Depoliticising Death By William Bowles

9 August 2004

Today’s (9/8/04) Independent has the headline:

“A race against time
“Darfur is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Read the statistics, and then find out how to help”

With of course, the obligatory photograph of an emaciated baby, followed by the also obligatory round-up of ‘statistics’ on the plight of the Sudanese. Strange that the “race against time” is a story that has been on-going for the past twenty years, so why the sudden ‘concern’ for the Sudanese when the media has all but ignored the story for the past two decades? And what makes it the ‘world’s worst humanitarian crisis’?

Inside on pages 2 and 3, the Independent carries its own ‘appeal’ to help the Sudanese displaced by the war between the rebel groups and the central government. The two pages of text carry’s not a single reference to the history that led up to the current desperate situation. Instead, the bulk of the story is a description of the plight of the refugees, designed to tug at the heartstrings of people so that they’ll part with their money.

It has been implied (in the media of course) that the Sudan story would have been ignored by (Western) governments were it not for the ‘humanitarian concern’ of the press. But how true is this? More importantly, is this true of the press for other ‘humanitarian’ disasters?

What makes the Sudan story the “world’s worst humanitarian disaster” when for example, 35 million people have lost everything in Bangla Desh with virtually the entire country under water? By any definition, a truly devastating humanitarian disaster, yet where are the massive headlines and pleas for us to part with our cash?

A closer examination of the text reveals much about the nature of media’s concerns, not the least of which is the convenient ‘Arab’ versus ‘African’ aspect of the Sudanese situation, virtually the only political aspect of the situation mentioned in the Independent’s story. As ever, causes are presented as either, ethnic, religious or ‘racial’ rather than rooted in historical events, largely the result of colonial interventions of one kind or another. The Bangla Desh disaster is by contrast, ‘natural’ hence not worthy of consideration on the same level as Sudan. So much for the media’s humanitarian concerns then.

De-politicising death in Sudan conveniently sidesteps the West’s role in the making of the Sudanese situation, principally the role of oil and the stated position of the US in making sure that a locally-brokered solution would not be allowed to happen.

“First, we need to remind ourselves that vital U.S. national interests are at stake in Sudan.” J. STEPHEN MORRISON, Director, CSIS Africa Program [1]

What are these vital national interests?

“U.S. interests are concentrated in humanitarian values, religious and cultural tolerance, democratic norms, counter-terrorism, regional stability and economic growth. The U.S. engagement in pursuit of peace in Sudan is neither a charitable nor an ill-conceived act. It is a clear-eyed pursuit of results that can benefit the United States.” [2]

He might have added, and not necessarily in the order presented. That’s the PR but what of the benefits? First and foremost, the physical intervention of the West through the UN:

“We will invite disaster – and risk repeating the initial UN peacekeeping failures in Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of the Congo — if we assume the Sudanese parties themselves will have the will or capacity to police themselves adequately, or that a light UN peacekeeping force with a Chapter VI mandate simply to monitor events will be adequate.

“A large UN peacekeeping force will be required – Secretary Powell has spoken of 8-10,000 troops – with a robust Chapter VII mandate. That force should include a small, quick-reaction force, possess strong intelligence capacities, and should be led by a core force from an industrial power. It will need careful forward planning, sufficient funding, a strong focus on advising and training the joint/integrated units of Sudan’s armed forces, and an international civilian police element with sufficient means to train Sudanese police.” [3]

And oil is the principle motivator for Western involvement with Sudan destined to become a “medium-size producer” within a few years. The objective is to:

“Implement ‘One Sudan, Two Systems.’ The United States should seek first to reach agreement on the creation of an interim arrangement – a ‘One Sudan, Two Systems’ formula – that preserves a single Sudan with two viable, self-governing democratic regions, north and south.” [4]

The objective? To establish a US ‘beachhead’ in a strategically critical area of North Africa and notwithstanding that the US presently has no direct investment in oil production in the country, Sudan, with proven reserves of at least a billion barrels, represents a significant addition to US sources of the black stuff.

From Darfur to Depleted Uranium – the media’s double standard

By contrast with the Independent’s front page referred to above, we are unlikely to see a front-page headline in the Independent something like the following:

‘At least a 1000 tonnes of Depleted Uranium dropped on Iraq in what is probably one of the worst environmental disasters in history.

‘World ignores the plight of tens of thousands of Iraqis and Coalition forces exposed to radiation levels 1000 times the normal. WHO suppressed scientific study of the effects of Depleted Uranium. A catastrophe waiting to happen?’ [5]

With radiation levels 1000 times the normal being recorded (some measurements have recorded as much as 1900), the country is littered with the remains of DU ‘bomblets’, over two million of which were dropped on the population (in addition to the thousands of shells used against armoured vehicles). Cancers and deformed births are fifteen times higher than the pre-1991 levels. [6] And Iraq is not the only country to be polluted with these illegal and indiscriminate weapons of mass destruction:

“During the 1999 American/NATO terror campaign NATO pilots fired from 31,000 to 100,000 rounds of DU ammunition in Kosovo and all over the rest of Yugoslavia, including Montenegro. In 1995 at least 10,000 rounds of DU ammo were fired at the Serbian people of Bosnia as well.”

“Depleted uranium (DU) shells and cluster bombs were used recklessly during wars in violation of international laws. In December 2003, the Human Rights Watch disclosed in a report that the 13,000 cluster bombs US troops used in Iraq contained nearly 2 million bomblets, which have caused casualities of over 1,000 people. The “dub” cluster bombs that did not blast on the spot continued to menace the lives of innocent people. The US troops also used large quantities of depleted uranium shells during their military operations in Iraq. The quantity and residue of pollutants from these bombs far exceeded those of the Gulf War in 1991. Through a spokesman for the Central Command, the Pentagon acknowledged that ammunition containing depleted uranium was used during the Iraq war. Indeed, Doug Rokke, ex-director of the Pentagon’s depleted uranium project, former professor of environmental science and onetime US army colonel, said after the Iraq War that the willful use of DU bombs to contaminate any other nation and b ring harms to the people and their environment is a crime against humanity (see Spain’s Uprising newspaper on June 2, 2003).

“The majority of DU shot in the 1990 Kuwait/US war and in this US/UK war was concentrated on Basra and Baghdad respectively. 1000 to 2000 metric tons are estimated to have been used by US and to a lesser extent British forces, in the 2003 Gulf War. (Figure from Dr Jawad Al Ali)

“The rate of cancer here has multiplied 15 times since the last Gulf war. In 2002 we had 644 deaths from cancer in Basra. We have approximately 123 patients per 100,000 of the population. (Basra’s is Iraq’s second largest city with an estimated population of 2-3 million). People living near the nuclear reactors are affected the worst, but overall, its estimated that 1000-2000 tons of Depleted Uranium were inside Iraqi cities and in west Basra and between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. A10 planes were dropping it, and Apaches. Abu Khaseeb, North Rumeilla, and the airport were particularly hard hit. The results of the DU used in this war will not be seen for another 4-5 years – the incubation period for cancer’.” Dr Jawad Al Ali [7]

Given the scale of the ‘humanitarian disasters’ as a result of USUK actions in Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo and elsewhere, one would have thought on the scale of the Independent’s graph of ‘humanitarian disasters’, depleted uranium would be high on the list.

As with the Sudan reportage, media coverage is selective and utterly irrational, based not on the reality and the context of events but on the concerns of the ruling elite over what the public should be concerned with. In apparently depoliticising death in Sudan by labelling their concern ‘humanitarian’, the media reveals its inherently political agenda when it comes to the coverage of suffering. It explains why after twenty years of a debilitating war, financed in large part through Western energy companies investing in oil extraction in Sudan, it was not until 2001, that the US sought to play an interventionist role in the situation.

The Western media doesn’t deem it important to ask the question why the US, UK and the EU should suddenly be so concerned with events in Sudan. Instead, it rather we focused our attentions solely on the undoubted human suffering of the Sudanese. No doubt tomorrow, will see a new crisis for us to be concerned with, one that has also been brewing for years without the West being overly concerned about until it became expedient to do so.

1. ‘Sudan: Peace Agreement around the corner?’ J. STEPHEN MORRISON, Director, CSIS Africa Program, March 11, 2004

2. ibid

3. ibid

4. ibid

See also ‘U.S. Policy to end Sudan’s War’, Report of the CSIS Task Force on U.S. – Sudan Policy, February 2001. (Also available here on the site.)

5. WHO ‘suppressed’ scientific study into depleted uranium cancer fears in Iraq
Radiation experts warn in unpublished report that DU weapons used by Allies in Gulf war pose long-term health risk By Rob Edwards, Environment Editor, 22/2/04

6. Iraqi cancers, birth defects blamed on U.S. depleted uranium

7. ‘The Effects of Depleted Uranium in Iraq’ by Ewa Jasiewicz,

Some other sources on depleted uranium

Depleted uranium casts shadow over peace in Iraq, 15 April 03

BURNING ‘DEPLETED’ URANIUM: A MEDICAL DISASTER. A compendium of links to DU-related souces.

Depleted Uranium: Dead Children, Sick Soldiers,

Depleted Uranium Watch – Stop NATO!


Mounting evidence points to poisonous legacy of NATO’s depleted uranium munitions

Depleted uranium responsible for cancer among Europe’s Balkan troops

Depleted uranium weapons used in Balkan War expected to cause thousands of fatal cancers

Depleted Uranium: A Post-War Disaster For Environment And Health
Discounted casualties – the human cost of depleted uranium


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