Tuesday, November 22, 2005

War Crimes Are the Most Fun

It was recently reported by the BBC that the Pentagon has admitted to using white phosphorous as a weapon in their assault on Falluja back in November of 2004.

For those of you not familiar with white phosphorous it is used as an incendiary devise (the above picture shows what the body looks like after a white phosphorous burn). If particles of ignited white phosphorus land on a person's skin, they can continue to burn right through flesh to the bone. Toxic phosphoric acid can also be released into wounds, risking phosphorus poisoning. Skin burns must be immersed in water or covered with wet cloths to prevent re-combustion until the particles can be removed. If white phosphorus particles are not removed from the skin then the particles can reignite and continue to burn the skin, so simply putting it out with water is not enough. Sounds like pretty nasty stuff to me, especially when it was being used in areas with large densely populated civilian populations.

The interesting part of this is that such weapons are outlawed by the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) to which the United States is a party. The Pentagon maintains that white phosphorus is not a chemical weapon; even though a declassified 1995 Pentagon intelligence document reads "Iraqi forces loyal to president Saddam may have possibly used white phosphorous chemical weapons against Kurdish rebels."

I find it rather ironic that the premise for going into Iraq was to stop Saddam Hussain from acquiring and using chemical weapons, while at the same time the U.S. is using chemical weapons against Iraqis.

If this wasn’t enough it was also reported in the Daily Mirror that President Bush had told Tony Blair that he wanted to bomb Arab TV station al-Jazeera’s Qatar headquarters. Now keep in mind that al-Jazeera’s headquarters is located in the capital city of Doha’s downtown area and only 10 miles from the US's desert base in Qatar, which is one of the US’s most important allies in the war on Iraq. One should also note that protocol I, art. 79 of the Geneva Conventions states that:
  1. Journalists engaged in dangerous professional missions in areas of armed conflict shall be considered as civilians within the meaning of Article 50, paragraph 1.

This means that as civilians “violence to life and person including murder, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture are prohibited.”

I guess we can all be thankful that at least Tony Blair had some common sense and opposed the president’s idea of committing war crimes and infuriating the entire Arab world.

Yes folks war crimes are truly the most fun kind of crimes.


Aljavar said...

The idea of bombing of al-Jazeera seems beyond any sense of reason. A total lack of it actually. I really hope it gets cleared up. An apology or an explanation at least.

The BBC article doesn't quite read the way you describe it. Fallujah as one of the "densely populated civilian populations" we were attacking in Iraq? The article: "the soldiers who wrote the Field Artillery article do say that their unit 'encountered few civilians in its attack south'." We actually gave citizens plenty of time to leave the city before attacking, if I recall. Also, the use of WP is not forbidden under the CWC.
A quote from the article accompanying this article (where you got your vivid description of WP effects): "A spokesman at the UK Ministry of Defence said the use of white phosphorus was permitted in battle in cases where there were no civilians near the target area. But Professor Paul Rogers, of the University of Bradford's department of peace studies, said white phosphorus could be considered a chemical weapon if deliberately aimed at civilians. "

We have yet to purposefully use it against civilians.

Sounds a lot different than you make it out to be. Deserves a revision.

Where were the whistle blowers during the last two decades when these weapons were used against [Iragi] civilians by nasty men [Saddam] in full view of the world. Where was the outrage then? Is that image of an Iraqi from Saddam's reign?

Where was this story?

archduke f. f. said...

You are probably right that there were not a huge number of civilians in the area. I'll say that we were probably only using WP on insurgents. But you neglected to note this quote:

"If on the other hand the toxic properties of white phosphorus, the caustic properties, are specifically intended to be used as a weapon, that of course is prohibited, because the way the Convention is structured or the way it is in fact applied, any chemicals used against humans or animals that cause harm or death through the toxic properties of the chemical are considered chemical weapons."

This is in the BBC article, a quote from Peter Kaiser of the CWC. So WP, in the manner in which we used it, is prohibited.

I have a hard time seeing what Saddam has to do with the US's conduct in war. He was--and is--an evil, evil man. Does that give us the right to conduct war in any manner that we please? We cannot allow moral relativism to creep in when it is a war that is being fought in our names.

And there was outrage about Saddam's atrocities. I just looked up one incident from the State department thing, the gassing of the Kurds between 87-88, in the NY Times (everyone's FAVORITE paper).

A search of "Saddam" and "Kurds" yields 22 results. A good estimate would be about 1 every two months, since some that I found are not necessarily about the gassing of the Kurdish citizens. There were 5 front page articles about the Kurds, and most of the articles about the gassings come about in September of 88. William Safire's editorial on Sept. 5, 1988 has a headline that reads "Stop the Iraqi Murder of the Kurds." There was definitely outrage, but we were too young to know about it.

Aljavar said...

Reread this slightly important last section that seems to slip past the eye.

"... the United States has not signed up to a convention covering incendiary weapons which seeks to restrict their use."

Read the "Arms control status" sections here:

Amazing how well hidden the actual facts were in that article. As well as the conflicting reports from Kaiser and other CWC and non-CWC sources about the use of WP being illegal. Most sources I've seen state otherwise. Check it out.

As I said above "the use of WP is not forbidden under the CWC". We are allowed to use it. We never signed up to the protocol to eliminate its use. Some are trying now to say it's a chemical weapons and not an incindiary device, but we've largely regarded and used it as such in the past.

I think we know well enough not to use chemical weapons in a war against chemical weapons... The article is entirely misleading and seems to be pushing one view to the forefront while minimizing the facts.

As far as moral relativism, I don't think you saw where I was coming from. I was pointing out the fact that people see things how they want to when they want to, especially when it suits their political goals and desires at the time. Somehow people can't think of Saddam as a threat only years after he wipes out hundreds of thousands with mass executions using chemical weapons. They are angry when he makes motions to do it again and we intervene. And now, when we are at war, these articles come out trying to make the U.S. out to be the evil one by twisting the truth. That was the whistle blowing I meant to draw attention to. The whistles blow over and over for a issue that ends up being untrue while the reality of the situation goes forgotten. It frustrates me because I know why we went to war and I know why people are out to hide that truth and make us out to be the bad guys. And it's only hurting more people. Its a shameful way to make political gain. I just wanted to point out that the blog entry and the BBC article made untrue assertions to push a political point: a graphic picture of a body burned by WP while asserting we used them illegally. Where were the pictures of real attrocities when we were first discussing going to war against Iraq?

Funny enough, just saw Howard Dean on Leno still talking about how Bush lied to get us into war, speaking of moral relativism. We don't need to get back in to that whole discussion again.

Anti-Everything said...

Aljavar, Okay I have to keep this short but I wanted to respond your post.

First off please check out this link, http://www.gulflink.osd.mil/declassdocs/dia/19950901/950901_22431050_91r.html, it is a declassified pentagon report stating that “Iraq has possibly employed phosphorous chemical weapons against the Kurdish population in areas along the Iraqi-Turkish-Iranian borders.” Now repeatedly the report states that phosphorous weapons are chemical weapons. Further more the report states that the phosphorous weapons were delivered by using artillery rounds, which was the exact same way that the U.S. weapons were delivered in Falluja. So I find it difficult to argue that the U.S. did not technically use chemical weapons when according to Pentagon documents they defined the exact same kind of use by Iraq in 1991 as using chemical weapons.


You also stated in a previous post “where were the whistle blowers during the last two decades when these weapons were used against [Iragi] civilians by nasty men [Saddam] in full view of the world.”

Well there was actually a large and overwhelming responsive by the U.S. Senate to the gassing of the Kurds in 1988. The Senate unanimously passed the Prevention of Genocide Act of 1988 (http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d100:SN02763:@@@L&summ2=m&
). The Senate’s act did the following:
1)Required the U.S. Executive Director or representative at all international financial institutions to vote against all loans to Iraq.
2)Prohibited the provision of any assistance, the sale of any kind of military equipment, the provision of any credits, or the provision of any credit guarantees to Iraq.
3)Prohibited the sale or transfer to Iraq of any item subject to export control by any agency of the United States.
4)Prohibited the importation of any oil or petroleum products produced in Iraq.
The problem was that the Reagan administration strongly opposed this act, here is an excerpt of an article written about the Reagan administrations response to the act:

Secretary of State George P. Shultz said Tuesday that he was ''quite confident'' that Iraq had used chemical weapons in its efforts to put down a rebellion by the Kurds. But the State Department is opposing Congressional efforts to impose stringent economic sanctions on Iraq. Charles E. Redman, the State Department spokesman, said today that the sweeping sanctions bill passed by the Senate on Friday was ''premature.''

The bill, now pending in the House of Representatives, would prohibit the United States from providing Iraq with any kind of military equipment, loans or loan guarantees. In addition, it says that no Iraqi oil products may be imported into the United States.

Representative Tom Lantos, Democrat of California, chief sponsor of the House bill to impose economic sanctions on Iraq, said it was absurd for the State Department to describe such penalties as premature.

''I wish it were premature,'' he said in an interview. ''Unfortunately, there are large numbers of dead men, women and children, indicating that our action is tardy and tragically long overdue. Poison gas has been used repeatedly, on a large scale, against Kurdish civilians as well as guerrillas.''

Taken from "U.S. Says It Monitored Iraqi Messages on Gas," Robert Pear, The New York Times, September 15, 1988.

Later through pressure from the Reagan administration the act was eventually watered down and then killed in the House.

Now you also state that “I know why we went to war”, I was wondering if you could please share those reasons with me. I thought we went to war because Saddam had and was planning to use chemical and biological weapons against the U.S. and Iraq’s neighbors. Now if you could show me one piece of credible evidence to support this claim I would really appreciate it. I believe we also went into Iraq because “we don’t want the smoking gun to be a nuclear cloud”. I was also wondering if you could show me any kind of credible evidence to support this claim as well. And of course now we are there because that is where the terrorists are, but the problem is that Iraq was not harboring terrorists prior to the invasion, unless of course you can show me any kind of credible evidence to support this claim.

We are in Iraq now because of lies and disinformation, and is it really important to understand how and why the administration lead us into a war under false pretenses so that is won’t happen again. To quote President Bush: “fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again." I am most other Americans don’t appreciate being lied to and want to make sure that we don’t get fooled again.

Okay I guess that wasn’t very short actually.

beth said...

There's a blog called "Baghdad Burning" by an anonymous twenty-something Iraqi woman that not only offers her perspective regarding the use of WP in Fallujah, but also has a link to a British documentary regarding the situation. The link is


and the post concerning WP is from November 17th.

Regarding the first response to this post, I was surprised that the use of WP by the U.S. military was... defended (?) by saying "We have yet to purposefully use it (WP) against civilians." Who cares? Even in light of the fact that we apparently gave civilians plenty of time to evacuate the area? Wouldn't the fact that the military knew civilians were in Falujah be enough to deter us from using such a horrible weapon? If the military implies that they gave people a chance to leave the area prior to using WP, or whatever they told the Fallujah populace, it seems like blaming the victims- similar to O'Reilly blaming the people who stayed in New Orleans during Katrina for their circumstances when they couldn't afford to leave or didn't have anywhere to go. We cannot say that we're in Iraq to help Iraqis establish a democracy and improve their opportunities and quality of life and then turn around and use a weapon that indiscriminately kills anyone it touches in what looks like a painful and completely inhumane manner.

But anyways, the "Baghdad Burning" blog is pretty (often times depressingly) amazing- I hope you check it out.

Aljavar said...

I will check out the blog. Thanks beth.

To clear up my view on a couple issues, a few thoughts.

In regards to Katrina, read the section on "Evacuation and Emergency Shelters" in this wiki : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_Katrina. Also of interest: http://wizbangblog.com/archives/007257.php. Local and state governments were responsible in New Orleans and surrounding areas. Not the federal government. Always has been that local and state govs have the plans to evacuate their own people, despite what extremist politicians seem to have convinced everyone. Totally off topic, but I wanted to post a couple remarks in regards to Katrina in response to Beth bringing it up.

In regards to Falluja and WP, let's stay within reason here Beth. I'm sorry but "a weapon that indiscriminately kills anyone it touches in what looks like a painful and completely inhumane manner" is a pretty slanted statement. WP was used, as earlier stated, to get insurgents up and out of their hiding places in the couple places it was actually used against them. It wasn't used because it "indiscriminately kills anyone it touches". That's what Anti-Eveything wanted everyone to assume when he threw burned corpse in his post and copied in some BBC text about WPs effects without making sensible remarks as to its legal use. Everything I've read up to now about its military application goes as follows. WP is used as a luminary device and a smoke shield primarily and as a method of exposing enemy combatants to HE (High-Explosives) secondarily. No one likes that. No one wants people to be burned and exposed to HE. But that' its actual use. Not to kill everyone it touches.

If my original revision of the "whistle-blower" remark wasn't clear enough, I'll rehash it again. Simly this. Why all the fuss to concoct a contraversy by liberal bloggers and general media when the real story is and always has been the evil nature of Saddam Hussein and his intention with the nations surrounding him and the rest of the world. I hold the U.S. to a higher standard than any nation, but I don't see the need to try and make her stumble or cause her to look like shit, especially not for my own political gain. The whole John Stewart mentality of the twenty/thirty something liberals in this country is to bash, slander, and skew everything this nation does to make it look bad when the other party is in control. Down right shameful. And don't respond with a "I'm being patriotic by keeping our nation from killing people for no reason in a war that was based on lies...." as an attempt to change the issue. Finding everything that went wrong about the war and disregarding the reality of why we went there and what we can do to leave Iraq in the most equitable way isn't helping anyone. Not an Iraqi, not an American, no one. Think I'm off track? When's the last time you heard John Stewart or one of his clones say anything that has gone well in the war? If they were truly partisan and not looking at everything one-sidedly, then there would be plenty of things that have gone well which could be spoken of. I defy you to find one such comment. That's the John Stewart mentality that I disdain and perhaps react to over zealously. That's the whistle-blower b.s. I get so sick of. Half truth, platonic, clearly slanted agendas to make political gain at the expense of everyone. Arch pointed out the media coverage of Saddam's story during the last two decades in an earlier comment, a point well taken.

If you are actually interested in the truth of why we went to war Anit-Everything, go back and read the comments of nearly everyone in our government in the year(s) leading up to war. Look at the nature of the intelligence we and the rest of the world had as to Saddam's intentions. Further back but also relevant in my mind, read up on Hitler's actions prior to invading Aurtria and the way the world reacted to him, then and after. Anyone looking into the true events that led up to the war in Iraq can clearly see how it came about. Equally, they could point out flaws in how it was acted out. All (most) democrats remember is that their entire party has always been against the war, from the very start, that they were deceived and lied to by the president and that there was never ANY indication that Saddam was a threat to anyone.

Whistle-blowing, to be fair ad accurate, is a patriotic act and a completely necessary component of a working democracy. Whistle-blowing in its true form goes both ways (really ANY way) without distintion. 'One-dimensional slander' is what I should have used instead.

I would hope my fellow Americans who disagree with me on political issues could agree that blind one-sidedness is not a healthy for either of us.