Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Day 61° Partly Cloudy
News >  Nation/World

Agent Orange lawsuit dismissed


Nguyen Quang Trung, 17, touches the face of his father, Nguyen Van Quy, 49, who talks about the effects of Agent Orange he was exposed to during the Vietnam War, at his house in Hai Phong, Vietnam last July. The elder Nguyen, who also has a daughter, believes his children's birth defects were caused by Agent Orange that he was exposed to during the Vietnam war. 
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Nguyen Quang Trung, 17, touches the face of his father, Nguyen Van Quy, 49, who talks about the effects of Agent Orange he was exposed to during the Vietnam War, at his house in Hai Phong, Vietnam last July. The elder Nguyen, who also has a daughter, believes his children's birth defects were caused by Agent Orange that he was exposed to during the Vietnam war. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Michael Weissenstein Associated Press

NEW YORK – A federal judge Thursday dismissed a lawsuit filed on behalf of some 4 million Vietnamese claiming that U.S. chemical companies committed war crimes by making Agent Orange for use during the Vietnam War.

U.S. District Judge Jack B. Weinstein disagreed that the allegedly toxic defoliant and similar U.S. herbicides should be considered poisons banned under international rules of war, even though they may have had comparable effects on people and land.

The Brooklyn judge also found that the plaintiffs could not prove that Agent Orange had caused their illnesses, largely because of a lack of large-scale research.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers said an appeal was planned.

The lawsuit was the first attempt by Vietnamese plaintiffs to seek compensation for the effects of Agent Orange, which is laden with the highly toxic chemical dioxin and has been linked to cancer, diabetes and birth defects among Vietnamese soldiers, civilians and American veterans.

U.S. aircraft sprayed more than 21 million gallons of the chemical from 1962 to 1971 in attempts to destroy crops and remove foliage used as cover by communist forces.

Lawyers for Monsanto, Dow Chemical and more than a dozen other companies had said they should not be punished for following what they believed to be the legal orders of the nation’s commander in chief.

They also argued that international law generally exempts corporations, as opposed to individuals, from liability for alleged war crimes.

“We’ve said all along that any issues regarding wartime activities should be resolved by the U.S. and Vietnamese governments,” said Dow Chemical spokesman Scot Wheeler. “We believe that defoliants saved lives by protecting allied forces from enemy ambush and did not create adverse health effects.”

The Department of Justice had supported the chemical companies in court, saying a ruling against the firms could cripple the president’s power to direct the military.

A plaintiffs’ lawyer, William Goodman, said the judge made “a clear error” in deciding Agent Orange was not a poison and said an appeal was planned.

“The use of this chemical in Vietnam was a scandal from the very beginning, and the failure of this court to redress these wrongs is a continuation of that scandal,” Goodman said.

Some 10,000 U.S. war veterans receive medical disability benefits related to Agent Orange.

The Vietnamese government has said the United States has a moral responsibility for damage to its citizens and environment but has never sought compensation for victims.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.