Cyanide features at Basson hearing

2013-04-16 16:39
Wouter Basson (Picture: AFP)

Wouter Basson (Picture: AFP)

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Pretoria - Toxic chemicals, poisons and irritants were discussed at apartheid-era chemical warfare specialist Wouter Basson's ethical conduct hearing on Tuesday.

Toxicology expert Gert Jacobus Muller was being cross-examined at the Health Professions Council of SA in Pretoria by pro forma prosecutor Salie Joubert.

The University of Stellenbosch toxicologist gave general evidence on chemicals, including those used in warfare and crowd dispersal across the world.

He referred to them as "incapacitating agents".

Basson is accused of, among other things, "making available cyanide capsules to operational officers commanding, for its distribution to members of specialised units for suicidal use".

Joubert said: "The effect brought about by cyanide, if you swallow a capsule, would be death. Is that correct? Literally chemical asphyxiation?"

Muller responded: "Not if you swallow the capsule, but if you bite the capsule to release the contents of the capsule."

Joubert suggested the capsule could be swallowed whole and dissolved in a person’s stomach. Muller disagreed.

"The particular capsule is not manufactured to be swallowed in a bio-degradable covering. If you don’t bite it [the capsule], it may just go through [the stomach] with no effect," Muller said.

Joubert asked if the cyanide capsule "differed from that of Panado".

Muller said the capsules that contained ordinary medicine were made to break easily, but those for cyanide were "made to withstand rigorous onslaughts from enzymes, mucous and secretions".

He said if discharged into a human body, cyanide was rapidly distributed through the body, and cut off the ability of living cells to use oxygen.

The doctor said that even if vomited, cyanide's effects on the body would be severe.

"In that process of regurgitation from the stomach, being a substance that is widely absorbed even from the skin, it [cyanide] will be absorbed in that process of vomiting.

"It is not something you are going to vomit to an extent that it will not have effect. If you swallow an adequate dose to kill you, the chances of it having the same effect is probably above 95 percent."

Basson is accused of acting unethically by being involved in the large-scale production of Mandrax, cocaine and teargas, of "weaponising" teargas and of supplying it to Angola's Unita leader Jonas Savimbi.

He is also accused of acting unethically by providing disorientating substances for cross-border kidnappings.

United States medical ethics expert Steven Miles previously testified that Basson had violated the laws of humanity and various World Medical Association declarations and regulations.

Basson has argued the surgeon Ggeneral at the time was in charge of the programme, and that he carried out orders as a soldier.

Read more on:    hpcsa  |  wouter basson

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