Tuesday, November 22, 2005



White Phosphorus is a chemical weapon

In my posting about the US's use of white phosphorus in Fallujah, I sidestepped the debate about whether WP was or wasn't a chemical weapon, noting that given the way it melted people's skin off, such debate was spectacularly beside the point. I take that back: white phosphorus is a chemical weapon. Why? Because the Pentagon thinks so - at least if Saddam Hussein uses it. The smoking gun is a declassified 1995 Pentagon intelligence report entitled "Possible use of phosphorus chemical":

SUMMARY: 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. THE WP CHEMICAL WAS DELIVERED BY ARTILLERY ROUNDS AND HELICOPTER GUNSHIPS (NO FURTHER INFORMATION AT THIS TIME). APPARENTLY, THIS TIME IRAQ DID NOT USE NERVE GAS AS THEY DID IN 1988, IN HALABJA (GEOCOORD:3511N/04559E), IRAQ, BECAUSE THEY WERE AFRAID OF POSSIBLE RETALIATION FROM THE UNITED STATES(U.S.) LED COALITION...

What's good for the goose is good for the gander. If white phosphorus is a chemical weapon when Saddam uses it, it is when the US uses it too. And if Iraqis are to be charged for the use of such weapons, then the American commanders at Fallujah should be right there in the dock beside them.

12 comments:

Aren't nearly all weapons (beside nukes, lasers and magnetic rail guns) chemical weapons?

After all they use a chemical reaction to either propel a hard substance at someone or directly injure them through blast effect or burns.

The Chemical Weapons Convention defines them more narrowly as follows:
1. "Chemical Weapons" means the following, together or separately:

(a) Toxic chemicals and their precursors, except where intended for purposes not prohibited under this Convention, as long as the types and quantities are consistent with such purposes;

(b) Munitions and devices, specifically designed to cause death or other harm through the toxic properties of those toxic chemicals specified in subparagraph (a), which would be released as a result of the employment of such munitions and devices;

(c) Any equipment specifically designed for use directly in connection with the employment of munitions and devices specified in subparagraph (b).


Combustability is not really a form of toxicity.

Not that using white phosphorous on people is very nice, but it's the sort of thing that goes on when you start invading other peoples countries.

Posted by Rich : 11/22/2005 04:05:00 PM

Unnecessarily pedantic (or legalese) I'd have thought Rich..
The issues with mustard gas is not limited to it's toxicity but also to blistering/contact effects.. this is pretty analagous to effects of white phosphorus, and few people would question mustard gas is a chemical weapon.

Posted by Huskynut : 11/22/2005 05:48:00 PM

Iguess the point is intent.
Did the US use WP with the intent of causing blistering etc? or posibly extreme negligence (in that they knew it would at all levels but chose not to think about it).

Posted by Genius : 11/22/2005 10:08:00 PM

You don't need intent Genius, you just need a brain a little larger than a pea. The evidence is already there.

This looks to be shaping up as one of those 'great examples' of U.S. exceptionalism (the real enemy of the U.S.).

Posted by Christiaan : 11/22/2005 10:39:00 PM

Rich: White Phosphorus is toxic, you know. See here for the details. The LD50 is quite low, and even burns can cause heart, liver, and kidney damage.
When it burns (as it does when creating smoke) it creates a cloud of phosphorus pentoxide, which turns to phosphoric acid on skin contact (I've used this in the lab as a dessicant; it's nasty stuff). You may also wish to consider the fact that the chief use of mustard gas was not as a poison, but as a vesicant or blister agent, to blind, burn and incapacitate. People didn't usually die from toxicity, but from blistered lungs.

But most importantly the US accepts it is a chemical weapon (at least when used by other people). They cannot then turn around and deny that it is one when they use it. It really is that simple.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 11/22/2005 11:19:00 PM

Idiot is absolutely spot on. Sauce for the goose...

Personally I have serious moral issues with any weapons that are so non-distinctive with who they kill or injure.

Posted by muerk : 11/23/2005 12:01:00 AM

I think WP might be similar in it's effect as an "incindiary weapon" to good old napalm, which public opinion unanimously rejected as a legitimate form of warfare. Trying to argue that WP is somehow less offensive than napalm as something to throw upon the other guys is just splitting hairs.

Posted by Peter : 11/24/2005 04:28:00 AM

I/S - you have failed to note the difference in the relevant Geneva protocol on the use against civilians and the use against combatants. Still, I wouldn't expect you to let facts get in the way.

Posted by Ross Browne : 11/24/2005 02:54:00 PM

The Chemical Weapons Convention makes no distinction on the victims of such weapons, and in any case in the report cited above, Saddam was using white phosphorus on combatants (described as "Kurdish rebels"; if "insurgants" are combatants, then so are they).

As for your science class post, I suggest you take it up with the DIA. I'm simply applying the same standards to them they would apply to others.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 11/24/2005 03:36:00 PM

That's because they aren't chemical weapons as defined by the convention. The approriate convention is the Certain Conventional Weapons Convention, as I posted on.

I would draw you a diagram, but I'm worried you would think it's the chemical strucuture of sarin gas or something :-)

Posted by Ross Browne : 11/24/2005 06:08:00 PM

Ross: Again, that's not what the DIA thinks. And again, I suggest you argue it with them.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 11/24/2005 06:41:00 PM

Why isn't the U.N. screaming foul to all this? Why isn't that gang of smiling Nazis at the White House never accountable to international tribunals? Some people say that comparing Bush to Saddam or Hitler is an excercise in stupidity, gratuitous mud slinging, unthinkble, and very, very superficial political thinking. I wish they could talk to a WP victim.

Posted by Anonymous : 11/25/2005 02:45:00 AM