Al Jazeera investigative reporter Clayton Swisher is joined by Ali Abunimah on Al Jazeera’s The Stream to discuss Swisher’s bombshell revelations that the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat may have died of polonium poisoning.
The program debunks several myths about Arafat’s death, including the false claim – being spread by Israeli sources – that he died of AIDS, and explains some of the background, findings and limitations of Aljazeera’s investigation.
Also, in a fascinating article in Wired called “A Poison for Assassins,” Pulitzer Prize winning science writer Deborah Blum explains why polonium – which was famously used to murder Russian spy turned dissident Alexander Litveninko in 2006 – makes such an attractive poison for would-be assassins:
By mass, polonium-210 is considered to be about 250,000 times more poisonous than hydrogen cyanide. Toxicologists estimate that an amount the size of a grain of salt could be fatal to the average adult.
In other words, a victim would never taste a lethal dose in food or drink. In the case of Litvinenko, investigators believed that he received his dose of polonium-210 in a cup of tea, dosed during a meeting with two Russian agents. (Just as an aside, alpha particles tend not to set off radiation detectors so it’s relatively easy to smuggle from country to country.) Another assassin advantage is that illness comes on gradually, making it hard to pinpoint the event. Yet another advantage is that polonium poisoning is so rare that it’s not part of a standard toxics screen. In Litvinenko’s case, the poison wasn’t identified until shortly after his death. In Arafat’s case — if polonium-210 killed him and that has not been established — obviously it wasn’t considered at the time. And finally, it gets the job done. “Once absorbed,” notes the U.S. Regulatory Commission, “The alpha radiation can rapidly destroy major organs, DNA and the immune system.”