War wounds

It's been more than 35 years since the United States military dropped the last batch of the herbicide Agent Orange on the Vietnamese countryside — ostensibly to clear the jungle that provided cover for North Vietnamese troops. The victims of those chemical attacks continue to fight an uphill battle to gain some measure of compensation for their suffering.

"The second generation looks like me," says Tran Thi Hoan, a 21-year-old Vietnamese woman who was born without legs and with a deformed hand. She's part of the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange, a nonprofit organization that filed suit in 2005 in U.S. District Court in New York against dozens of companies including Dow Chemical and Monsanto, the largest makers of Agent Orange. The lawsuit sought money damages as well as help with environmental abatement and cleanup.

But the federal district and appellate courts dismissed the claims, finding, in part, that using the chemical was not a violation of international law. "Agent Orange was used to protect United States troops against ambush and not as a weapon of war against human population," reads the appellate court decision issued earlier this year.

Now the victims' group is taking the final legal step available. "We have applied to the United States Supreme Court to get it to affirm the rights of victims of corporate human rights violations and to seek relief in American courts for such violations," says Detroit attorney William Goodman — yes, the same Bill Goodman who just finished a stint as the Detroit City Council's special counsel in the mayoral scandal. Before returning to his hometown of Detroit last year, Goodman worked in New York, where he was part of the legal team representing the Vietnamese victims.

For the last three weeks, Hoan and another victim have been traveling in the United States meeting with veterans' groups and politicians and raising public awareness of their lawsuit and situation at home. They'll be in Detroit on Thursday to speak at the annual convention for the National Lawyers Guild, a civil rights and social justice legal organization. Hundreds of lawyers are expected at the conference.

"Lawyers who are members of the guild have handled these cases," says Goodman. "We want to introduce these clients to the organization. The membership at the convention will be able to hear how we intend to pursue the victims' struggle for justice in American courts."

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]
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