The U.S. government, now flexing its military muscle to pivot to the Asia Pacific region, should remedy and compensate Marshall Islanders for its nuclear weapons testing that has caused “immediate and lasting effects” on their human rights, a special United Nations report concludes.

The U.S. government should also open up still-secret information and records regarding the environmental and human health effects of past and current U.S. military use of the islands, grant Marshallese full access to their medical and other records, and consider issuing a presidential acknowledgment and apology to victims adversely affected by the 67 weapons tests it conducted from 1946 to 1958 when it administered the Marshall Islands as a U.N. strategic trust territory, according to the report presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council in mid-September in Geneva, Switzerland by Special Rapporteur Calin Georgescu.

The report noted the frequent concerns expressed by Marshallese about then-secret Project 4.1. In it Marshallese allege that in 1954 they were deliberately used “to assess the effects of nuclear weapons on humans” when they were powdered by radioactive fallout from the explosion of a hydrogen bomb codenamed Bravo.

The largest nuclear bomb in U.S. history, it was 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb that had devastated Hiroshima nine years earlier. It was laced with plutonium, one of the planet’s most deadly substances with a radioactive existence of half a million years that may be hazardous to humans for at least half that time.

Marshallese voices are to be poignantly presented Thursday (Oct. 18) at the Hawaii International Film Festival in a gripping documentary titled “Nuclear Savage: The Islands of Secret Project 4.1.”

The award-winning feature length documentary by Adam Jonas Horowitz is billed as revealing “how U.S. scientists turned a Pacific paradise into a radioactive hell, using Marshall Islanders as guinea pigs for three decades to study the effects of nuclear fallout on human beings.” The film includes devastating interviews with survivors, some of whom have since died.

It is scheduled to be shown Thursday (Oct. 18) at 9:15 p.m. in Dole Cannery C Theater. Sponsored by Pacific Islanders in Communications, the 87-minute film is presented in English and Marshallese with English subtitles.

The U.N. report noted the conclusion that “there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate intentional human testing on the Marshallese.” That conclusion was made by President Clinton’s Advisory Commission on Human Radiation Experiments. It was appointed in 1994 to investigate unethical human experiments made by U.S. personnel.

These experiments included bombarding the testicles of prisoners in Washington and Oregon state prisons with radiation dangerous enough to cause harm, feeding Quaker Oats laced with radioactive tracers to 100 supposedly mentally retarded teenage boys in a Massachusetts state institution in the 1940s and 1950s and providing drinks containing radioactive iron to 820 pregnant women by Vanderbilt University in the late 1940s.

These experiments were hidden for decades until exposed in 1999 by investigative reporter and author Eileen Welsome in her award-winning “The Plutonium Files.”

Survivors told the U.N. official that they were subjected to nuclear testing on humans without their prior and informed consent and that the treatment they received from U.S. personnel had been “degrading and culturally insensitive.”

Voluntary consent of human subjects has been established as an “absolutely essential” international standard when the Nuremberg Code was written following the war crimes convictions of German medical officers for their horrific experiments with concentration camp inmates during World War II.

The U.N. report cited Clinton’s Advisory Committee’s finding that “one of the greatest harm from past experiments and intentional releases may be the legacy of distrust they created.”

The report added that the U.S. government’s denial of “access by Marshallese patients to medical files, and denial of access of Marshallese authorities to previously classified, then declassified, but unreadable scientific documentation, were cited as major concerns and a hindrance to open dialogue” between the two governments.

The international community and the U.N. “has an ongoing obligation to encourage a final and just resolution for the Marshallese people,” the report reads, because they placed the Marshallese under the U.S.-administered trusteeship for 40-plus years until 1990.

These international groups might consider a more comprehensive compilation of scientific findings “on this regrettable episode in human history.”

Over the decades, the U.S. courts, Congress and executive agencies have rejected Marshallese pleas for adequate, just and fair compensation for human, property and environmental damages and remediation.

Ten months after A-bombing ended World War II, the U.S. began conducting nuclear-weapons experiments in the Pacific. From 1946 to 1962, the U.S. detonated 86 nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands, the Pacific waters and at Johnston Islands—only 800 miles south of Hawaii. Over 16 years, these 86 bombs yielded the explosive force equal to 8,580 Hiroshima-size bombs—or l.4 weapons a day.
The U.N. report applauds the U.S. government for the funding and programs it has undertaken, but these are inadequate and it needs to do more.

“Radiation from the testing resulted in fatalities and in acute and long-term health complications,” the report reads. “The effects of radiation have been exacerbated by near-irreversible environmental contamination, leading to the loss of livelihoods and lands. Moreover, many people continue to experience indefinite displacement.”


About the author: Beverly Deepe Keever is professor emerita of the University of Hawai’i’s School of Communications. Keever is the author of “News Zero: The New York Times and The Bomb.”

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