Top US military planners are preparing for the US to use incapacitating biochemical weapons in an invasion of Iraq. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, revealed the plans in February 5th testimony before the US House Armed Services Committee. This is the first official US acknowledgement that it may use (bio)chemical weapons its crusade to rid other countries of such weapons. The Sunshine Project and other nonprofits have warned since late 2001 that the “War on Terrorism” may result the United States using prohibited biological and chemical armaments, thereby violating the same treaties it purports to defend. The US announcement creates grave concerns for the future of arms control agreements, particularly the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Rumsfeld stated that plans are being made for multiple applications, including use of gas or aerosols on unarmed Iraqi civilians, in caves, and on prisoners. Rumsfeld reiterated the confusing, typical US official language about so-called “non-lethal” biochemical weapons, which is at odds with the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). Rumsfeld described applications of a “riot agent” that clearly imply the complete incapacitation of victims, combatant and non-combatant, in armed conflict – a definition and usages that are at odds with the CWC. Rumsfeld acknowledged US ratification of the CWC but expressed “regret” about its restrictions, stating that the US has “tangled ourselves up so badly” on policy for use of incapacitating biochemical weapons. Rumsfeld indicated that – in his opinion – if President Bush signs a waiver of long-standing restrictions on US use of incapacitating chemicals, that the US will be able to legally field them in Iraq and elsewhere.
An audio file of the testimony from February 5th is posted with this news release at the Sunshine Project website.
The focal points for US development of these weapons are the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate in Quantico, Virginia, and the US Army Soldier Biological Chemical Command, located at Edgewood/Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. Following their capture in Afghanistan and elsewhere, the US has used incapacitating chemicals on suspected terrorists “detainees”. In October 2002, Russian Special Forces used a so-called “non-lethal” incapacitating biochemical weapon when storming the Palace of Culture Theater in Moscow. It resulted in the deaths of over 100 hostages and was used to facilitate the extrajudicial execution of as many as 50 Chechen separatists. Before the War on Terrorism began, British officials stated that they would not cooperate with the US military in missions where US troops used incapacitating chemicals.
The Sunshine Project has established an online clearinghouse of dozens of documents from the US research program on these weapons, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. These are available at the Project’s website.