Imagine that communities all over a country are suffering from
a multitude of war-related health problems. Imagine a community
where girls as young as 13 years old are dying from ovarian cancer
caused by military pollution. Imagine a community where 100% of
the children are born contaminated by military toxic waste. Imagine
a community where over 90% of adults and nearly 80% of children
have multiple illnesses — including neurological disorders, respiratory
problems, and lead contamination. Where would you guess these
people live? Iraq? Yugoslavia? The former Soviet Union?
No, they live in the United States, and they are not the direct
victims of a military attack. Instead, they are the victims of
the U.S. government’s decades-long obsession with war preparations.
They are the victims of contamination from U.S. military bases
that has infiltrated and all but destroyed their communities.
Predictably, the military denies responsibility. But now the residents
have proof through independent testing and university studies,
and they are fighting back.
Community activists from North America, the Caribbean and Japan
met in early November at the Contaminated Bases Conference, held
at the Island Palms Hotel in San Diego, to share information and
to coordinate their efforts to force the United States military
to take responsibility for cleaning up its toxic waste. In addition
to sharing their experiences and strategies for combating military
pollution in their communities, the activists held a spirited
rally across the street from the hotel. A "People’s Congressional
Hearing" with Representative Bob Filner (D-San Diego) followed
In his opening statements, Filner said he wished he were a member
of the majority party in Congress so that a "real" Congressional
hearing could be held on the issue of military pollution poisoning
communities. However, he said, "Perhaps it’s better that we hear
from the people first, anyway." About 100 people attended the
hearing and about 20 of those testified. Although the hearing
was publicized and open to anyone, no Department of Defense representatives
attended the hearing.
Some of the most compelling testimony presented came from Janet
Daniels, an Athabascan grandmother from Alaska. Daniels told Filner
that toxic contamination from over 700 active and former military
sites in Alaska has poisoned the native people’s food and water
sources, leading to excessively high levels of cancer and other
diseases in their communities. "The same people who are supposed
to be defending us are killing us," Daniels said.
A Tewa Indian tribe member, Gilbert Sanchez, who lives near the
Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, told Filner that
"national security" is a phrase that should refer to the protection
of the American people. "National security should not mean that
the military is secure from the laws and regulations that are
meant to protect the well-being of Americans," he said. Sanchez
also suggested to Filner that the way to settle the Presidential
election (still unresolved at the time) would be to have the Bureau
of Indian Affairs make the decision, since they have extensive
experience deciding Native American elections.
Also present at the hearing was Robert Rabin from the Committee
for the Rescue and Development of Vieques, a Puerto Rican island
with about 9,000 residents. Rabin asked Filner to assist the citizens
of Vieques in their efforts to remove the U.S. Navy base from
their island, and to require the Navy to properly clean up its
toxic mess (see Draft NOtices, July-August 1999 and July-August
2000). Earlier in the conference, Rabin urged the participants
to understand that "the problem of military pollution is not just
a scientific and political issue. It is an immediate case of life
At the conclusion of the hearing, Filner said he plans to introduce
a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would lead to
laws requiring the "Department of Defense and all other defense-related
agencies of the United States . . . to comply with all federal
and state environmental laws designed to protect the health and
safety of the public or environment to the same extent as all
other entities subject to such law." No time frame was given for
the introduction of the bill, but Filner said that he would work
on gathering support from the American people.
The conference and hearing were sponsored by the Military Toxics
Project (MTP), a ten-year-old organization that was founded to
unite activists, organizations, and communities in campaigns for
the cleanup of military pollution. MTP is a network of grassroots
community groups, environmental justice organizations, peace organizations,
veterans groups, labor groups, and technical advisors. Two San
Diego-based sponsors were the Environmental Health Coalition (EHC)
and the Peace Resource Center (PRC). The EHC, founded in 1980,
promotes the cleanup of toxic pollution in the San Diego area.
The PRC provides resources and acts as a clearing house for information
on peace and social justice issues.
As a result of the coordinated efforts of the community activists
that participated in the conference, the Military Toxics Project
has adopted the "Sovereign Immunity Campaign" as its 2001 national
campaign. The campaign will focus on ways to remove the military’s
immunity from environmental regulations, with the ultimate goal
of making the military accountable for its pollution and responsible
for cleaning up its toxic waste. Several different strategies
will be used, including gathering support for Filner’s House of
Representatives bill, the "Military Environmental Responsibility
For more information on the MTP campaign, or to offer your
support, contact them at P.O. Box 558, Lewiston, ME 04243-0558,
or visit their Web site at http://www.miltoxproj.org.
This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter
of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (www.comdsd.org).