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NATO’s Military Enslavement and Toxic Contamination of Sardinia

Vanes21st Centurysa Beeley
21st Century Wire

“My land is a stone of thirst and pain. My land is a bread as hot as my heart. My land is a river of hatred and resentment.”
~ Ignazio Delogu “Sa Terra Mia”, Sardinia

In his 1921 novel, Sea and Sardinia, D H Lawrence said, “This land resembles no other place. Sardinia is something else. Enchanting spaces and distances to travel-nothing finished, nothing definitive. It is like freedom itself.”

Sardinia is one of the most geologically ancient and fascinating land masses in Europe, it has welcomed migration and settlers since prehistoric times.

In the 9th Century the Phoenicians used it as a safe harbour along their trade routes from the coast of what is now Lebanon to the far flung shores of Africa. Modern day Cagliari is suggested to have been created by the people of Tyre in Lebanon, then called Tyrus.

Prehistoric Megalithic Temple of Monte D’Accoddi

Sardinia’s history spans centuries from pre-history to the Byzantine era and the late middle ages to post second world war.  Sardinia has survived devastating famines, repelled Napoleonic invasions from its shores and endured slavery when 900 of the inhabitants of a neighbouring islet were kidnapped by Tunisians in 1798.  The island was heavily bombarded by Allied forces during WWII prior to the Armistice of Cassibile in 1943 when Italy joined forces with the Allies, causing bitter divisions in Italy among those who turned against Germany and those who remained loyal to Benito Mussolini.

Sardinia is home for 1.6 million people, a diverse and ecologically important wildlife, 1200 miles of stunning coastline,  not to mention the proliferation of historical heritage sites.  All irrelevant when stacked up against the military industrial complex and its beneficiaries.

NATO Occupation

Post WWII, NATO gradually invaded Sardinia. Military bases sprang up across the island. These include Decimomannu air base and Salto di Quirra, the biggest scientific miltary base in Europe. 60% of all Italian, NATO and non-NATO military installations are based in Sardinia on this stretch of land 24,000 square kilometres, a piece of land one tenth the size of the Italian mainland. 35,000 hectares are being used for “experimental” weapons testing.  Sixteen NATO military bases have marred the devastatingly beautiful landscape of Sardinia:

Sardinia nato bases

50. La Maddalena – Santo Stefano [Ss]. US atomic base, submarine base, naval squad in support of American aircraft carrier “Simon Lake”.

51. Monte Limbara [tra Oschiri e Tempio, Ss]. US missile base.

52. Sinis di Cabras [Or]. NSA data processing center.

53. Isola di Tavolara [Ss]. US Navy submarine support radiotelegraphic station.

54. Torre Grande di Oristano. NSA radar base.

55. Monte Arci [Or]. US telecommunication station with NATO coverage.

56. Capo Frasca [Or]. US heliport and system radar.

57. Santulussurgiu [Or]. USAF telecommunication station with NATO coverage.

58. Perdasdefogu [Nu]. Experimental missle base.

59. Capo Teulada [Ca]. From Capo Teulada to Capo Frasca [Or], approximately 100 km of coast, 7,200 hectares of land and more than 70,000 hectares of “off limits” zones: shooting range for navy and aerial practices for the US 6th Fleet and NATO.

60. Cagliari. US naval base.

61. Decimomannu [Ca]. US airport with NATO coverage.

62. Aeroporto di Elmas [Ca]. USAF air base.

63. Salto di Quirra [Ca]. Missile shooting range.

64. Capo San Lorenzo [Ca]. Training zone for the US 6th Fleet.

65. Monte Urpino [Ca]. US and NATO munitions depot.

In February 2008 the US ended 35 years of Naval presence in Sardinia, closing its submarine maintenance and atomic base in La Maddalena.

However, the NATO presence in Sardinia was far from diminished by this departure. As the shutters closed on the US offices in La Maddalena the island would enter a dark new phase – a storm of weapons testing that would leave it crippled economically and physically.

The Militarisation, Contamination and Slow Painful Destruction of Sardinia

NATO bases occupy more than one third of Sardinia’s land and sea territory. During military drills and naval exercises, the sea surrounding Sardinia is closed to navigation and fishing, thus increasing the NATO control beyond the land boundaries to encompass around 7,200 square miles.

Militaries and arms manufacturers have used Sardinia to test new bullets [including DU, depleted uranium], bombs, missiles and drones.  It is a training base for navy and airforces. It is the scene of military exercises, drills and war “games”.  Old weapons, explosives and missiles are also exploded, burned and buried – ensuring pollution of air, land and water sources. It is also a hop-off point to North Africa. Bombing sorties into Libya, for example, have been launched from the island.

A document leaked in 2003 revealed that the Italian government is raking in $ 63,000 per hour in rent for the land in Sardinia being used for experimental weapons testing and clandestine military exercises.

“But as the bases are generally rented for 10 or 15 days uninterruptedly, it means that the Italian state makes around 1.2 million euros [$1.33m]  per day, or much more considered that up to three different companies often operate in PISQ at the same time. Military forces from Libya, the United States, Israel and other countries have all quartered in Sardinia over the past years” ~ Mariella Cao, Gettiamo le Base [Get rid of the bases]

“My son [Francesco] died at 29 after he did military service in Capo Teulada. He got cancer. Medical records showed there were thorium, steel, iron, strontium in his pancreas and liver,” ~ Giancarlo Piras

Various biochemists who have conducted research and analysis of the land surrounding or inside the main weapons testing grounds have found high levels of “brass, steel, iron, tungsten and other materials such as aluminum, which is linked to Alzheimer’s disease and other pathologies” according to Maria Antonietta Gatti, an eminent scientist who worked on the project to expose NATO contaminants.

“The tests also revealed high levels of the rare earth element cerium, which indicates that the thorium was of anthropogenic origin – potentially from a thorium capsule that forms part of the guidance system for MILAN missiles.” ~ Doug Weir, Coordinator of the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons

Gatti further warned against eating the cheese, drinking the milk or consuming the meat from livestock grazing these toxic areas.  She claimed that during her research, satellite images showed that in certain areas like Salto di Quirra, it was evident that vegetation had been severely affected and decimated.

zona militare-2
Military Zone. No Access

When I found heavy metals inside a number of people, also young, with leukemia and malformed animals, all living in places which are extremely clean except for the military industry, I obviously asked myself whether there could be a correlation between those diseases and the tests….

Rain leads to the contamination of the soil. Through air pollution, other areas that are not involved in the testing are contaminated as well… The sea is polluted. Local governments do not warn people when there are testing activities; they do testing even at night.~ Gatti

2011 Dead Shepherds Exhumed

In 2011, local public prosecutor, Domenico Fiordalsi led a campaign to investigate the NATO contamination and its deadly consequences. Fiordalsi sought to exhume the corpses of local shepherds who had died of various mutations of cancer and abnormal diseases in order to prove a correlation between these high incidences of unusual deaths and the increased weapons testing activity on the island.

Fiordalsi’s investigation uncovered extremely fine dusts that can bypass the lungs and penetrate internal organs which were found inside the bone marrow and brains of some of the exhumed corpses.

The nuclear physicist Evandro Lodi Rizzini of Brescia University and CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) found elevated levels of radioactive thorium 232 and cerium (proving that the thorium was man-made) in the tissues of 15 of 18 bodies of Quirra-area shepherds who died of cancer between 1995 and 2000.

On March 24, 2012 Fiordalisi indicted twenty people on charges of “willful omission of precautions against injury and aggravated disasters or because they falsely certified the absence of pollution with the aim to “hide the environmental disaster.” The documents from Fiordalisi’s investigation have now been turned over to a tribunal for prosecution.” ~ Helen Jaccard, War is a Crime

Toxic Contamination

Helen Jaccard of War is a Crime compiled a detailed report of the various forms of contamination on Sardinia in her 2012 report.

. Large quantities of buried waste containing cadmium, lead, antimony, and napalm

• High levels of lead on several beaches and in the water

• Explosions of waste and weapons from past wars affecting areas up to 2000 square meters each that no longer support vegetation – each explosion produces as much pollution as an incinerator of municipal solid waste during one year – exposing communities, shepherds, base personnel and animals to toxic dust containing thorium, lead, cerium and cadmium

• Thorium, a radioactive and highly carcinogenic heavy metal used in military targeting systems has been found in Sardinian honey, milk, and other areas of the food chain.

• Pieces of bombs, missiles, and bullets are lying on the ground and in the sea

• Unexploded ordnance lies in and around the restricted areas, including both land and sea.

Health Effects

The effects upon this dwindling community are devastating. According to Helen Jaccard’s report, there has been a steady increase in birth defects and malformations both in humans and livestock. Two headed lambs are being born and tissue taken from these malformed creatures reveals high levels of depleted uranium. Limb deformities, multiple organ defects and growth issues have also been recorded.

Deformed lamb: Photo War is a Crime report

The incidences of Cancer related diseases has hugely increased, particularly leukaemia or lymphoma. Thyroid cancer and auto-immune diseases are also on the increase.

“John Madeddu worked in the Capo Frasca base from 1968 to 1987. He has diffuse large cell lymphoma. He remembers an area where a large number of bullets accumulated in a clearing. When it rained it created a marsh and the water seeped into the ground. The artesian wells provide water for both the base and the nearby farms. This kind of contamination has continued to build over the years with no clean-up effort undertaken. Animal deformities are common near the bases. Cattle still graze here and even if directly hit and killed by weapons containing heavy metals these animals are being butchered and eaten.” ~ Helen Jaccard

According to Fernando Codenesu, Professor at the Department of Energy at the Torino Polytechnic, Sardinia has rocks that are very fragile and contain heavy metals. An explosion breaks the rocks into micro and nano-particles containing these heavy metals. These in turn are dispersed over wide areas by the wind and contaminate the groundwater. People and livestock are then breathing in these nano particles on a daily basis.

One micro-gram, that is, one millionth of a gram is sufficient to kill a person. It causes a rise in atomic disintegrations; with a production of 2000 alpha rays a day, nuclear radiation is most damaging.” ~ Dr Rizzini on the effects of depleted uranium and thorium

Decimonmannu: NATO’s water contamination project

“Decimomannu in Southwest Sardinia has the largest NATO air base in the world, used since 1954 as collaboration between Italy, Germany, Canada, the United States and NATO. From here they support transport aircraft of the Military Airlift Command from the United States to the Middle East and Africa. A total of 4 F-18s, along with a single Boeing 707 refueling aircraft was deployed to Decimomannu Air Base on the island of Sardinia for operations over Libya.

The military base of Decimomannu has been contaminating the environment with jet fuel and other poisons. Jet fuel contains xylene, benzene and lead, highly dangerous and carcinogenic substances. Mayor Louis Porceddu in February 2011 prohibited the use of the local wells.” ~ Helen Jaccard

In 2003, prior to the US departure in 2008, Submarine U.S.S Hartford struck a rock off the coast of Santo Stefano and according to US reports, it damaged a rudder, sonar and electronics. However local residents claim that greater unseen damage was done.

Italian Submarine in Ionian Sea

Massimo Zucchetti, Professor at the Department of Energy at the Torino Polytechnic and his team analyzed algae in the archipelago. The presence of radioactive alpha particles and plutonium traces were found, sometimes in high concentrations. This contamination is due to either a continuous loss of pollutant from the submarine base, or to environmental releases that took place during the USS Hartford accident.On January 20, 2004, the “schwäbische Zeitung”newspaper reported that there was an alarming high amount of radioactivity in the water surrounding La Maddalena Island. ~ War is a Crime

Another US toxic legacy for innocent people to contend with.


The people of Sardinia have a heritage of resistance in their blood and they are not taking this NATO led militarization and destruction of their environment lying down.  They are demanding transparency and truth with regards to the toxic materials being tested.  They demand full de-militarization of the island, the cleansing and decontamination of the island and its waters.

They expect health care and medical compensation for the cancers that are affecting their families and loved ones, financial assistance for the worst affected industries such as fishing and farming.

They demonstrate regularly, sometimes risking their lives to rise up against the NATO boot that is crushing their existence and driving the breath from their lungs. They endure threats and menaces from those who benefit from the military arms industry profits and war mongering.

An idyllic island, home to wildlife, botannical treasures and its people for centuries is under threat from those whose objective is ever more toxic and destructive armoury that is laying our planet to waste.  Like so many un-prepared for this onslaught, the Sardinian people are dying and fighting against the disease epidemics that are being unleashed upon them.  Where sheep grazed peacefully upon verdant hillsides and children played on the crystal sands, there is now the detritus of war and a trickle genocide being carried out by NATO’s soldiers of fortune.

Once more paradise has been turned into hell on earth by the military industrial complex and its ruling parasites in NATO.


Author Vanessa Beeley is a contributor to 21WIRE, and since 2011, she has spent most of her time in the Middle East reporting on events there – as a independent researcher, writer, photographer and peace activist. She is also a member of the Steering Committee of the Syria Solidarity Movement, and a volunteer with the Global Campaign to Return to Palestine. See more of her work at her personal blog The Wall Will Fall.

READ MORE NATO NEWS AT: 21st Century Wire NATO Files



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