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Klippenstein writes: "Skyhorse Publishing's new imprint Hot Books, created to publish investigative books on controversial issues, has indeed touched off controversy with a new book that the Department of Defense refuses to carry in its stores relied upon most heavily by service members."

US soldier works near a burn pit. (photo: Reuters)
US soldier works near a burn pit. (photo: Reuters)

Military 'Censors' Book Exposing Poisoning of Troops

By Ken Klippenstein, Reader Supported News

03 March 16


kyhorse Publishing’s new imprint Hot Books, created to publish investigative books on controversial issues, has indeed touched off controversy with a new book that the Department of Defense refuses to carry in its stores relied upon most heavily by service members.

The book, titled “The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America’s Soldiers,” reveals a link between military service in Iraq and Afghanistan and serious illnesses ranging from respiratory complications to brain cancers. The illnesses affect at least 59,000 soldiers including, according to the book, Joe Biden’s son Beau, who died of brain cancer after serving in Iraq.

Though one would think a book on this topic would be helpful to service members, Chris Ward, public affairs official for the Defense Department’s Army & Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES), confirmed to me via telephone that they had decided not to carry “The Burn Pits.” Ward would not provide a clear reason for not carrying the book, despite its prominence – it is an Amazon bestseller with favorable reviews in major news media like The Guardian.

When I told the publisher, David Talbot, about the DOD’s response, he called it an “outrageous and blatant example of government censorship.” He argued that the DOD has a responsibility to “do everything within their power to inform returning veterans about these potential health hazards instead of covering it up.”

Talbot thinks the DOD’s refusal to carry the book represents “the military’s ongoing efforts to cover up a problem that is developing into the Agent Orange scandal of Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The AAFES (known colloquially by service members as the PX) is the primary location where soldiers shop for all of their goods. AAFES is a government-owned company and is the oldest and largest of the DOD’s exchange services, offering service members tax-free goods conveniently located on all Army and Air Force bases in the United States and around the world. AAFES’s refusal to carry the book keeps it out of the hands of military personnel who most need to read it. This may even violate the law.

As Joseph Hickman, the book’s author, told me, in 2013 the Senate passed legislation and the president signed into law The Burn Pit Open Registry Act, mandating that any new information or studies about burn pits must be shared with military personnel and veterans. Hickman is preparing a lawsuit against the DOD over their refusal to carry his book, alleging that this violates the law. For Hickman, the matter is personal: he himself is a former US marine and Army sergeant. In fact, Hickman dedicated his book to “all the military service members and veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq.” Hickman is donating a portion of the proceeds from his book to a burn pits advocacy group, Burn Pits 360.

I asked the publisher about his thoughts on Hickman’s forthcoming lawsuit against the DOD for not carrying his book. Talbot said, “I think the lawsuit has solid basis. It’s obviously not just censorship, it’s infringement of trade. They are trying to snuff out the book’s sales potential. This is obviously the key audience for this book: the people who have the most interest in this book are the members of America’s military services and their families.”

In Iraq and Afghanistan, massive open-air burn pits were used to dispose of waste, often including toxic materials like asbestos insulation, lithium batteries, pesticides, electronics, and medical waste. Jet fuel was frequently used to stoke the fires. The burn pits were located on military bases in close proximity to where soldiers were housed and worked.  

The burn pits were largely operated by KBR, Inc., formerly a subsidiary of Halliburton, a private military contractor for which former vice president Dick Cheney served as CEO. In the past, the DOD had managed waste disposal, but in the case of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they decided to farm the work out to KBR. KBR’s use of open-air burn pits went against the EPA and DOD waste management guidance, the latter of which says that open-air burning of solid waste should be forgone in favor of incinerators.

Perhaps the greatest lapse in the DOD and KBR’s judgment was the fact that they constructed some burn pits on documented chemical weapons sites, where such weapons remained from Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath regime and could have been released when the burn pits were set on fire. In fact, Hickman’s book reveals a statistical correlation between troops who served near these chemical sites and troops presenting with the most severe symptoms associated with the burn pits. One of those service members was Beau Biden.

I asked Hickman why he thinks KBR and the DOD were so careless. He didn’t mince words: “For KBR, it was corporate profits. For the DOD, it was penny pinching. Neither of them ever took into consideration environmental ramifications, or U.S. military members’ health and wellbeing.” Hickman believes that everything from the close proximity of the burn pits to military bases to the use of open-air pits instead of incinerators can be explained by KBR’s quest for quarterly profits and DOD stinginess.

Asked what the Bush and Obama administrations have done to help burn pit victims, Hickman’s answer was no less candid: “Nothing.”

Susan Burke, an attorney, has filed a class action lawsuit against KBR on behalf of hundreds of ill veterans. Burke told me that she expects the class action to ultimately cover 3,000 veterans.

Asked about why she took up the lawsuit, Burke said she’s “seeking justice for all of those folks … who are injured. We have people who have suffered serious pulmonary injuries as well as cancer.”

KBR has insisted that everything it did was in keeping with laws and guidance governing waste disposal.

When I asked Burke if she thinks KBR’s policies were legal, she replied, “That’s not accurate. We have evidence that KBR failed to comply with the [DOD’s] contract.”

Asked how strong she thinks the link is between the respiratory illnesses, cancers, and the burn pits, Burke put it bluntly: “Very strong.” Burke reiterated that this link has been borne out by medical professionals and other experts.

Ken Klippenstein is an American journalist who can be reached on twitter @kenklippenstein or via email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner


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+61 # Tippitc 2016-03-03 15:35
PRIVATIZING military support services - What could go wrong?! Next they will be paying mercenaries to fight! The Pentagon is already treating war like a video game with their drones.
War is a very profitable business for contractors who know the right people. Soldiers/Vetera ns are just another pesky cost of business!
And I don't believe for a second that the military has suddenly turned into a bunch of feminists by opening up all jobs to women - it would be because they can't recruit enough men!
+51 # Radscal 2016-03-03 16:39
During our occupation of Iraq, and throughout our occupation of Afghanistan, the US has had more "contractors" than military members "in country." And many of those "contractors" are mercenaries.

In fact, 2 of the 4 people killed at Benghazi were mercenaries contracted to CIA. And the 4 people who were killed, burned and hung from a bridge, leading to the horrible atrocities we committed in Fallujah, Iraq were "contractors."
+13 # economagic 2016-03-03 22:39
Yes, thanks for reminding us.
+13 # ericlipps 2016-03-04 08:34
By definition, any soldiers who are not officially part of the armed forces but are paid to fight are mercenaries. And the danger there is that in the end mercenaries are loyal to whoever pays them, for as long as that employer keeps shelling out.
+5 # Vardoz 2016-03-06 12:46
HRC has been an awful Sec of State!
+8 # Charles3000 2016-03-04 11:33
The present all volunteer military is in fact a mercenary military.
+2 # Vardoz 2016-03-06 12:46
They have been paying mercenaries for a very long time. The miliarty has no regard for human life whatso ever. Their only interest is in the trillions they can suck from our economy at our expense. It was recently reported that every general has their own private jet and gourmet chef and makes a million dollars a yr. It is sheer rape and pillage by our miliary. Most wars are fought with land based arms but they want to add new aircraft carries to our fleet and we are the only nation that has a fleet. Each one costs 15 billion dollars. The Iraq war cost 3 trillion and has never been paid for and with our outsourcing, low wages and crumbling middle class, as well as, huge tax cuts for the rich and gigantic subsidies for the righest corporations our economy is being sucked dry. It is a big race to the botton for the 99%. It is our view that Bernie Sanders is our only hope to begin to make a dent in our coruupt and life threatening Oligachy. And now it was also reported that we will never leave Afghanistan. That will also cost trillions.
+5 # JSRaleigh 2016-03-03 18:37
I don't know that I would characterize this as "censoring" the book.

I never relied upon AAFES for important books. I don't know anyone who served with me who did.

The selection available from the PX ran mostly to escapist fiction, adventure stories & paeans to various "select" service organizations - James Bond, Remo Williams; the works of Dale Brown, Tom Clancy, Cornelius Ryan, Stephen Ambrose & Michael Shaara along with classic military studies by likes of Sun Tzu or von Clausewitz.

If you wanted serious literature on any broader range of subjects, you went off post to the bookstore at the mall. And after the internet became a thing, there was Amazon, Borders or Barnes & Nobles. They all delivered to APO addresses in addition to CONUS.

I'm sure many of the books I ordered while I was in Iraq were titles the Army would have preferred I not read, but they never tried to stop me from ordering them, nor from
reading them.

So, just because AAFES doesn't carry a particular book doesn't make it censorship.
+9 # James38 2016-03-03 19:20
You forgot to mention Bibles. I seem to remember the PX had plenty of religious stuff, but that was long ago.

But whether or not you can call it censorship, why should we tolerate the PX having such a lowest-common-d enominator, pabulum infested milk toast content? Why shouldn't we expect and demand that the military be totally committed to eliminating weakness and failure on all levels? Why shouldn't encouraging all service members to be aware of the areas needing improvement be a basic part of simple respect? After all, are we trying to keep our troops and citizens stupid, or do we want the best efforts of all to be focused on improvement of society, civilian and military?

And do you think that the (at least potentially) sharpest minds in the military don't already know a lot of this? And what does it tell them about the worthiness of their organization if awareness is discouraged?

What does that do to their willingness to give everything, in combat or not, their best shot?

If we want to diminish the effectiveness of our military, treat the members like idiots.

This works in any group or business, and we need to pay attention to this. We can either work toward better creativity and improvement of society, including the military, or we can shoot ourselves in the foot.

Which actually makes sense? Isn't keeping people down actually just sucking up to the egotistical power game?
+22 # Aliazer 2016-03-03 18:56
Here is another proof that this country is run by criminals!!

One needs also to realize that, while the burning of mixed waste and refuse placed our own military under direct exposure to toxic particulates, it obviously placed numerous civilian workers and other civilians living nearby under similar risks to carcinogens and poisonous medical wastes of all types.
+6 # James38 2016-03-03 18:56
Rip the cover off this one. Make it abundantly clear that the United States military does not have inhumanity to its own members built into its mission statement or its reason for existing.

Cruelty is not a legitimate or desirable extension of military toughness or training or philosophy. The exact opposite is necessary. Since the US is supposed to set the highest possible standards for the world, the US military should do likewise. The US military should set an example by showing how a military organization can be as humane as possible even in war situations, and be absolutely humane and respectful to its own members at all times.

+10 # James38 2016-03-03 18:58

To do otherwise is to further accelerate down the slippery slope toward totalitarianism and mindless cruelty, dishonor and excess secrecy, and abuse of "inferiors" for the egotistical "fun" of it, along with exaggerated "rank has its privileges" over-abundances of pecking order nonsense carried into full on sadistic intimidation (and the build-up of the exclusive club of untouchable overlords.) In other words a total contradiction of what our Nation is supposed to stand for. The military cannot do that and continue to earn the respect of society or its own members. The further into that sort of reality reversal the military goes, the more unlikely it will be that anything much will get done right. The morale will just not be there. Minds clouded by sadistic encrustations and creepy power images cannot function clearly, and contractors will see this corrupt condition as an invitation to grab profit before honor.

Loyalty upwards demands loyalty downwards.
+8 # Kootenay Coyote 2016-03-04 07:14
Quite right. But the USA is already on that slippery slope, & gathering speed too.
+2 # James38 2016-03-06 15:40
Yup, Kootenay. Quite so. I changed the word "start" to "further accelerate".

Good comment.
+10 # elkingo 2016-03-03 22:24
This is a scandal of overwhelming proportions! Isn't it being under-reported? Of course the PXs refusal to carry the book is a effort of suppression of the book, perforce at least partial censorship. And is there no evil Cheney didn't have a hand in?
+6 # cordleycoit 2016-03-03 23:54
Bad government and contractor failure preform with safety is nothing new to the army that will never come home.
+5 # tomtom 2016-03-04 05:13
Tippitc came a little short of hitting the nail on the head, regarding "privatizing military support services". The direct connection between our Foreign Policy and Mass Weapons Producing is evidence of Our Privatized Military! The only honor is the sacrificing of lives by our victimized soldiers and, at least, 80% of the people we kill.
+2 # Tippitc 2016-03-06 15:17
Of course you are right. If I remember right, the Air Force ran out of bombs late last summer and the private weapons manufacturers had to put a larger gear in their bomb making equipment! There is much money to be made in "privatized" perpetual war.
+11 # Kootenay Coyote 2016-03-04 07:19
Ah, yes, KBR: ‘KBR, Inc., formerly a subsidiary of Halliburton, a private military contractor for which former vice president Dick Cheney served as CEO.’ & Cheney continued to receive profit while he was VP. Such a fine Republican man.
+5 # Pops07 2016-03-04 16:49
In 1994, DOD attempted to halt the publishing of a Vietnam Special Forces biography "Code Name Copperhead." Their efforts failed, and the book went on to be a prime selection of The Military Book Club for its expose of our government's attempt to cover up hidden American POWs in order to expedite a political end to the war.
+3 # Street Level 2016-03-04 22:45
Some are saying that this is what probably killed Joe Biden's son.

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