Toxic Policies of ‘President Agent Orange’

Exclusive: President Trump’s early hard-right actions and hirings threaten some of America’s most vulnerable people and the environment, with his policies even compared to the poison Agent Orange, writes Marjorie Cohn.

By Marjorie Cohn

Rapper Busta Rhymes pegged it at the Grammy Awards when he referred to Donald Trump as “President Agent Orange.” While performing with A Tribe Called Quest and Anderson Paak, Rhymes used the opportunity to call out Trump for his Muslim ban and “all of the evil” Trump has perpetrated since assuming the presidency three weeks ago.

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C (Flickr Gage Skidmore)

Rhymes said, “I just wanna thank President Agent Orange for perpetuating all of the evil that you’ve been perpetrating throughout the United States,” adding, “I wanna thank President Agent Orange for your unsuccessful attempt at the Muslim ban. Now we come together! We the people! We the people! We the people!”

For some younger readers who may not be familiar with the term, Agent Orange was an herbicidal chemical weapon sprayed over 12 percent of Vietnam by the U.S. military from 1961 to 1971. The dioxin present in Agent Orange is one of the most toxic chemicals known to humankind.

Those exposed to Agent Orange often have children and grandchildren born with serious illnesses and disabilities. The international scientific community has identified an association between exposure to Agent Orange and some forms of cancers, reproductive abnormalities, immune and endocrine deficiencies, and nervous system damage. Second- and third-generation victims continue to be born in Vietnam, as well as to U.S. veterans and Vietnamese-Americans in this country.

The use of dioxin, a poisoned weapon, was a war crime in violation of the Hague Convention. It also constituted a crime against humanity because it was an inhuman act perpetrated against a civilian population. Despite all that, the U.S. government has given only small amounts of money to address the human victims of Agent Orange/dioxin. Much of the money has not reached the victims who need it so much, and the amounts allocated cannot make much of a dent in addressing the tremendous human suffering.

Second and third generation children of American Vietnam veterans face the same problems as do exposed Vietnamese-Americans. That is why Rep. Barbara Lee, D-California, introduced H.R. 334, the Victims of Agent Orange Relief Act of 2017.

The bill, which currently has 23 co-sponsors, would provide health care and social services for affected Vietnamese; medical assistance and disability benefits to affected children of U.S. veterans of the Vietnam War; and health assessment, counseling and treatment for affected Vietnamese-Americans and their offspring. It would also clean up the lands and restore ecosystems contaminated by Agent Orange/dioxin in Vietnam.

The Trump Comparison

Though some might view the comparison between President Trump and poisonous dioxin sprayed indiscriminately on living things a bit hyperbolic, many of Trump’s early actions and proposals – like Agent Orange – may inflict devastation for years to come.

A U.S. military helicopter spraying the defoliant Agent Orange over Vietnam during the Vietnam War. (U.S. Army photo)

Since taking office, Trump has moved systematically to unravel protections for immigrants, workers, the environment, Native Americans and other people of color, as well as the right to healthcare. He has moved to deregulate Wall Street, incurring a real risk of another financial meltdown. And his Muslim ban created worldwide chaos, pain and insecurity for untold numbers of people. The courts have halted the ban – for now.

Moreover, Trump has already committed a war crime in Yemen, ordering a raid that killed at least 25 civilians, nine of them children, including a three-month-old baby and a pregnant woman. Mohsina Mabkhout al Ameri lost her brother, nephew and his three children in the attack.

“They killed men, children and women and destroyed houses,” she told the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. “We are normal people and have nothing to do with al-Qaeda or the Houthis or anyone. The men came from America, got off the planes and the planes bombed us,” she added.

Nevertheless, the Trump administration proclaimed the raid “absolutely a success.” Trump called it a “winning mission.” Trump also favors torture and waterboarding and has pledged to continue drone strikes. He has already begun deporting DREAMers. And if he has his way, his administration will exclude large numbers of refugees fleeing war and persecution.

Under a President Trump, we can expect a continual, persistent assault on civil rights and human rights, and increasing heartache both in the United States and abroad. This is why Busta Rhymes called Trump’s actions “evil.” At the end of the rap performance, Muslim women wearing headscarves and others joined the musicians onstage. They all raised their fists, repeatedly chanting, “Resist!”

Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. In 2009, she served as one of seven judges from three continents who heard two days of testimony from 27 witnesses at the International People’s Tribunal of Conscience in Support of the Vietnamese Victims of Agent Orange in Paris. She is a member of the national advisory board of Veterans for Peace and co-coordinator of Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign [ ]. Visit her website at and follow her on Twitter @MarjorieCohn.

18 comments for “Toxic Policies of ‘President Agent Orange’

  1. Ray Melninkaitis
    February 19, 2017 at 09:00

    Take your rap to Syria, I’m sure they’ll welcome you. While you’re there play a little Rap for the ISIS troops, they just love western music. They may even give you a reception that will make your head spin.

  2. Zachary Smith
    February 17, 2017 at 00:17

    Marjorie Cohn has written many good articles published on this site, but the current one can’t be listed with them.

    If and when Trump starts spreading Agent Orange or some chemical equivalent, or if he continues Obama’s use of depleted Uranium in nations Israel wants destroyed, THEN her use of the term can be justified.

  3. Gregory Herr
    February 16, 2017 at 19:59

    Operation Ranch Hand had actually been in operation since 1961, mainly spraying its poisons on Vietnam’s forests and crop land. The purpose of the operation was to defoliate trees and shrubs and kill food crops that were providing cover and food for the “enemy”.

    “Operation Ranch Hand consisted of spraying a variety of highly toxic polychlorinated herbicide solutions that contained a variety of chemicals that are known to be (in addition to killing plant life) human and animal mitochondrial toxins, immunotoxins, hormone disrupters, genotoxins, mutagens, teratogens, diabetogens and carcinogens that were manufactured by such amoral multinational corporate chemical giants like Monsanto, Dow Chemical, DuPont and Diamond Shamrock (now Valero Energy). All were eager war profiteers whose CEOs and share-holders somehow have always benefitted financially from America’s wars.
    Such non-human entities as Monsanto and the weapons manufacturers don’t care if the wars that they can profit from are illegal or not, war crimes or not; if they can make money they will be there at the trough….
    Four million innocent Vietnamese civilians were exposed to Agent Orange, and as many as 3 million have suffered diagnosable illnesses because of it, including the progeny of people who were exposedto it, approximating the number of innocent Vietnamese civilians that were killed in the war. The Red Cross of Vietnam says that up to 1 million people are disabled with Agent Orange-induced illnesses. There has been an epidemic of birth defects, chronic illnesses, fetal anomalies and neurological and mental illnesses since the “American War”.
    Most thinking humans would agree that destroying the health and livelihoods of innocent farmers, women, children, babies and old people (who had no interest in the war) by poisoning their forests, farms, food and water supplies qualifies as a war crime.

    I can’t quite recall, from the documentary “Fog of War”…. I’m sure Monsanto knew how toxic this stuff was, and I don’t remember exactly what the military knew about it and when…but the whole idea of using this stuff still stinks to high heaven. So yes Bill, “Given the enormity of the crimes committed in Vietnam – not only Agent Orange – there is much to be said for recalling them periodically to counter the arrogance of our jingoists and warmongers and encourage a badly-needed sense of humility among American citizens.” And it is true that Trump looks bad on several fronts…but my first thoughts about the slant of this article were that the author could have put the transgressions into a more rounded perspective of recent history.

    • Gregory Herr
      February 18, 2017 at 14:50

      “During the latter half of the 1960’s evidence began to mount linking dioxin to various medical problems. In fact, military usage of herbicides in Vietnam was a matter of scientific controversy from its inception. As early as 1968, scientists and health officials expressed concerns about the potential dangers of Agent Orange and dioxin to humans.4 For instance, in February 1969 the Bionetics Research Council (BRC), commissioned by the United States Department of Agriculture, reported that dioxin demonstrated a “significant potential to increase birth defects.”ix Within four months of the BRC report, Vietnamese newspapers began reporting significant increases in human birth defects in areas sprayed with Agent Orange.x
      In the fall of 1969, the National Institutes of Health confirmed that dioxin could cause malformations and stillbirths in mice, prompting the Department of Defense to announce a partial curtailment of Agent Orange use in Vietnam.xi Public officials in the U.S. were disturbed by studies linking dioxin to birth defects. Subsequently, the Surgeon General issued a warning about the dangers of dioxin in April 1970 and it was banned from domestic use later that year.xii What Dow officials knew about the dangers associated with its product and when they knew it, was a matter of dispute. Dow spokespersons maintained that the only concern the company had with respect to Agent Orange was a skin condition called chloracne. Others, U.S. Vietnam veterans for example, alleged that Dow and their industry peers were aware of problems early on, but attempted to address the issue outside of the public eye.xiii In 1964 Dr. Benjamin Holder, medical director at Dow, noted that exposure to dioxin could severely damage organs and cause other systemic problems.xiv During that same time period, Dow executives voiced concern about an “alarming amount” of toxins in Agent Orange and the possibilities of a Congressional investigation and restrictive legislation if the problem was not addressed.xv Moreover, there was this statement from military scientist Dr. James Clary in a 1979 letter to Congress: When we initiated the herbicide program in the 1960’s we were aware of the potential damage due to dioxin contamination in the herbicide, however because the material was to be used on the enemy, NONE OF US WERE OVERLY CONCERNED”. (my emphasis)

  4. February 16, 2017 at 16:53

    “Obama’s War Crimes: The U.S. Drone War”

  5. backwardsevolution
    February 16, 2017 at 16:28

    Marjorie Con – cringe-worthy and embarrassing.

  6. WG
    February 16, 2017 at 14:16

    Yet another embarrassing article on Consortium News, continuing the trend that’s been in place since Trump’s inauguration.

    “Since taking office, Trump has moved systematically to unravel protections for immigrants, workers, the environment, Native Americans and other people of color, as well as the right to healthcare.”

    I’m assuming is sentence refers to Trump’s deportation of illegal immigrants, the re-approval of the pipeline Obama halted (when it was nearly complete), and relaxation of the insurance mandate at the IRS. Now you can disagree with his decisions but shouldn’t you accurately describe them? Why stop at saying Trump is denying people’s right to healthcare, call the Kuwaiti ambassadors daughter to testify that Trump has ordered babies removed from incubators. After all we are talking about ‘president agent orange’, why let facts interfere with your narrative…
    The Yemen raid is indistinguishable from dozens of Obama and Bush actions over the last 15 years. Singling out Trump like he’s commanding the military in some new and abhorrent manner is disingenuous at best.
    Trumps repeal of a specific section of the Dodd Frank financial law is also more complicated than you describe. It’s questionable whether the 2300 page bill is really very effective in what it purports to do. Why no mention of the repeal of Glass Steagall at the end of Bill Clintons second term? The failure of Obama to reinstate it in the aftermath of the 2008 crash?
    There are plenty of things to criticize Trump on but talking about them with such breathless exaggerated hyperbole is of no help to anyone. It doesn’t facilitate discussion and it eliminates the chance for reasonable debate.

    • Bill Bodden
      February 16, 2017 at 16:35

      “Since taking office, Trump has moved systematically to unravel protections for immigrants, workers, the environment, Native Americans and other people of color, as well as the right to healthcare.”

      Where is the hyperbole in that statement?

      Now you can disagree with his decisions but shouldn’t you accurately describe them?

      Most regular readers of Consortium News recognize the validity of the points you referred to and don’t need the obvious explained to them.

      • WG
        February 16, 2017 at 19:05

        My point is simply that stating ‘Trump has unraveled protections for immigrants’ when what he has apparently done is instructed ICE to start deporting people who are living and working in the US without having paperwork(green card), and are also convicted felons, is in my opinion two different things.
        Now if someone feels that current immigration laws need to be changed then that’s fine and that’s another discussion that we can have, but I don’t see how that unravels any protections that legal immigrants have.
        The ill conceived and constructed temporary ban he signed has been blocked by the 9th circuit so I’m simply questioning exactly what ‘immigrant protections’ Trump has unraveled.
        My problem isn’t the criticism, it’s misrepresenting what Trump has actually done and then criticizing those imaginary transgressions.

  7. February 16, 2017 at 14:00

    Interesting article at link below:
    Former CIA Analyst: Yes, Former Obama Officials Were ‘Directly Involved’ In The Effort to Remove Flynn (And I’ll Say Their Names)

    Matt Vespa
    Posted: Feb 15, 2017 8:16 PM

    Former CIA analyst and U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col Tony Schaffer was pretty straightforward in his Fox Business appearance today, where he said that Obama officials were definitely behind the leaks—and even named a few of them (via Free Beacon):…
    [read more at link below]

    • backwardsevolution
      February 16, 2017 at 15:52

      Stephen – good link. Thank you. Let’s hope there is an investigation.

  8. Exiled off mainstreet
    February 16, 2017 at 13:29

    I concur totally with Mr. Hunkins, and, despite his undoubted serious flaws which are increasingly becoming apparent, Trump’s chances of initiating nuclear armageddon are far less than the harpy’s would have been. Her policies would likely have led in that direction. Also, Trump’s flaws make it more likely that the European vassals will be able to break free of yankee dominance, and his success provides a sort of roadmap for this process. Survival trumps political correctness every time. The anti-Russian tactic of the deep state and the democratic power structure reveals these facts once again.

  9. Drew Hunkins
    February 16, 2017 at 12:29

    What’s noteworthy to keep in mind is that the establishment press are NOT waging their anti-Trump campaign b/c he proposes to impose an Ayn Rand-Milton Friedman, supply-side domestic nightmare on us all.

    The corporate neo-liberals could ultimately give two rips about the un and underemployment stalking every city and town across the nation and the pitiful wages, 60 hour work weeks and opioid epidemic ravaging communities.

    No, the mainstream media are lambasting Trump for essentially one reason and one reason only: he’s viewed as a potential loose cannon who does not genuflect to the Deep State like every president for the last 70 years. (And remember, the “Deep State” is just another way of saying the “Washington-militarist-Zio imperialist warmongers”.)

  10. Annie
    February 16, 2017 at 12:18

    Good grief have we sunk so low that we have to introduce an article on agent orange and all the harm it’s done, and continues to do, not to mention in a war that killed some 3 million people by quoting Rapper Busta Rhymes? I wonder if Grimes ever called out Obama on his war crimes, no I don’t have to wonder, he didn’t, he never did. As Mr. Buster Rhymes well knows, as every American celebrity knows, one can grab headlines by attacking Trump. Some journalists have also come to believe they can put out a flimsy article which lacks depth and background by trouncing trump, well, it really doesn’t work.

    • Bill Bodden
      February 16, 2017 at 14:31

      Good grief have we sunk so low that we have to introduce an article on agent orange and all the harm it’s done, and continues to do, not to mention in a war that killed some 3 million people by quoting Rapper Busta Rhymes?

      If a quote is true it is the truth that counts, not who said it. Given the enormity of the crimes committed in Vietnam – not only Agent Orange – there is much to be said for recalling them periodically to counter the arrogance of our jingoists and warmongers and encourage a badly-needed sense of humility among American citizens. As all the wars and regime changes promoted by the United States since Vietnam attest turning around our national propensity for aggression will take much more than Marjorie Cohn’s excellent essay to cure this national pathology.

      • Annie
        February 16, 2017 at 19:10

        Sorry Bill, but you have totally missed my point, and I don’t care to repeat it.

    • John
      February 16, 2017 at 21:53

      Lupe Fiasco is a rapper who called out Obama for (some of) his war crimes at the BET awards, and it almost ended his career (his label refused to release his work, but would not let him release it through another label as his contract was for 2 more albums.)

      Considering every major record label is owned by or heavily invested in war profiteers, for any musician to make a statement against war at all is a courageous act in today’s world. (The war profiteers learned from the 60s)

      • Annie
        February 16, 2017 at 23:16

        Hi, John,
        Busta Rhymes knows he is not risking his career with an attack on Trump, since it’s Trump bashing time in America. Journalists certainly have gotten into the swing of it better then anyone else, and as a result they have sunk to an all time low. I just think Ms. Cohn’s use of Mr. Rhymes statements were a cheap and sensational way to segue into a serious subject on agent orange. Open up AOL and the front line news reads “Trumps national security pick drops bomb shell.” The bomb shell is he didn’t want the job. Although not a Trump supporter I’m sick of it.

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