Thursday, March 3, 2005

Justice Delayed ... May Also Be Denied

We are rapidly approaching the 30th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, and one of the most grotesque of its many grotesque aspects may soon have its day in court.

For the first time since the Vietnam War ended in 1975, a group of Vietnamese people who say they are victims of Agent Orange are suing for compensation.

The civil case – which, if successful, could be worth billions of dollars in payouts - has been filed on behalf of millions of Vietnamese, who accuse US chemical manufacturers of crimes against humanity. Children raised in areas contaminated by the substance – which contains highly poisonous dioxin - have a wide range of birth defects and chromosome damage.

Twenty million gallons of Agent Orange -- which contains one of the most poisonous chemicals ever created -- were sprayed on Vietnam, in a doomed effort to "defoliate" thousands of acres of jungle and rain-forest, which provided cover for the Viet Cong forces, who moved about in secret, mostly on foot and on bicycles. The Americans needed no cover, of course, since they were moving by helicopter or any other way they pleased. But that's another story.

The spin-a-rama associated with this issue is a story all its own, of course:

Companies which manufactured the chemical say they did so in accordance with government specifications, and that use of the agent was necessary to protect US troops. They also say that the health problems suffered by the complainants and exposure to the chemical are unrelated.

Certainly the poison and the damage are unrelated. Who could ever doubt that? And the old "that poison was produced according to government specifications" line is being trotted out again, as if it makes any difference. Do the Vietnamese victims of this intentional poisoning care about the government specifications? Would they have become any more or less ill if the Agent Orange were made according to a flawed recipe? Well, maybe, but isn't that beside the point?

What the heck is the point, anyway? That depends, as always, on who is doing the spinning.

The US Justice department has asked the judge to throw the case out, claiming that it is a threat to a president’s power to wage war, and that it will open the floodgates for compensation claims.

We would never want to do anything that might infringe on the president's power to wage war, would we? Nor would we want to open the floodgates so that the people harmed by our vicious foreign policies could actually be compensated for their pain and suffering. Not to mention permanent damage to the natural environment of their country. Perish the thought!

For crying out loud, it took long enough to compensate the GIs who were poisoned by the stuff while they were spraying it. And even that was done on the sly.

"It’s taken so long because the American Government has denied any connection between physical or emotional disabilities and the spraying of 20 million gallons of dioxin on that country during the war. American war veterans spent time in a class action suit in the early 1980s, attempting to receive redress from the US government in support. That case was settled out of court, so there was no precedent."

I've been quoting from an article on the Radio Netherlands website. You can read the entire piece here. At the bottom of that page, there's also a link to a two-year-old article called Public health in Vietnam, which is also worth a read.

We might as well read about all this from Radio Netherlands, because it doesn't look as if the American press is having any of it. Oh well. What did we expect?