Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Here's quite an extraordinary thing.

Earlier this morning, I wrote that more was to come on the story of the admitted American use of white phosphorus as a chemical weapon against the Iraqi city of Fallujah.

So, where is that additional information? Is there more to come on the white phosphorus story?

Well, there is and there isn?t. The story is that there is no story - not if you live in the United States, at least.

Journalists are reporting on this story across the world, except in the United States. Go on and do a Google News search for white phosphorus in the news. As of 12 Noon, hours and hours, after the story broke, you?ll find articles on the story today from the press in Switzerland, in Australia, in Canada, in Italy, and from across the United Kingdom.

But what about in the United States? There?s just one journalistic news source in the entire United States that?s acknowledging that the story even exists: The San Jose Mercury News.

Irregular Times: News Unfit for Print : More to come on phosphorus story? Maybe not!

Take home message. All that chatter on the internet? Still heavily driven by mainstream media.


RTO Trainer said...

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

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: ...c_frameset.html

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: ...0_504_10_04.prt

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.

Composing said...

Sure, I'm willing to accept that the usage is probably within the letter of the law.

But I think if you've based your war on stirring up a moral panic against the unorthodox weapons program of Saddam Hussain, "a man so evil that he gassed his own people", then it's got to be an embarrassment to be caught using something which to the casual observer looks awfully like a chemical weapon, and in a fairly heavy handed manner.

What does seem to be confirmed is that WP was used *as* a weapon, and not merely for illumination. And my understanding is that WP isn't classed as a weapon because it's meant to be used as a flare. As a comparason, I suppose battery-acid isn't legally classed as a chemical weapon either, but if I poured a bucket of it over someone, then an observer might be tempted to think of it as one.

How do we know the attack on Fallujah was heavy handed?
Well, I haven't been there, but accounts suggest that the damage was extensive (60% of buildings gone, more than 50% of population gone (killed or fled)) and that there was a high civilian casualty rate.

Was the US "targetting" civilians? Probably not as a policy decision. But I'd guess if you asked Saddam in the late 80s if his chemical attacks were targetted at civilians he'd have said, "of course not, just the trouble makers who are hiding among them". We wouldn't accept that excuse from him, and we shouldn't accept it from us, either. You have to judge an action like this by a combination of stated intention and the evidence of the effects of its actual execution.

(BTW: I'm sorry that nctimes link doesn't work for me, so I can't see if there is, in fact, good evidence that there wasn't indescriminant use. But I'll give that to you, and accept that there was no legally defined war-crime here.)

The attack on Fallujah last year would have been unjustifiable and brutal if it had been done with good old fashioned bullets and explosives. I agree, the WP doesn't really change that evaluation.