KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

U.S. Military Admits to Using Skin-Melting WP as a Weapon

At first the U.S. Department of State denied that the American military used white phosphorus (WP) as a weapon against Iraqis in Fallujah. But now the Pentagon says the State Department was wrong; the military does use WP, but only against insurgents, not civilians. And the Pentagon says the military used it as only an incendiary weapon, not a chemical weapon:

U.S. denies using phosphorous against civilians
Military says incendiary powder used against Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah

The Associated Press
Updated: 7:18 a.m. ET Nov. 16, 2005

WASHINGTON—Pentagon officials say white phosphorous was used as a weapon against insurgent strongholds during the battle of Fallujah last November, but deny an Italian television news report that it was used against civilians.

Lt. Col. Barry Venable, a Pentagon spokesman, said Tuesday that while white phosphorous is most frequently used to mark targets or obscure a position, it was used at times in Fallujah as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants.

White phosphorous is a colorless-to-yellow translucent wax-like substance with a pungent, garlic-like smell. The form used by the military ignites once it is exposed to oxygen, producing such heat that it bursts into a yellow flame and produces a dense white smoke. It can cause painful burn injuries to exposed human flesh.

“It was not used against civilians,” Venable said.

The spokesman referred reporters to an article in the March–April 2005 edition of the Army’s Field Artillery magazine, an official publication, in which veterans of the Fallujah fight spelled out their use of white phosphorous and other weapons. The authors used the shorthand “WP” in referring to white phosphorous.

“WP proved to be an effective and versatile munition,” the authors wrote. “We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE (high explosive)” munitions.

“We fired ‘shake and bake’ missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out.”

The authors added, in citing lessons for future urban battles, that fire-support teams should have used another type of smoke bomb for screening missions in Fallujah “and saved our WP for lethal missions.”

The battle for Fallujah was the most intense and deadly fight of the war, after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003. The city, about 35 miles west of Baghdad on the Euphrates River, was a key insurgent stronghold. The authors of the “after action” report said they encountered few civilians in their area of operations.

Italian communists protest
Italian communists held a sit-in Monday in front of the U.S. Embassy in Rome to protest the reported use by American troops of white phosphorous.

Italy’s state-run RAI24 news television aired a documentary last week alleging the U.S. used white phosphorous shells in a “massive and indiscriminate way” against civilians during the Fallujah offensive.

The State Department, in response, initially denied that U.S. troops had used white phosphorous against enemy forces. “They were fired into the air to illuminate enemy positions at night, not at enemy fighters.”

The department later said its statement had been incorrect.

“There is a great deal of misinformation feeding on itself about U.S. forces allegedly using ‘outlawed’ weapons in Fallujah,” the department said. “The facts are that U.S. forces are not using any illegal weapons in Fallujah or anywhere else in Iraq.”

Venable said white phosphorous shells are a standard weapon used by field artillery units and are not banned by any international weapons convention to which the U.S. is a signatory.

I don't believe the Pentagon any more than I believed the State Department. Of course the military's using WP as a chemical weapon. Does any sane person expect the truth from the Machiavellian, black-souled American government and its military?


RTO Trainer said...

The UN Convention bans the use of incendiary weapons against civilans, not against humans. See for yourself:

Of course any deliberate engagement or targeting of civilians is
already a war crime. so that the US has not signed this one is not of especial import except to say that we aren't bound by it expressly.

White Phosphorus is not banned.

It also isn't a chemical weapon. We are signtory to the Chemical Weapons Convention which defines chemical weapons. See here:

So it isn't a chemical weapon and it isn't banned.

Indiscriminate use is. The stories circulating do not support that
contention. See here:

Cpl. Bogert received the coordinates for the targets and recorded them on a map. This is proper procedure. He's receiving coordinates from a Forward Observer, indirect fire weapons never see their targets, the FOs do. The coordinates are plotted so that it is known what was ordered where. There is also a verification that takes place in the call for indirect fire to avoid problems with numerical transposition or other mistakes.

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

RTO, I didn't say that WP is banned. I do believe, from what I've read, that it is being used as a chemical weapon, against both insurgents and civilians.

Anonymous said...

Any reasonable human being would not argue that this is a good thing to do.

This sounds a lot like the "torture is good as long as it's the U.S. doing it" refrain currently being circulated. Saying that no civilians are being targeted is another exercise in self-justification. From the beginning, the US invasion of Iraq has made little distinction between combatants and civilians.

Maybe those who would argue that this is a reasonable thing to do would care to watch its effects on people. Any people. They might change their opinion then -- after they finish throwing up.

RTO Trainer said...

How would WP be used "as a chemical weapon?" There is no way I can think of except: select as a victim a child or an adult with a respiratory condition. Place them in a room full of extremely concentrated smoke from WP. Lock the door. Leave them for three days. Even that might not work. I'd give even odds that their death will be from either Phosphorus poisoning (toxicity being a characteristic of an actual chemical weapon per treaty) or from starvation/dehydration.

WP is simply neither toxic enough nor caustic (the other defining trait of a chemical weapon) enough to be employed as a chemical weapon.

If I deliberately ran a civilian through with a wooden stick it would still be a war crime. We do all manner of things to prevent civilian casulaties (especially fatalities) and why wouldn't we? It just makes our job harder not to.

Jeanette, with regard to what I have and have not seen and experienced, suffice to say I am a Soldier and I have been deployed (and I'll be deploying again inthe not too distant future). As for trying to offer some kind of moral eqivalence, I'll deny it with my last breath. There is very little that is moral in the discrete actions of any war. We Soldiers simply have to focus on the bigger picture and hope that the Lord credits us with the greater good we aspire to serve.

I'll unashamedly tell you that if it comes down to using a weapon like this, that is legal if horrific, or not and that choice results in a reciprocal choice of them or us, I'm picking us.

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