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US Uses Chemical Weapons in Iraq

A while ago, I saw a blogger describe the "War on Terror" (TM) as being fundamentally misunderstood by the Bush administration and other neoconservatives. He used an analogy I wish I had come up with:

He said something like "Neocons think the game is chess" where we win by taking more of their peices out. Our enemies know that this is not the game at all, it's more like Othello. The winner in the Global War on Terror is the one who gets the other guy to look more like them, piece by piece.

The pentagon just admitted to using a horrible chemical weapon against insurgents in the battle for Fallluja -- one that they previously denied useing -- called White Phosphorus. The BBC news piece describes the effects of the agent:

"White phosphorus is highly flammable and ignites on contact with oxygen. If the substance hits someone's body, it will burn until deprived of oxygen...it could burn right down to the bone."

Although Pentagon seems to be splitting legal hairs on whether this is a "incidiary" versus a "chemical" weapon. The reality of the chemical effects of White Phosphorus are terribly obvious. And they note that although Britian had signed a 1980 UN Convention which expressly forbids the use of white phosphorus against civilian targets or military targets in civilian areas, but the US had not.

None of that changes the fact that today we learned we were using this chemical weapon on people.

One more Othello peice just flipped the wrong direction.

From the BBC:

"US troops used white phosphorus as a weapon in last year's offensive in the Iraqi city of Falluja, the US has said.

"It was used as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants," spokesman Lt Col Barry Venable told the BBC - though not against civilians, he said.

The US had earlier said the substance - which can cause burning of the flesh - had been used only for illumination.

BBC defence correspondent Paul Wood says having to retract its denial is a public relations disaster for the US."
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11/16/2005 12:53:00 PM

I hope you don't mind that I posted a link to this post in the comments over at Imitatio Christi.    

11/16/2005 01:22:00 PM

No, of course, not, thanks for the link...and I love Chuck's blog and check in on it almost daily...


11/16/2005 03:06:00 PM

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.    

11/16/2005 03:51:00 PM

Hi RTO Trainer:

Thanks for reading and commenting here...

I tried to be clear in the original article that the US was not a signatory to the UN treaty that forbits the use of WP on civlilians or military targets around civilians. We're not bound by that, as Britian is.

And I also tried to be clear that while I believe the specific legal hair-splitting to define WP as an incidiary vs a chemical agent is unconvincing to my ears, I did point out that the pentagon is stressing that it is not technically a "chemical weapon."

BTW, can you help me understand that rationale? The best I can understand the argument goes like this:

A. Yes, WP is a chemical compound, but because it ignites upon hitting oxygen (or when exploded over targets) and then won't stop burning until it runs out of either air or frankly the target's flesh...even after being doused with water, the chemical traces would re-ignite upon hitting air again...

B. Therefore because the chemical compound literally burns, rather than disolves it's targets, it is a "incidiary" weapon, not a "chemical weapon."


B. Becuase it is not the toxic properties of White Phosphorus itself, but the heat from WP which causes the damage, therefore it isn't technically a "chemical weapon."

Am I close?

I'm not trying to create a straw man argument, just trying to understand those who say this isn't a "chemical weapon" technically.

All of these seemed like relatively flimsy technicalities to me, and likely would to people in Iraq and it's neighbors. The people we're trying to win over from the insurgency.

To sum up, my argument was not a technical, nor a legal one, but about the moral and long term strategic issues invovled.

Not about short term chess moves taking out pawns, but long term winning the War on Terror, and which side becomes more like the other in the process.    

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