Al Jazeera & The Guardian & Noah Shachtman.com – 2009-01-24 21:41:01
Outcry over Weapons Used in Gaza
GAZA CITY (January 19, 2009) — Medics working in the Gaza Strip have condemned Israel’s use of suspected “new weapons” that inflict horrific injuries they say most surgeons will not have seen before. Dr Jan Brommundt, a German doctor working for Medecins du Monde in the south Gazan city of Khan Younis, described the injuries he had seen as “absolutely gruesome.”
Speaking to Al Jazeera on Tuesday, Brommundt said surgeons had reported many cases where casualties had lost both legs rather than one, prompting suspicions that the Israelis were using some form of Dense Inert Metal Explosives (Dime).
When detonated, a Dime device expels a blade of charged tungsten dust that burns and destroys everything within a four-metre radius.
Brommundt also described widespread but previously unseen abdominal injuries that appear minor at first but degenerate within hours causing multi-organ failure.
“Initially everything seems in order… but they will present within one-to -five hours with an acute abdomen which looks like appendicitus but it turns out on operation that dozens of miniature particles can be found in all of their organs,” he said.
“It seems to be some sort of explosive or shell that disperses tiny particles at around 1×1 or 2×1 millimetres that penetrate all organs, these miniature injuries, you are not able to attack them surgically.” The doctors said many patients succomb to septicaemia and die within 24 hours.
Dr Erik Fosse, a Norwegian surgeon who worked at the Al-Shifa hospital in northern Gaza during the Israeli offensive in Gaza, also told Al Jazeera there was a significant increase in double amputations.
“We suspect they [Israel] used Dime weapons because we saw cases of huge amputations or flesh torn off the lower parts of the body,” he said. “The pressure wave [from a Dime device] moves from the ground upwards and that’s why the majority of patients have huge injuries to the lower part of the body and abdomen.”
Fosse described the injuries as “extreme” and “much more dramatic” than those inflicted by landmines as “legs are blown off to the groin, it’s like they have been cut to pieces.” He described them as “new injuries” that most doctors will not have come across, although he noted similar wounds were reported in the 2006 Lebanon war.
Noting that Dime explosives are precision weapons that are supposed to minimise civilian casualties, Fosse said: “The problem is that most of the patients I saw were children. If they [the Israelis] are trying to be accurate, it seems obvious these weapons were aimed at children.”
Fosse called on the UN to establish a body in Gaza to monitor survivors to see if they developed cancer, following claims Dime devices contain radioactive material.
Medics and observers have also accused the Israelis of using white phosphorus – banned from use near civilians under international law – in the densely populated Gaza Strip.
Human rights organisation Amnesty International (AI) said on Monday that delegates it sent to Gaza had found “indisputable evidence of widespread use of white phosphorus in densely populated residential areas in Gaza City and in the north”.
“We saw streets and alleyways littered with evidence of the use of white phoshorus, including still-burning wedges and the remnants of the shells and canisters fired by the Israeli army,” Christopher Cobb-Smith, a weapons expert touring Gaza as part of AI’s four-person delegation, said.
White phosphorus is a toxic chemical that causes severe burns and sparks fires that are difficult to extinguish. It is dispersed in artillery shells, bombs and rockets and burns on contact with oxygen and is used to create a smokescreen to hide the movement of troops.
Israel fiercely denies using weapons in such a way as to contravene international law. Major Avital Leibovich, a spokeswoman for the Israeli military, reiterated Israel was using “munitions that other militaries in the world are using” and that weapons were deployed “according to international law” .
Pressed on the number of civilian and child casualties in Gaza, she accused Hamas, the Palestinian faction that controls the territory, of hiding fighters within civilian areas and using ordinary Gazans as “human shields”.
Leibovich also said the international community needed to ask itself whether Hamas and other Palestinian factions had committed war crimes by firing rockets at Israeli citizens for eight years.
More than 1,300 Palestinians have been killed in the 22-day offensive, many of them woman and children, and 5,340 injured. Thirteen Israelis, including 10 soldiers and three civilians, have been killed in the same period. The number of civilian deaths has provoked an international outcry, with senior UN officials demanding an independent investigation into whether Israel has committed war crimes.
The likelihood of either side being subject to a war-crimes action seems remote as the International Criminal Court (ICC) has no jurisdiction to investigate because the Gaza Strip is not a state. In addition, Israel has not signed the Rome Statute that enshrined the ICC so any investigation would require a UN Security mandate – likely to be vetoed by Israel’s ally, the US.
However, Mark Taylor, an international law expert, told Al Jazeera that individual commanders and politicians on both sides could be subject to legal actions lodged abroad. “I think that Israelis in responsible positions, as well as Palestinians in responsible positions, are going to be looking over their shoulders in the days and weeks to come,” he said.
Gaza Doctors Say Patients Suffering
Mystery Injuries after Israeli Attacks
Rory McCarthy / The Guardian
GAZA CITY (October 18, 2006) — Doctors in Gaza have reported previously unseen injuries from Israeli weapons that cause severe burning and leave deep internal wounds, often resulting in amputations or death.
The injuries were first seen in July, when Israel launched operations in Gaza following the capture of an Israeli soldier by Palestinian militants. Doctors said that, unlike traditional combat injuries, there was no large shrapnel found in the bodies and there appeared to be a “dusting” on damaged internal organs.
“Bodies arrived severely fragmented, melted and disfigured,” said Jumaa Saqa’a, a doctor at the Shifa hospital, in Gaza City. “We found internal burning of organs, while externally there were minute pieces of shrapnel. When we opened many of the injured people we found dusting on their internal organs.”
It is not clear whether the injuries come from a new weapon. The Israeli military declined to detail the weapons in its arsenal, but denied reports that the injuries came from a Dense Inert Metal Explosive (Dime), an experimental weapon.
In Gaza, Dr Saqa’a said the small pieces of shrapnel found in patients’ bodies did not show up under x-ray. “We are used to seeing shrapnel penetrate the body making localised damage. Now we didn’t see shrapnel, but we found the destruction,” he said.
Most of the injuries were around the abdomen, he said. The doctors also found that patients who were stabilised after one or two days suddenly died. “The patient dies without any apparent scientific cause,” he said.
At the Kamal Odwan hospital, in Beit Lahiya, the deputy director, Saied Jouda, said he had found similar injuries. “We don’t know what it means – new weapons or something new added to a previous weapon,” he said. He too found patients with severe internal injuries without signs of any large shrapnel pieces. “There was burning, big raw areas of charred flesh,” he said. “This must be related to the type of explosive material.”
Photographs of some of the dead from Shifa hospital showed bodies that had been melted and blackened beyond recognition. In several cases doctors amputated badly burnt limbs.
At least 250 Palestinians have died in Gaza since the latest military operations began and hundreds more have been injured.
Neither of the doctors could give exact figures for the numbers of patients suffering the new injuries, although both said that most of those brought in during July showed signs of these injuries.
Dr Saqa’a said the injuries occurred over six weeks beginning in late June, while Dr Jouda said he believed patients admitted even in recent days still showed signs of unusual injuries.
The health ministry in Gaza reported that these injuries came from an “unprecedented type of projectile,” and also noted severe burning and badly damaged internal organs. It called for an investigation into the cause of the wounds.
“You have complete burns that lead to amputation. You find shrapnel entering the body and leaving very, very small holes. We have never seen this before,” said Khalid Radi, a spokesman at the health ministry.
Tissue samples from patients in Gaza were given to journalists from the Italian television channel RAI. In a documentary shown last week, the channel said the injuries appeared similar to the effects of Dime. An Italian laboratory that analysed the samples reportedly said its results were compatible with the hypothesis that a Dime weapon was involved.
The weapon is new and in the US it is still in the early stages of development. It has a carbon-fibre casing and contains fine tungsten particles rather than ordinary metal shrapnel. It causes a very powerful blast, but with a much more limited radius than other explosives.
However, the Israeli military denies the use of Dime weapons.
“The defence establishment is investing considerable effort to develop weaponry in order to minimise the risk of injury to innocent civilians. With regard to allegations of the use of Dime weaponry, the Israel defence forces deny the possession or use of such weapons,” the military said in a statement. “Due to operational reasons, the IDF cannot specify the types and use of weapons in its possession. In addition it should be emphasised that the IDF only uses weapons in accordance with the international law.”
Some Israeli military experts have also dismissed the suggestion that a Dime weapon is involved.
Isaac Ben-Israel, a professor at Tel Aviv University and a retired Israel air force general who was involved in weapons development, had seen some of the photographs of the dead and injured and said he believed that the wounds came from ordinary explosives. “I can tell you surely that no one in Israel ever developed such a Dime weapon. It doesn’t exist at all,” he said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, which monitors weapons used in conflicts, said it had heard reports of similar injuries from Gaza and was collecting information on the case. “We haven’t come to any sort of conclusion about what kind of weapon it was,” said Bernard Barrett, an ICRC spokesman.
Cancer Worries for New U.S. Bombs
David Hambling / Noah Shachtman.com
(May 20, 2006) — The U.S. military is working on a small, precise bomb that could hit targets “previously off limits to the warfighter.” The problem is, it might cause cancer.
Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME) is one of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s responses to the challenge of fighting in an urban environment without hurting innocent bystanders in the process.
Recent news about an airstrike, which may have killed civilians, as well as Taliban fighters, highlights the problem. Similar situations have occurred repeatedly in Iraq and Afghanistan; sometimes targets could not be engaged, because of the risk of harming nearby civilians. One option is to use smaller weapons. Another is dropping inert bombs, filled with concrete rather than explosives, to minimize collateral damage.
But what’s really required is something which is just as lethal as a standard bomb, but keeps its lethal zone to a minimum. This is exactly what DIME delivers.
DIME is used in the Low Collateral Damage version of the Small Diameter Bomb currently under development. This has a carbon fiber casing which turns into dust rather than creating dangerous fragments. The bomb is filled with explosive mixed with tungsten powder, which becomes micro-shrapnel. The small-sized tungsten particles drag to a halt at about 40 charge diameters. In the case of the SDB, that gives a destructive radius of about 25 feet.
The result is an incredibly destructive blast in a small area, what the Air Force Term “Focused Lethality.” The AFRL Munitions Directorate provided this picture of a DIME test, but were unable to discuss the topic. However, I talked to others who have worked in this area. They were consistently awed by the destructive power of the mixture, which causes far more damage than pure explosive within the near field. The impact of the micro-shrapnel seems to cause a similar but more powerful effect than a shockwave.
Early blasts even destroyed test instruments:
Unfortunately, the high-velocity, high temperature inert metal particles found in DIME fills have proved to be extremely damaging to traditional pressure measurement instruments. Hence, new measurement diagnostics had to be developed to investigate DIME formulations.
Because there are no large fragments, Focused Lethality Munitions should not cause a hazard at any great distance. The standard Small Diameter Bomb is claimed to be lethal out to 2,000 feet or more, the Focused Lethality version will have a smaller but deadlier footprint – a 12-gauge compared to a rifle.
Little has been released on the exact effects of DIME explosives, but it s interesting that a presentation on future munitions illustrates focused lethality with a tank which had been turned on its side by blast. Aimed accurately, it looks like it would be capable of destroying a building completely without damaging the rest of the neighborhood.
Metal powders — typically aluminum — have been added to explosives for many years. But those are reactive metals, making the blast even stronger. Tungsten, on the other hand, is inert. So it remains in metallic form and absorbs some of the energy of the explosion. DIME originated in work to increase the density of the explosive mixture, improving the penetrating power of bunker busting bombs. But the bonus effect of the micro-shrapnel proved to be more significant than the increased density.
The Air Force’s focused lethality munition had an enthusiastic write-up in the Wall Street Journal. The US Navy’s Surface Warfare Center at Dahlgren is also working on DIME munitions.
According to the Air Force’s FY 2007 Unfunded Priority List, the focused lethality munitions “will be able to prosecute targets previously off limits to the warfighter.”
This suggests that they will be used in close proximity to civilians or friendly forces. The only collateral damage may be stray tungsten particles
clumping, or larger particles in the mix might mean some effect outside the focused zone. Would grains of inert tungsten present a problem? According to New Scientist magazine:
In a study designed to simulate shrapnel injuries, pellets of weapons-grade tungsten alloy were implanted in 92 rats. Within five months all the animals developed a rare cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma, according to John Kalinich’s team at the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute in Maryland.
92 out of 92 – “tumor yield was 100%” – is a significant result. The full report is here.
I checked with University of Arizona cancer researcher Dr. Mark Witten, quoted in the New Scientist story, to see how things have developed. Dr. Witten is investigating links between tungsten and leukemia, and is concerned about its possible use DIME or other munitions:
“My opinion is that there needs to be much more research on the health effects of tungsten before the military increases its usage.”
We don’ t know whether a Focused Lethality Munition is likely to result in tungsten particles striking anyone outside the lethal area. Nor do we know the possible environmental impact tungsten powder left afterwards. But given that the Focused Lethality munition will be used in situations which are likely to produce media attention and political repercussions, these should be addressed.
The aims of the Low Collateral Damage program are worthwhile. But unless the issues around tungsten are resolved we could see a repeat of the depleted uranium story. Instead of decreasing controversy, the new weapon might create even more.
UPDATE 05/22/06 1:45PM: Marc Garlasco, senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch comments:
While Human Rights Watch is supportive of the US military’s commitment to reducing civilian casualties, collateral damage as they call it, it is unfortunate that these weapons are being developed specifically for use in densely populated areas which may negate the intended effect.
Latest Comments: May 22, 2006
• “Little has been released on the exact effects of DIME explosives, but it’s interesting that a presentation on future munitions illustrates focused lethality with a tank which had been turned on its side by blast. Aimed accurately, it looks like it would be capable of destroying a building completely without damaging the rest of the neighborhood.”
If you go and check out the google cache (below or click on my name) of that PPT that’s been converted to PDF and most certainly EDITED and probaby REDACTED prior to posting… you will see what has been blacked out is the words “MULTIMODE WARHEAD SHOT” (see slide 18).
The full photo as well shows some kind of test stand – which you’ve cropped out in the photo you’ve posted. Why’d you do that? Hmm? Stop jumping to conclusions and making assumptions on very thin evidence (about the tank).
The “MUNITION TECHNOLOGY DRIVERS” presentation does not say one d*mn thing about DIME. Stop futzing up your otherwise good website with crappy reporting and blatent speculation. It makes you look like bumbling amateurs. http://18.104.22.168/search?q=cache:Vh0wtam0ucsJ:www.dtic.mil/ndia/2001munitions/masiello.pdf+%22MUNITION+TECHNOLOGY%22+Masiello&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=1
— Posted by: Dakota at November 17, 2006 7:22 PM
• Testing on rats wasn’t “conclusive”, so the US warmongers gave some of these things to Israel to test on live humans as part of their “final solution” to the Palestinian problem. Read all about it: http://www.guardian.co.uk/frontpage/story/0,,1924906,00.html
— Posted by: Micah at October 20, 2006 5:55 AM
• The good Mr Lambrecht and Mr Toal have probably never seen a combat victim. No doubt they will respond citing a largely imaginary sevice record. A munition no matter what type hitting a civilian is just plain wrong. Lambrecht’s comments are totally inaccurate as well as armchair warrioring
— Posted by: Paul T at October 19, 2006 3:40 PM
• As this weapon has the ability to destroy the measureing equipment ..in the past testing ….sounds like a dam fine bomb to me …lets get real busy with it …again our troops deserve any and all advantages we the people can provide to them …the enemy plays by no rules at all…!!
— Posted by: Steven p. Toal at October 18, 2006 7:42 PM
• I feel very strongly that if we can develope these kinds of munitions to prosecute this war to ultimate victory we should do so…our soldiers and marines deserve every advantage on the battlefeild that we can find for them…where ever they are fighting now and in the future …!!
— Posted by: Steven p. Toal at October 18, 2006 7:29 PM