accounting Office, was directed by the Assistant Secretary of Defense, was directed by General Eric Shinseki, the General of the Army right now who's in charge of all military army personnel, then the medical care must be provided to all casualties. But they're only providing medical care to 90 individuals? And this is how many years after the fact?

Bernstein: Well, Doug Rokke, it's actually during the fact, again, because I think, if I understand you correctly as somebody who is still in the military and an expert in depleted uranium, the soldiers now on the front line and the people living in the region, are going to be hurt because they were misled, lied to, and they're still not prepared.

Rokke: Absolutely correct. The training that's required and been directed, that I prepared has not been totally provided to everybody. We do know that on Friday of this last week, a United States Air Force A10 pilot killed and wounded British soldiers, in a friendly fire incident, involving uranium munitions. No two ways about it. We've had central command briefing that General Brooks - he has acknowledged uranium munitions used in combat. However the medical protocols were not in place, and more important, the specific requirements requiring total decontamination and cleanup of uranium contamination that I wrote for the army, which is now army regulation 700-48 has not been complied with. It's not been complied with any place that it's been used, and it's not been - the safety precautions for use right now are not being complied with.

Bernstein: Now let me get this straight. So that would also mean that those reporters who are, if you will, embedded - some say in bed with - the military at this point, are also in grave jeopardy.

Rokke: Anybody that comes in contact with uranium contamination and they inhale it, ingest it or get into the wound, poses a serious risk of adverse health effects, as all has happened to myself, other friendly fire casualties, and other members of the cleanup team, and thousands upon thousands of others who were exposed. In a recent directive from the United Nations, Pekka Haavisto, and he sent me a personal email just a couple of days ago, has told the US military they must clean up the uranium contamination in the Balkans that was caused by deliberate acts. The other thing, when we go back, we know that on September 10th of 2001 the United Nations ruled that uranium munitions were illegal, and a weapon of mass destruction, and they should not be used.

Bernstein: You're listening to Flashpoints on Pacifica Radio. We're talking to Doug Rokke. He is among other things a military health physicist. He is still in the United States military, and apparently, you're telling us things Doug Rokke, that the US military would not really want you to share publicly. Tell us why you are doing this, and is there a backlash for this?

Rokke: Well I was specifically tasked by direct order from Central Command, which means that General Schwarzkopf directed me to clean up the DU mess. In 1994 I was given specific tasking as the director of the depleted uranium project to ensure the safety and health of the environmental cleanup of the DU mess. I'm an army officer. I will finish my job. That's my responsibility as an American citizen, as an army officer, and as a man who answers to God. The retaliation's been huge. And it continues to be huge, not only against myself, and other scientists that did the work, but any physician that reports what they have seen, and tries to ensure that medical care is provided to all uranium munitions exposures. We have to remember, understand, that nobody in the United States can possess even a half-pound of solid uranium 238. They cannot dispose of even a half-pound of solid uranium 238 in any location other than in a licensed secured facility. You cannot do that. However, the United States is deliberately, willfully, because it's an extremely effective combat weapon, throwing hundreds if not thousands of tons in combat areas around the world, refused to provide the medical care as required by numerous directives, and refused to clean up the uranium contamination as required by army regulation, and numerous laws.

Bernstein: So what you're saying, sort of, if you flip this a little bit, is that the United States military simply wouldn't be able to use this material, which now is a key part of their forward fighting force, unless …

Rokke: I would like to read direct quote the Los Alamos Memorandum that was sent to me in March of 1991. And I'm going to read this verbatim, 'cause it's extremely important to understand, and I'm going to read it very slowly. "Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico, 1 March 1991. Subject: The effectiveness of depleted uranium penetrators. There is a relatively small amount of lethality data for uranium penetrators, either the tank-fired long version, or the GAU 8 round fired from the A10 close air support aircraft. The recent war has likely multiplied the number of DU rounds fired at targets by orders of magnitude. It is believed that DU penetrators were very effective against Iraqi armor. However, assessments of such will have to be made. There has been and continues to be a concern regarding the impact of DU on the environment. Therefore, if no one makes a case for the effectiveness of DU on the battlefield, DU rounds may become politically unacceptable and thus be deleted from the arsenal. If DU penetrators have proved their worth in combat activities, then we should assure their future existence (until something better is developed) through service DOD proponents. If proponency is not garnered then it is possible that we stand to lose a valuable combat capability. I believe we should keep this sensitive issue at mind whenever action reports are written. Respectfully, Colonel Z."

Bernstein: In other words if they don't lie to the public and they find out what a nightmare they won't be able to use it, so they will keep lying.

Rokke: Absolutely. Now another memorandum that I received at the same time simultaneously from the United States Army's Defense Nuclear Agency: "Subject: Depleted uranium ammunition." I'm going to read a direct quote from this. "As explosive ordnance disposal, ground combat units, and civil populations in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Iraq come increasingly in contact with DU ordnance, we must prepare to deal with the potential problems. Toxic war souvenirs, political furor, and post conflict cleanup are only some of the issues that must be addressed. Alpha particles from uranium oxide dust from expended rounds is a health threat, but beta particles from shrapnel and intact rounds is a serious health threat, with a possible exposure rate of 200 millirads per hour on contact."

Bernstein: Again, Doug Rokke, please tell us more specifically how you yourself have come under attack for trying to get this information out to the public.

Rokke: The US Army, for whatever reason, gave me the responsibility to develop the procedures and identify the risks and hazards. They made me their expert. When I did the research and put my recommendations in, they didn't like it. Again, the Los Alamos Memorandum, which I read. And as a consequence, my life ended after I spoke up. Jobs, much less the health and trying to get medical care from the Department of Veteran affairs at the military. Its' been extremely difficult. Not only for myself, but anybody else that speaks up. It's very simple. The United States and Great Britain have made a conscious decision to take radioactive waste that they could not dispose of legally in their own nation, and spread it across the battlefields of other nations, and refuse to give medical care, and refuse to clean up the environment.

Bernstein: Have you ever been personally threatened, intimidated, have you been told that you will be given a dishonorable discharge?

Rokke: I'm still completing the direct order that I was given, to complete the mess. But yes, I've been threatened. Yeah. I mean it's real simple. That happens. That's on a regular basis. One of the things we've done when we do press reports or interviews. Department of Defense officials have come on and said that we never did the work and we never did the findings. However the documents all verify that we did. Most recently, what we have found, is myself and other individuals involved in this, that our records at the national record center at AR 1st Com at St. Louis Missouri have disappeared.

Bernstein: Is it true that you attempted to go to Vieques and confirm or verify the use of depleted uranium against I guess, if you will, a civilian population that lives near the bombing range there?

Rokke: In February of 1999 the US military did use uranium munitions down in Vieques, in preparation to go into Kosovo. Not a question. Confirmed. I attempted to get through the Deputy Secretary of Defense cleanup and medical care provided for them, and I was unable to do it. They refused to do it. I personally have gone down to Vieques, Puerto Rico, I have been on site, I participated in a medical investigations one on one with physicians where they did an assessment of myself, my own health effects with known uranium exposures, with the residents down there and the physician verified that the same health effects and the same exposures occurred. The contamination is extensive. And we've been unable, and they're still working on Vieques, to get the cleanup. What you'll see in Vieques - a lot of things from the incidents in Vieques, the government in the wire stories states this is all about dropping a few bombs off of target. Well, yeah that happened too, but that was total carelessness. But what they don't talk about is the extensive use of uranium munitions and other chemical and biological warfare materials on that island for 40 some odd years. Today in war, as we did in Gulf War I and that area's a toxic wasteland, you blow up an infrastructure, you release all the hazardous materials associated with a city, a country, industry, agriculture, medicine and everything else. You destroy the water supply. You get the sandstorms up there with individually you should be wearing respiratory protection for because the sand in itself breathed in, in the eyes and the lungs causes serious health effects. And then use uranium munitions. Today the technology of war has got to a point where, as we know now from numerous engagements, you can't clean up the environmental mess. And the medical care has not been provided. And even the medical care that they provide is basically treat the symptoms rather than trying to treat and cure the illnesses. Ladies and gentlemen, you must know that the Gulf War I casualty rate is not the 706 that is published in the World Almanac, the US Department of Veteran Affairs, in a report issued in September of last year verified that over 221,000 Gulf War I veterans are now permanently disabled due to service in the Gulf region, from August of 1990 through May of 2002. We know that number's low because of myself and others that are not cared and are still included in those numbers. And the department of veteran affairs has also acknowledged and verified that well over 10,000 of our nation's finest sons and daughters have died as a consequence of Gulf War exposures.

Bernstein: Finally, you consider yourself a patriot You are still in the military. What would your advice be to young men, young women enlisting now, what would you tell your own child if they wanted to do service for the United States government, would you tell them don't go because you're going to get exposed in a way that is incurable?
Rokke: Well first off, they need to have adequate training and education. Combat education and training. Ok. To survive in combat. They must have equipment that's functional and operational. All the defective gas masks that have been confirmed by the United States General Accounting Office must be replaced. All the defective MOP suits - chemical protective clothing - must be replaced. Medical care must be in place, and put there. In a recent congressional hearing, chaired by Christopher Shays, they verified that the military is not providing the medical care for the troops now required for deployment. And we know for the over - it's close to a quarter of a million individuals that served in Gulf War I that are sick and dying across this nation, and all of them sick and dying across the world, that medical care is not provided. The veteran as in all other wars has been abandoned, because of the cost and the liability issues. This is not just liability for a handful of American warriors. This is liability because the health and environmental effects of war affect everybody. Not only immediately, but for years down the road. We can't clean it up and we don't have the medical knowledge to take care of the casualties that result. So anybody's going to go in the military today, you better think about what the results are. And then you need to make the choice.

Bernstein: And why haven't you yourself resigned?

Rokke: Because as a military officer I can still make a difference.

Bernstein: Doug Rokke -

Rokke: I intend -

Bernstein: Yes -

Rokke: - to finish the job. For God and the citizens of the world. To protect our troops, to ensure that medical care is provided, to ensure that combat readiness is the ultimate, and to make sure that this never happens again.

Bernstein: Doug Rokke, military man, expert in depleted uranium, health physicist, we thank you very much for this very important information and for joining us on Flashpoints.

Rokke: Thank you again, Dennis.