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Shadow and Light

Aalim Abdul Hameed (#93)


Aalim Abdul Hameed: PhD in preventive medicine, specialist in depleted uranium effects in Basra, dean of the College of Medicine, al- Mustansiriya University. Date unknown.

Artist Statement

Alim Abdul Hameed Yaqoub was a researcher and dean of Mustanseriyya University medical school, exploring the effects of radiation on humans and the environment—the incidence of childhood cancers around his hometown of Basra, following the first Gulf War. He wondered where the wind took the depleted uranium dust aerosolized in projectile blasts, and who inhaled it. His work was summarized and presented at a conference in Baghdad by his colleague. Dr. Souad Al-Azzawi, who added:

"We feel obligated to let the world know that some of these researches cost the authors their lives e.g. Dr. Alim Abdul Hameed Yaqoub who was killed, along with his son. when his car was forced off the highway on the way to his home town of Basrah after being attacked twice at his home by pro-occupation militias two weeks before his death."

It is unbearable to consider the last moments of father and son, but there is no other way for me to see them than through this sight. I feel complicit, as a voyeur, as an American, as someone too impatient for the scientific method. I can only imagine the just before: a father focusing on the road, on driving carefully, on setting an example, on getting his son home. In a violent roadside ambush a father and son lost each other, and the world lost a witness to the invisible aftermath of our warfare and the son who might have carried his questions forward.

So I've been thinking about what I know about uranium. I've learned that it has the highest atomic weight of all the primordially occurring elements. Heavier than lead, it can travel farther, pierce better and burn hotter. Uranium tipped projectiles penetrate armored tanks and maintain enough momentum to crash about inside. I've learned that there are a couple parts per million of naturally occurring uranium in everything. Rocks, soil, you—I've learned that uranium only melts at temperatures over 2000 degrees - that it is forty times more abundant than silver and can have a half -life of four and a half billion years. When inhaled, uranium can penetrate cells with the same intensity as it does armored tanks. Depleted uranium has been found in the semen of survivors of combat. Alim's patients suffered from symptoms similar to those described as Gulf War Syndrome.

It is a crime against humanity and a violation of international law, Alim s colleagues insist, to use weapons in war that continue to cause harm long after they have struck.

From my window, a crane stands in the wetlands of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, in San Francisco where boats were decommissioned after World War II and sent for decontamination after attending nuclear tests in the Pacific. Surfaces were sand-blasted "clean — radioactive residue of depleted uranium aerosolized. We are still considering the harmfulness, glacially and insufficiently. There is a 900-page report published by the US Navy. It contains a catalog of ships that were kept there, named after united states. One page shows the wind patterns recorded in 1948.

This basketball court perches above a peninsula that gave the Golden State its name and borders my neighborhood of Bayview - Hunters Point, which has lived alongside fear of contamination for more than seventy years. The children from the adjacent housing projects can't walk through the meadows they see from their windows to get to the bay of the view because fences, razor wire, no trespassing and hazardous material warnings keep them out. The blue dot of center court has a half-life longer than nets. The hoops are good and the free throw line marks the distance, but no one ever comes out to play.

Kristin Scheel