Sunday, December 04, 2005

Chemical Nonsense

In early November, the left-wing British Independent paper found a new way to argue against Operation Iraqi Freedom:
Powerful new evidence emerged yesterday that the United States dropped massive quantities of white phosphorus on the Iraqi city of Fallujah during the attack on the city in November 2004, killing insurgents and civilians with the appalling burns that are the signature of this weapon.
The paper's source was a recently released film from Italian Rai News24, an offshoot of communist-dominated channel Rai 3 called Fallujah: The Hidden Massacre. A montage of footage from Vietnam and Iraq, the film purported to show attacks using white phosphorus by, and casualties from, US forces in Fallujah one year ago. Naturally, the accusation immediately crossed the Atlantic, igniting a feeding frenzy among liberal newspapers, liberal bloggers, and loony liberals at Kos and Think Progress, each claiming that phosphorus is a banned chemical weapon under international law. Al Jazeera played it as proof of American hypocrisy, as did Al Jazeera's US bureau chief, Cindy Sheehan.

One problem with the accusations--they're wrong. But first some background on White Phosphorus.

Phosphorus is a chemical element with the atomic number 15. It was first identified in 1669 by Hennig Brand, who isolated it from human urine. White phosphorus is a particular allotropic form (i.e., not in a compound with other elements) consisting of four phosphorus atoms, i.e., P4.

According to Global Security:
White Phosphorus (WP), known as Willy Pete, is used for signaling, screening, and incendiary purposes. White Phosphorus can be used to destroy the enemy's equipment or to limit his vision. It is used against vehicles, petroleum, oils and lubricants (POL) and ammunition storage areas, and enemy observers. WP can be used as an aid in target location and navigation. It is usually dispersed by explosive munitions. It can be fired with fuze time to obtain an airburst. White phosphorus was used most often during World War II in military formulations for smoke screens, marker shells, incendiaries, hand grenades, smoke markers, colored flares, and tracer bullets.

The Battle of Fallujah was conducted from 8 to 20 November 2004 with the last fire mission on 17 November. The battle was fought by an Army, Marine and Iraqi force of about 15,000 under the I Marine Expeditionary Force (IMEF). US forces found WP to be useful in the Battle of Fallujah. "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. We fired “shake and bake” missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out. ... We used improved WP for screening missions when HC smoke would have been more effective and saved our WP for lethal missions."
So the U.S. did use WP in Iraq, albeit in narrow circumstances as described below.

But Phosphorus is not an unlawful chemical weapon under the Chemical Weapons Convention. Article II of that treaty says Chemical Weapons include "Toxic chemicals and their precursors, except where intended for purposes not prohibited under this Convention." (A precursor is "any chemical reactant which takes part at any stage in the production by whatever method of a toxic chemical.") Article IV of that treaty ties the definition to the treaty's Annex on Chemicals, which lists (as precursors) "Chemicals. . .containing a phosphorous atom to which is bonded one methyl, ethyl, or propyl (normal or iso) group.” White Phosphorus, however, is not a compound, consisting of four phosphorus atoms only.

No reputable person or entity says otherwise. For example, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons -- the international body responsible for chemical treaty verification -- flatly states, "Incendiary agents such as napalm and phosphorus are not considered to be CW agents since they achieve their effect mainly through thermal energy." Global Security agrees:
White phosphorus is not banned by any treaty to which the United States is a signatory. Smokes and obscurants comprise a category of materials that are not used militarily as direct chemical agents. The United States retains its ability to employ incendiaries to hold high-priority military targets at risk in a manner consistent with the principle of proportionality that governs the use of all weapons under existing law. The use of white phosphorus or fuel air explosives are not prohibited or restricted by Protocol II of the Certain Conventional Weapons Convention (CCWC), the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons which may be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to have Indiscriminate Effects.
After the initial furor, lefties and the media acknowledged the lawfulness of WP for illumination under the CWC, but claimed either that its use as an incendiary was banned or that WP was lawful only because the United States never ratified the so-called Protocol III on the Use of Incendiary Weapons. Even were the US a party,1 however, it wouldn't outlaw US actions--Article II of that agreement protects civilians, not terrorists:
1. It is prohibited in all circumstances to make the civilian population as such, individual civilians or civilian objects the object of attack by incendiary weapons.

2. It is prohibited in all circumstances to make any military objective located within a concentration of civilians the object of attack by air-delivered incendiary weapons.

3. It is further prohibited to make any military objective located within a concentration of civilians the object of attack by means of incendiary weapons other than air-delivered incendiary weapons, except when such military objective is clearly separated from the concentration of civilians and all feasible precautions are taken with a view to limiting the incendiary effects to the military objective and to avoiding, and in any event to minimizing, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects.
Although the Russians and a few lefties are stuck on stupid,2 most in the global media and the blogosphere backed off claims of illegality, but insisted America's allegedly indiscriminate WP use was immoral and violated the laws of land warfare when used against civilians. So did the US over-use WP or fail to protect innocents?

No, says General Peter Pace Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
U.S. forces have never used white phosphorous to target innocent civilians, officials said, and have taken great pains to avoid doing so.

Just as with any other weapon, troops use a variety of factors to determine the appropriateness of using white phosphorous, explained Air Force Maj. Todd Vician, a Pentagon spokesman. These include the target vulnerability and location, available munitions, and the potential risk to civilians and friendly forces, he said.

"No armed force in the world goes to greater effort than your armed force to protect civilians and to be very precise in the way we apply our power," Pace said.
As UK blogger Scott Burgess notes, in Fallujah, "'civilians were ordered to evacuate in advance'; which, incidentally, seems a good method of 'tak[ing] every feasible precaution to spare civilians and to respect the principles of distinction and proportionality in all operations', as the Red Cross demands." Indeed, even the BBC admits the US army encountered few civilians in Fallujah. In any event, WP is ill-suited for mass genocide.

As it happens, no actual witness claims the US used WP against civilians--participants deny the charge. And the photos in the Italian film (and by other anti-war activists elsewhere) supply no "hard" evidence; indeed, the film depicts casualties that could not have been attacked with WP, as Confederate Yankee brilliantly and painstakingly (and graphically) proves. Simply put, tales of mass civilian atrocities using WP are lies.

Conclusion. Sure the US used White Phosphorus against armed terrorists in Iraq. What of it?, asks Global Security's Director, John Pike:
WP . . has remained a standard part of the U.S. arsenal. The U.S. military used it in the retaking of Fallouja a year ago. It is nasty stuff, but war is nasty. . .
Not all chemicals used in war are chemical weapons--and alternative weapons might be worse.

Importantly, we don't target civilians in general or with WP in particular--those claiming otherwise are lying. Rather, our goal is killing terrorists. As Scott Burgress concludes, buying the lies and spinning the evidence is one facet of "the Holy Grail of a certain kind of antiwar activist: to establish a moral equivalence between the US and Saddam Hussein." That's outrageous anti-Americanism--and simple slander.

Former paratrooper Michael Fumento, an attorney and journalist who was embedded with the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Fallujah, says: "the greatest threat to Iraqi civilians are the terrorists. If we want to save civilians, our soldiers must be free to use the best legal equipment available to kill those terrorists and to continue liberating Iraq." Agreed.

1 President Clinton recommended against ratifying Protocol III, or ratifying only with a reservation, out of concern that the agreement could be read to prohibit use of White Phosphorus.

2 Those citing to the 1907 Convention on Laws and Customs of War on Land (which is part of US law) fail explain to why WP has been widely used for over a century, by American, Russian and other armies, without charge or prosecution. Indeed, WP figured in several awards of the Congressional Medal of Honor.

(via Balloon Juice, Outside the Beltway)


MaxedOutMama said...

Thank you, Carl. That is an excellent summary of the situation and I deeply appreciate it.

@nooil4pacifists said...

M_O_M: You are welcome. It took me too darn long.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

White phos is nowhere near as dangerous as DMHO, which is used all the time.

Roger said...

Good comments here - well researched on White Phosphorus, which has once again been maligned, this time in Gaza. I am looking to correspond with some of you about depleted uranium.