Landmark Agent Orange case goes to federal court

Did U.S. chemical companies commit war crimes by producing toxic dioxin-laced herbicide — known as Agent Orange — that the U.S. military used to douse more than 2 million Vietnamese and that still lingers on in their environment and food chain? That’s the question at the heart of a landmark case that will be heard starting today in a U.S. federal court in New York City. The suit was filed last year against Monsanto, Dow Chemical, and a dozen other companies on behalf of millions of Vietnamese citizens who still live with a horrific array of illnesses and whose children suffer from crippling birth defects. They seek what could be billions for damages and environmental cleanup. The companies say they are indemnified since they were acting on government contracts, and the Justice Department filed a brief on the companies’ behalf. The companies also claim that Agent Orange has never been conclusively linked to serious human health problems — though they paid out $180 million to U.S. soldiers who had been exposed.