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When a Chemical Weapon is Not a Chemical Weapon

US War Crimes List Keeps Growing

by DAVE LINDORFF

Whether white phosphorus bombs–what American troops call "Willie Pete"–is a chemical weapon or an incendiary weapon, may not seem like a very important distinction to a casual observer. After all, what it does–burn flesh on contact and eat right down to the bone causing severe pain and, depending on what it eats through, death–is as cruel and vicious as any poison gas.

But it does matter to the Pentagon, and to the mainstream media that is covering the growing scandal of US military use of phosphorus bombs in the assault on Fallujah (and probably elsewhere in the Iraq War/Occupation).

Pentagon, State Department and White House officials, after first denying that phosphorus was used at all in Fallujah, when caught in their lie, finally admitted using the weapon, but insisted that it was only used against troops, not civilians (a lie), and that it is not a chemical weapon. The New York Times, which finally reported on the scandal on Monday, three separate times noted that phosphorus is an incindiary weapon, not a chemical weapon.

Why the fuss? Well, recall that the Bush/Cheney adminstration made use ad nauseum of how Saddam Hussein "used chemical weapons against his own people."

So how would it look if the bombs we are using against Iraqis were also chemical weapons?

It turns out, though, that what the Pentagon calls "chemical" arms depends on who’s using them.

An organization called Think Progress has uncovered a Pentagon document, formerly classified, from 1995 that calls phosphorus bombs "chemical weapons."

Titled "Possible Use of Phosphorous Chemical," the document says:

IRAQ HAS POSSIBLY EMPLOYED PHOSPHOROUS CHEMICAL WEAPONS AGAINST THE KURDISH POPULATION IN AREAS ALONG THE IRAQI-TURKISH-IRANIAN BORDERS. [...]

IN LATE FEBRUARY 1991, FOLLOWING THE COALITION FORCES’ OVERWHELMING VICTORY OVER IRAQ, KURDISH REBELS STEPPED UP THEIR STRUGGLE AGAINST IRAQI FORCES IN NORTHERN IRAQ. DURING THE BRUTAL CRACKDOWN THAT FOLLOWED THE KURDISH UPRISING, IRAQI FORCES LOYAL TO PRESIDENT SADDAM ((HUSSEIN)) MAY HAVE POSSIBLY USED WHITE PHOSPHOROUS (WP) CHEMICAL WEAPONS AGAINST KURDISH REBELS AND THE POPULACE IN ERBIL (GEOCOORD:3412N/04401E) (VICINITY OF IRANIAN BORDER) AND DOHUK (GEOCOORD:3652N/04301E) (VICINITY OF IRAQI BORDER) PROVINCES, IRAQ.

So let’s go with chemical arms as we continue to look at this latest war crime by the U.S. against the people of Iraq.

Yet another impeachable crime–this time a crime against humanity–by the dynamic duo occupying the White House.

And whiile we’re on the matter of Pentagon lies regarding phosphorus bomb use, let’s look at another Pentagon claim: that there’s nothing illegal about the weapon.

In fact, an instruction manual used by the U.S. Army Command and General Staff School (CGSC) at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, tells senior officers it is against the "laws of war" to fire the incendiary weapon at human targets. This document, first disclosed by the UK Independent, reports that the Army manual "makes clear that white phosphorus can be used to produce a smoke screen, but that ‘It is against the law of land warfare to employ WP [white phosphorous] against personnel targets.’"

So besides being a war crime, this is also a US crime.

In all of this, it needs to be recalled that the US fall-back claim that it "only" used phosphorus bombs against insurgents has to be held up against the reality that the US military, in Iraq in general and in the Fallujah assault in particular, considers all Iraqi males of "combat age" (read that 12 or 14 and up) to be the enemy under Pentagon "rules of engagement." In Fallujah, it was widely reported that the US, after encircling the city in preparation for its assault, refused to allow such Iraqi males to leave the doomed city and left them to their fate as the assault began (a war crime, since under the rules of war anyone, inclulding combatants, must be allowed to surrender and leave the field of battle)–an assault that included the use of phosphorus bombs.

Even so, Iraqi government sources say 5-6000 civilians were killed in the US attack on Fallujah a year ago. That’s a terrible toll, but in fact, the real figure is surely higher and will never be known. Hospitals were deliberately bombed at the outset (yet another war crime), and others were occupied by US troops. Bodies of the dead were bulldozed away after the battle ended as well, and many were in any event so thoroughly destroyed–and left to roaming dogs–as to never be recoverable or identifiable.

Such is this "noble effort" of our commander-in-chief.

DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled "This Can’t be Happening!" is published by Common Courage Press. Information about both books and other work by Lindorff can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net.

He can be reached at: dlindorff@yahoo.com