Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange sue US chemical companies

Chickens coming home to roost. INDEPENDENT (London) 04 March 2005

By Andrew Buncombe in Washington

Vietnamese citizens who say they have suffered a lifetime of health problems after being poisoned by Agent Orange during the Vietnam War are suing the American chemical companies that provided the Pentagon with the toxic defoliant.

The case has huge implications. If successful it could open the way for claims against companies that produce weapons such as depleted uranium-tipped munitions, which have been strongly linked to cancer.

In the lawsuit filed this week, it was alleged that up to four million Vietnamese suffered persistent respiratory and reproductive problems as a result of being contaminated by Agent Orange. They are seeking compensation that could run to billions of dollars from 30 companies, such as Dow Chemical and Monsanto. One of the plaintiffs, Dr Phan Thi Phi Phi, told the court in New York she had worked in an area that was heavily sprayed with the defoliant and suffered four miscarriages during the early 1970s. "We did not know what happened to us, what was the cause of it, so we were very sad because we had so many miscarriages and we could not have children," she said.

US forces routinely sprayed the defoliant to clear areas of jungle where they believed Communist forces were hiding, and to destroy their crops.

Although $300m (160m) has been paid out to American troops who fought in Vietnam, there has never been any compensation paid to the Vietnamese. Scientists have stated that the defoliant can cause cancer, diabetes, birth defects and other problems.

Jonathan Moore, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said: "The companies ... knew Agent Orange contained high levels of dioxin and did not care because ... they figured the only people getting sprayed were the enemy."

The firms have sought to dismiss the claim. This week their lawyers argued that the US courts had no power to penalise companies for executing the orders of a president exercising his powers as commander in chief. Lawyers also stated that companies normally enjoyed exemption from criminal and civil liability for alleged war crimes. The Justice Department also sought dismissal of the lawsuit, arguing that opening the US courts to former wartime enemies could threaten presidential power to wage war. The US government has argued that the effects of Agent Orange are not supported by direct evidence.

District Judge Jack Weinstein questioned whether presidential orders exempted the firms, citing the actions of German corporations during the Second World War.

Dave Cline, of Vietnam Veterans against the War, supported the action. He said US veterans had fought for years to receive compensation for 11 separate conditions and illnesses linked to Agent Orange. "In Vietnam they say three million people still suffer," he said.

No one from Dow Chemical was available to comment. Agent Orange legal case dismissed

============ Agent Orange Case for Millions of Vietnamese Is Dismissed By WILLIAM GLABERSON