2007/6/19 MSN

Vietnamese appeal 'agent orange' case

Several major US chemical companies are directly accountable for supplying the US military with agent orange during the Vietnam War and causing widespread dioxin poisoning, a lawyer for Vietnamese plaintiffs told a federal appeals court.

The plaintiffs appealed against a lower court decision that dismissed a civil suit seeking class-action status on behalf of more than three million Vietnamese people against the chemical companies.

It could have resulted in billions of dollars in damages and the environmental cleanup of Vietnam.

More than 30 companies, including Dow Chemical Co and Monsanto Co, are named in the lawsuit.

US warplanes dumped about 70 million litres of the defoliant on Vietnamese forests between 1962 and 1971 to destroy Vietnamese sources of food and cover.

The plaintiffs seek damages from dioxin poisoning which decades later they say has caused cancer, deformities and organ dysfunction.

Jonathan Moore, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the chemical companies knew that the agent orange herbicide containing dioxin was harmful but did nothing.

"They knew how it was going to be used and they had reason to believe the effect would be disastrous and they did it anyway," Moore told the panel of three judges for the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

"We are now seeing years later the fruit of that terrible poisonous product."

The judges appeared unmoved by previous cases from years following World War II, when makers of the gas Zyklon B, used in Nazi death camps, were convicted of crimes.

Unlike those cases, the judges questioned if poisons used in war that were not directly intended to kill people and only found years later to cause harm violated international law.

"It's a different circumstance here, is it not?" said appeals court judge Robert Sack.

"Is poison designed to kill or hurt?"

The case also considers the power of the US president to authorise the use of hazardous materials during war, but the US government was not sued due to sovereign immunity.

Former US Solicitor General Seth Waxman, arguing for the chemical companies, noted a lack of legal precedent for punishing the use of poisons in war and warned of harming US battlefield decisions if judges found the suit could proceed.

"This does affect our ongoing diplomacy," he said, citing the use of depleted uranium shells by US forces in Iraq.

Before the hearing, the Vietnamese plaintiffs and supporters held a rally.

Among them was Nguyen Van Quy, a former member of the North Vietnamese army exposed to agent orange who is at the end stage of multiple cancers and has two children with birth defects.

"We need to tell the American citizens of the bad impact and consequences of agent orange to many generations in Vietnam," said Quy, who travelled to New York from Haiphong, Vietnam.

The judges are not expected to make a decision for several months, and if they find the suit can move ahead, it may take years before a trial is held and any damages are awarded.

In 1984, seven chemical companies including Dow and Monsanto agreed to settle out of court for $US180 million ($A213.92 million) with US veterans who claimed agent orange caused cancer and other health problems.

The United States maintains there is no scientifically proven link between the wartime spraying and the more than three million people Vietnam says are disabled by dioxin over three generations.



Agent Orange Victims Sue Chemical Companies For Compensation

A lawsuit on behalf of Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange was argued Monday before the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals. A companion case on behalf of U.S. Vietnam War veterans was also argued before the Second Circuit earlier in the day.

The lawsuit on behalf of the Vietnamese plaintiffs charges the U.S. chemical companies that profited from the manufacture of Agent Orange - including Dow Chemical, Monsanto, and 35 others - with knowingly providing the U.S. government with a poisonous agent to be sprayed indiscriminately on civilians and seeks compensation, clean-up and medical monitoring and support.

Said Vietnamese plaintiff Nguyen Van Quy who is in the end stage of multiple cancers and has two children with severe birth defects, gWe have come to the Court seeking justice.  The chemical companies must be forced to pay compensation to me and my childrenh.

The case was initiated by the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin, which represents Vietnamfs more than three million victims of Agent Orange. A U.S. organization, the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign, organized a visiting delegation representing these victims that arrived in the U.S. on June 9 to meet with veteransf groups, members of Congress, and the public and will continue on to Midland, Michigan (the corporate home of Dow Chemical,) Chicago and San Francisco.

Both U.S. and Vietnamese veterans as well as civilians continue to die from the dioxin contained in Agent Orange, a toxic chemical defoliant the U.S. sprayed multiple times over 5.5 million acres in south Vietnam from 1961 to 1971 during the war. Many more people continue to live with related disabilities and deformities that are affecting a second and third generation of children, as Agent Orange continues to poison the soil and natural environment of Vietnam.

Studies conducted by the international scientific community illustrate the link between exposure to Agent Orange and health outcomes including cancer, reproductive illnesses, immune deficiency, endocrine deficiencies, nervous system damage, and developmental disabilities in children. The cases are being heard in the context of the current war in Iraq and questions about the use of white phosphorus, depleted uranium and other chemical agents.

As a result of a 1984 settlement, many U.S. veterans have already received some compensation from the chemical companies for diseases caused by their exposure to Agent Orange. The Veterans Administration now automatically awards service connected disability to Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange for more than thirteen different health conditions at the cost of over $1.5 billion per year. Yet the Vietnamese people remain completely without compensation.

gAlong with American veterans, it is time that the Vietnamese be compensated for the terrible damage done to them and their land from the use of these chemical weapons,h said American Vietname veteran and Veterans for Peace spokesperson David Cline.

Present at the court were Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange, including plaintiffs in the lawsuit; U.S. Vietnam War veterans and Agent Orange victims, including members of Veterans for Peace, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and Veterans for America; Jonathan Moore, Jeanne Mirer, Constantine Kokkoris, and Stan Morris, lawyers for the plaintiffs; Merle Ratner, co-coordinator of the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign, and Center for Constitutional Rights Senior Attorney Jennie Green. Also present in court was Gerson Smoger, the lawyer for the U.S. veteransf cases argued in the morning

gThese chemical companies are responsible for producing an herbicide that contained excessive and avoidable amounts of one of the most toxic chemicals known to humankind,h said Jonathan Moore, attorney for the Vietnamese plaintiffs. gAgent Orange has caused untold suffering and lasting harm to the U.S. veterans involved in the spraying and to the Vietnamese, both combatants and civilians. Itfs time for the companies to pay for what they did.h

The Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign (www.vn-agentorange.org) is also pressing for U.S. government compensation for Vietnamese victims. For many years, the United States has recognized international laws of war that outlaw the use of poison or poisoned weapons. The Hague Convention of 1907, ratified by the U.S. Senate, contained a blanket prohibition on the use of weapons calculated to cause unnecessary suffering. Subsequent conventions, including the Geneva Conventions of 1925 and 1949, have reinforced these prohibitions.  6-18-07