Erik Fosse, a Norwegian cardiologist, worked in
Dr. Fosse was describing the effects of a
DIMEd to Death
The specific weapon is called a Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME). In 2000, the U.S. Air Force teamed up with the
Within the weapon’s range, however, it’s inordinately lethal. According to Norwegian doctor Mad Gilbert, the blast results in multiple amputations and "very severe fractures. The muscles are sort of split from the bones, hanging loose, and you also have quite severe burns." Most of those who survive the initial blast quickly succumb to septicemia and organ collapse. "Initially, everything seems in orderbut it turns out on operation that dozens of miniature particles can be found in all their organs," says Dr. Jam Brommundt, a German doctor working in Kham Younis, a city in southern Gaza. "It seems to be some sort of explosive or shell that disperses tiny particlesthat penetrate all organs, these miniature injuries, you are not able to attack them surgically." According to Brommundt, the particles cause multiple organ failures.
If by some miracle victims resist those conditions, they are almost certain to develop rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS), a particularly deadly cancer that deeply embeds itself into tissue and is almost impossible to treat. A 2005 U.S. Department of health study found that tungsten stimulated RMS cancers even in very low doses. All of the 92 rats tested developed the cancer.
While DIMEs were originally designed to avoid "collateral" damage generated by standard high-explosive bombs, the weapon’s lethality and profound long-term toxicity hardly seem like an improvement.
It appears DIME weapons may have been used in the 2006 Israeli invasion of
Dr. Gilbert told the Oslo Gardermoen, "there is a strong suspicion that
DIME is a
Marc Garlasco, Human Rights Watch’s senior military advisor, says "it remains to be seen how Israel has acquired the technology, whether they purchased weapons from the United States under some agreement, or if they in fact licensed or developed their own type of munitions."
DIME weapons aren’t banned under the Geneva Conventions because they have never been officially tested. However, any weapon capable of inflicting such horrendous damage is normally barred from use, particularly in one of the most densely populated regions in the world.
For one thing, no one knows how long the tungsten remains in the environment or how it could affect people who return to homes attacked by a DIME.
DIMEs weren’t the only controversial weapons used in
But eyewitness accounts in
Three of those shells hit the UN Works and Relief Agency compound on January 15, igniting a fire that destroyed hundreds of tons of humanitarian supplies. A phosphorus shell also hit Al-Quds hospital in
Donatella Rovera of Amnesty International said: "Such extensive use of this weapon in
Israel is also accused of using depleted uranium ammunition (DUA), which a UN sub-commission in 2002 found in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions, the International Convention Against Torture, the Conventional Weapons Convention, and the Hague Conventions against the use of poison weapons.
DUA isn’t highly radioactive, but after exploding, some of it turns into a gas that can easily be inhaled. The dense shrapnel that survives also tends to bury itself deeply, leaching low-level radioactivity into water-tables.
Other human-rights groups, including B’Tselem, Gisha, and Physicians for Human Rights, charge that the IDF intentionally targeted medical personal, killing over a dozen, including paramedics and ambulance drivers.
The International Federation for Human Rights called on the UN Security Council to refer Israel to the International Criminal Court for possible war crimes.
Although the Israelis dismiss the war-crimes charges, the fact that the Israeli cabinet held a special meeting on January 25 to discuss the issue suggests they’re concerned about being charged with "disproportionate" use of force. The Geneva Conventions require belligerents to at "all times" distinguish between combatants and civilians and to avoid "disproportionate force" in seeking military gains.
Hamas’ use of unguided missiles fired at Israel would also be a war crime under the Conventions.
"The one-sidedness of casualty figures is one measure of disproportion," says Richard Falk, the UN’s human rights envoy for the occupied territories. A total of 14 Israelis have been killed in the fighting, three of them civilians killed by rockets, 11 of them soldiers, four of the latter by "friendly fire." Some 50 IDF soldiers were also wounded.
In contrast, 1,330 Palestinians have died and 5,450 were injured, the overwhelming bulk of them civilians.
"This kind of fighting constitutes a blatant violation of the laws of warfare, which we ask to be investigated by the Commission of War Crimes," a coalition of Israeli human rights groups and Amnesty International said in a joint statement. "The responsibility of the state of Israel is beyond doubt."
Enter the Hague?
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann would coordinate the defense of any soldier or commander charged with a war crime. In any case, the United States would veto any effort by the UN Security Council to refer Israelis to the International Court at The Hague.
But, as the Financial Times points out, "all countries have an obligation to search out those accused of ‘grave’ breaches of the rules of war and to put them on trial or extradite them to a country that will."
That was the basis under which the British police arrested Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998.
"We’re in a seismic shift in international law," Amnesty International legal advisor Christopher Hall told the Financial Times, who says Israel’s foreign ministry is already examining the risk to Israelis who travel abroad.
"It’s like walking across the street against a red light," he says. "The risk may be low, but you’re going to think twice before committing a crime or traveling if you have committed one."
Conn Hallinan is a Foreign Policy In Focus columnist.