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In his important new book, military veteran Joseph Hickman examines the ill-effects of exposure to burn pits at US installations in Iraq and Afghanistan that have harmed thousands of servicemembers, and killed some of them.Hickman's new book is The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America's Soldiers. Last year, he was a guest here to talk about his Guantanamo expose, Murder at Camp Delta, which detailed the probable murders of three prisoners in June, 2006 on a night when Hickman was on duty in a guard tower.
Our conversation starts with a description of large scale, open air burn pits where tons of refuse were burned on a daily basis. Operation of these dumps was outsourced to Kellogg Brown & Root, the former Halliburton subsidiary that got Pentagon contracts to manage support functions in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Hickman describes the case of Army Specialist Brian Thornhill, who was exposed to toxic smoke at Camp Taji, denied treatment by the Veterans Administration and then died in 2014 after a 7-year struggle with cancer. Hickman strongly suggests that Beau Biden, the son of the Vice President, was exposed to burn pit effluents at Camp Victory that led to the brain cancer that killed him in 2015.
He recounts how military brass--including Gen. David Petraeus, denied any health risks associated with burn pits; and like Agent Orange in Vietnam and Gulf War Syndrome, the Pentagon took years to acknowledge the problems and make changes in burn pit practices.
Hickman notes that Congress did set up the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry in 2012, with 59,000 service personnel listed to date; but this has not spurred a treatment program for those afflicted.