Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
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Thursday, November 10, 2005

A Rain of Fire

The Italian state television network Rai broadcast a documentary on Tuesday (11/08/05) accusing the U.S. of using the chemical weapon "white phosphorous" in its November, 2004 assault on Fallujah, Iraq. The Italian documentary also accuses the U.S. military of systematically destroying video and photographic evidence of the massacre.

The U.S. military admits to using white phosphorous shells but claims they were only fired into the air to "illuminate the battlefield." The BBC notes that the U.S. is not a signatory to the international treaty banning the use of white phosphorous shells (Protocol III of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons).

The documentary interviews U.S. soldiers, including former U.S. soldier Jeff Englehart--who was in the Fallujah assault--who confirms he heard orders to use the substance and later saw, "Burned bodies, burned women, burned children... When it makes contact with skin, then it's absolutely irreversible damage, burning flesh to the bone... Phosphorous explodes and forms a cloud. Anyone within a radius of 150 meters is done for."

If you want to see for yourself some of the deeply disturbing pictures of the victims that were shown in the documentary you may click here. You will have to click on "successiva>>" to pass the warning (in Italian) about the graphic nature of the photographs. But please beware: the images of "caramelized skin" are hideous. Even at relatively low resolution, I could not stomach more than a few.

Were these men, women, and children actually killed by white phosphorous, as the documentary claims has been verified by medical personnel? If so, were they victims of "illumination" munitions that fell off course? Could this be a terrible accident that the military has been covering up? Or did we actually use these chemical weapons deliberately?

In the documentary, a biologist in Fallujah says: "A rain of fire fell on the city." If the military is to refute these charges, we need explanations for these pictures, videos and interviews, not just empty denials.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think calling white phosphorus a "chemical weapon" in this context could be a bit misleading. White phosphorus is a chemical and it's a weapon but it's not a "chemical weapon" like mustard gas or serin. It's more like napalm. It is a nasty nasty weapon  that involves persistent burning particals that burrow into skin while they continue to burn. I believe it used to be used quite commonly in hand grenades. Many countries have pledged not to use it against civilians but no treaty bans it's use against military targets. In any case the US has not ratified the protocal of the relevant treaty that deals with white phosphorus weapons. I'd put this in the same moral bin with landmines and napalm rather than the WMD style "chemical weapons" bin.

It's interesting that this story is in an Italian newspaper. Berlusconi is facing likely defeat in looming elections and has been back tracking hard on his position supporting Bush in Iraq. He's even claiming now that he tried to talk Bush out of invading Iraq in the first place. But went along with the invasion anyway. 

// posted by Raised By Republicans

Anonymous said...

If this fact / story gets in the New York times or in a major U.S. Newspaper, let me know please. 

// posted by Heicktopiertz

Dr. Strangelove said...

Heicktopiertz: it's not the same thing as an independent report, but the Christian Science Monitor reports on the Italian documentary in their 11/08 edition. The headline of the story is, "Did the U.S. military use chemical weapons in Iraq?"

The CS Monitor article goes on to say that, La Repubblica, the Italian newspaper which recently broke the story on the Italian government's involvement with the forged Niger-Iraq uranium documents, reports what it claims is proof that the U.S. used a new napalm formula called MK77 in Iraq. (And this would be definitely forbidden by a 1980 UN treaty.)

Anonymous said...

I think the issue (and this is the point of view of the news coverage I've seen here in the UK) isn't so much that it's a "chemical weapon" as that it was allegedly used indiscriminately in a populated area. In fact, that is the substance of the protocol (which the US hasn't signed on to) mentioned in the BBC article; the text is here .)

Incidentally (and contrary to what I originally thought) "chemical weapon" generally is understood to be a weapon which uses the toxic effect of a chemical, rather than any explosive force; this includes organic chemicals that are not actually living organisms, such as sarin and botulinum. (If you're interested, the text of the Chemical Weapons Convention is here.)

(Living organisms, such as anthrax or historically smallpox and poisonous snakes, are biological weapons. Napalm and white phosphorus (when used as a weapon) are incendiary weapons, not chemical, because they burn rather than poison.)

The US hasn't agreed not to cover towns with napalm (or white phosphorus), but that doesn't mean it's not a horrible thing to do.

I know very little about military chemical use, but looking over this Wikipedia article, it seems that white phosphorus is primarily used as a smokescreen device, not an illuminator. Presumably, as an illuminator, it'd be much denser -- as a smokescreen, it's not concentrated enough to cause really serious injury.

I could be clueless, but some of the evidence is apparently that the people are burned, but their clothes are intact. That seems implausible to me -- phosphorus burning has nothing to do with the nature of flesh, I think it should burn skin and clothes equally well.

It looks like something  awful happened, and the military doesn't build any credibility by sticking its head in the sand. Of course, they are following the example from the top... 

// posted by Bob

Dr. Strangelove said...

Thanks for the thoughtful post, Bob. It seems that white phosphorous may cause "chemical burns" as well as simple fire burns--and it can impregnate clothing and then burn skin underneath. I quote from globalsecurity.org

"White phosphorus results in painful chemical burn injuries. The resultant burn typically appears as a necrotic area with a yellowish color and characteristic garliclike odor. White phosphorus is highly lipid soluble and as such, is believed to have rapid dermal penetration once particles are embedded under the skin... Incandescent particles of WP may produce extensive burns. Phosphorus burns on the skin are deep and painful...

If service members are hit by pieces of white phosphorus, it could burn right down to the bone. Burns usually are limited to areas of exposed skin (upper extremities, face). Burns frequently are second and third degree because of the rapid ignition and highly lipophilic properties of white phosphorus. If burning particles of WP strike and stick to the clothing, take off the contaminated clothing quickly before the WP burns through to the skin."

They also quote the US Military saying of the attack on Fallujah, "[White Phosphorous] WP proved to be an effective and versatile munition. 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 Explosives]. We fired 'shake and bake' missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out."

Dr. Strangelove said...

In other words, it is not just the fire, but rather the chemical reaction of the phosphorous against fat and skin that causes damage. It is unlikely that there would be no damage to the clothing... but once it penetrates the clothing in a few places, it can then enter the system and burn a lot of areas underneath--from within--that might still be covered by intact clothing on the outside.

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