Monday, November 21, 2005

NYT: "Defense of Phosphorus Use Turns Into Damage Control" (Scott Shane)

Scott Shane has an article* in the paper today. "They said" is the hallmark of the piece. It's on Falluja (which the Times has an interest, a self-interest, in since their "award winning" Dexter Filkins -- aka "Put me on the jet with Chalabi!" -- was present). It's on white phosphorus.

Shane's discussing the Italian documentary, one that he apparently hasn't seen due to the use of "they said" (or "they say").

Here's the best part of the article ("Defense of Phosphorus Use Turns Into Damage Control"):

After the Italian documentary was broadcast, the American ambassadors to Italy, Ronald P. Spogli, and to Britain, Robert H. Tuttle, echoed the stock defense, denying that white phosphorus munitions had been used against enemy fighters, let alone civilians. At home, on the public radio program "Democracy Now," Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, an American military spokesman, said, "I know of no cases where people were deliberately targeted by the use of white phosphorus."
But those statements were incorrect. Firsthand accounts by American officers in two military journals note that white phosphorus munitions had been aimed directly at insurgents in Falluja to flush them out. War critics and journalists soon discovered those articles.
In the face of such evidence, the Bush administration made an embarrassing public reversal last week. Pentagon spokesmen admitted that white phosphorus had been used directly against Iraqi insurgents. "It's perfectly legitimate to use this stuff against enemy combatants," Colonel Venable said Friday.
While he said he could not rule out that white phosphorus hit some civilians, "U.S. and coalition forces took extraordinary measures to prevent civilian casualties in Falluja."

Shane notes the Democracy Now! interview which puts him way ahead of any other reporter on this from the mainstream. And if you just read that section (the end of the article), no problem. But to get to that part, you have to wade through a ton of "they said"s and you have allegations. Some presented as fact:

It [the documentary] incorrectly referred to white phosphorus shells - a munition of nearly every military commonly used to create smoke screens or fires - as banned chemical weapons.

On a Thursday post we noted this exchange from Democracy Now!:

JUAN GONZALEZ: And George Monbiot, this news is now beginning to spread on the corporate media here in the United States. But what's happening in Britain? Are you having similar battles between the corporate media and the internet?
GEORGE MONBIOT: Well, the corporate media has picked it up pretty well comprehensively, and they have messed it up pretty well comprehensively. The misreporting of this issue is second almost to none that I've ever come across before. They have managed to mix up the use of white phosphorus against military versus civilian targets. For example, repeatedly, I'm saying, in the media, that it's a war crime if it's used against civilians but not if it’s used against the military. The Chemical Weapons Convention does not mention the word civilian. It does not mention the word non-combatant. There is no distinction made. If you use white phosphorus as a weapon against human beings, that is a war crime. It doesn't matter whether those human beings are civilians. It doesn't matter whether they are military. It remains a war crime.
They've mixed up several other things, as well. And the result of this is that if we're not careful, we can see excuses made for the use of this weapon as a weapon of war. And the whole point of the Chemical Weapons Convention is to prevent that from recurring. If we look back to the first World War and saw how mustard gas and phosgene were used and saw in the subsequent commemorations of that war these lines and lines of men with their hands on each other's shoulders walking along, because they could not see, because they had been blinded by this gas or their lungs had been destroyed by this gas, the undermining of the Chemical Weapons Convention threatens to bring about the kind of gas warfare which we saw in the first World War and which we saw in the war between Iran and Iraq. It's absolutely essential that we get this story right and we make it completely impossible for states such as the United States or, indeed, any other, to use poison toxic chemicals as a weapon of war and to use it ever again.

The excerpt is from "Pentagon Reverses Position and Admits U.S. Troops Used White Phosphorous Against Iraqis in Fallujah." The man speaking to Juan Gonzalaz is:

George Monbiot, a columnist for the Guardian of London. He published an article titled "The US Used Chemical Weapons in Iraq - And Then Lied About It."

If Shane's got information Monbiot doesn't, it needs to be in the paper's article. No such information is in the article. Wade through at your own risk.

Remember to watch Democracy Now! this morning (listen or read). The e-mail address for this site is

[*Note: Many times here I make a point to say "Smith or 'Smith' writes. . ." to indicate that articles, despite their byline, are often reworked by someone other than the credited author or authors. E-mails to this site, which I take with a grain of salt, from people at the paper as well as conversations with friends at the paper, which I take more seriously, indicate that Scott Shane's Monday article had some reworking by someone other than Scott Shane. It should always be remembered that this does happen but I honestly don't have the time to note it everytime. Nor do I always remember to. This has been the largest criticism from people at the paper who've e-mailed -- that they take the fall for something that does not reflect what they wrote. Due to conversations, which I do take more seriously, I'll note that the word is Shane's story was reworked by someone other than Shane. I'll also add this note to Monday's entry due to the amount of e-mails on this, from people at the paper, and due to the conversations with friends at the paper. However, noted or not, criticism here should always factor in the "Shane or 'Shane' writes . . ." issue. (Note added 11-26-05 and originally appearing in this entry.)]