Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Pentagon's ever changing story on using white phosphorous in Falluja

Reporting for the Associated Press, Robert Burns ("Pentagon Used White Phosphorous in Iraq") informs us that:

Pentagon officials acknowledged Tuesday that U.S. troops used white phosphorous as a weapon against insurgent strongholds during the battle of Fallujah last November. But they denied an Italian television news report that the spontaneously flammable material was used against civilians.

Although this AP story doesn't acknowledge the source for this news, it does credit Lt. Col. Barry Venable.

For background, the report was broken by the BBC, "US used white phosphorus in Iraq:"

The Pentagon has confirmed that US troops used white phosphorus during last year's offensive in the northern Iraqi city of Falluja.
"It was used as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants," spokesman Lt Col Barry Venable told the BBC - though not against civilians, he said.
The US earlier denied it had been used in Falluja at all.

"Earlier" as in "all along" the US denied it had been used. But the use of white phosphorus was actually confirmed last week, also by a "Lt Col."

From Democracy Now!'s "A Debate: Did the U.S. Military Attack Iraqi Civilians With White Phosphorous Bombs in Violation of the Geneva Conventions?" (November 8th, exactly one week ago):

AMY GOODMAN: So are you confirming that you used white phosphorus in Fallujah, but saying that it's simply not illegal?
LT. COL. STEVE BOYLAN: White phosphorus has been used. I do not recall it was used as an offensive weapon. White phosphorus is used for marking targets for both air and ground forces. White phosphorus is used to destroy equipment and other types of things. It is used to destroy weapons caches. And it is used to produce a white smoke which can obscure the enemy's vision of what we are doing.
AMY GOODMAN: And you're using it in Iraq?
LT. COL. STEVE BOYLAN: We have used it in the past. It is a perfectly legal weapon to use.
AMY GOODMAN: Maurizio Torrealta, news editor for the Italian state broadcaster, RAI 24. Your response?
MAURIZIO TORREALTA: Well, the United States, as the UK and Italy, signed the convention about prohibition of chemical weapons. And the convention define precisely that what make forbidden an agent, a chemical agent, is not the chemical agent itself. Because as Lieutenant said, the white phosphorus can be used to light the scene of a battle. And in that case, it's acceptable. But what make a chemical agent forbidden is the use that is done with it. If you use white phosphorus to kill the people, to burn and to block them, people and animals, even animals say the convention that we all sign, Italy, United States and UK, this is a forbidden chemical agent.
And we are full of picture that show bodies of young people, of children, of women which have strange -- particular, they are dead with a big corruption of the skin and show even the bone. And the clothes are intact, untouched. And that shows there has been an aggressive agent like white phosphorus that has done that. And we have all the number of those bodies and the place where they have been buried. So any international organization that wanted to inquire about that has all the tools and information to do it. And even the witness -- the U.S. military that we interview confirmed that the use of white phosphorus was against the population. And we have even picture of the fact that has been told by the helicopter down to the city, not by the ground up in the air to light the scene. Also the images, they spoke by themselves.

The news, which the BBC broke today, is that the US military is now admitting that it was used as a weapon. They're claiming that they used it only on "insurgents" and not on civilians.

Considering that the US military has denied using it until this month a real press would be buzzing with questions right now.

Actually, they would have been buzzing when Steve Boylan, speaking for the Pentagon, confirmed it on Democracy Now! -- but there's been no buzz.

Is the military claiming white phosphorus is a "smart weapon"? How are they determing who was present when it was used?

The slaughter of Falljua was not a one day event. (The November 2004 one is the one we're referring to.) But the domestic mainstream press has never demonstrated any interest in probing it. They've been happy to pick up awards for rah-rah, video-game coverage (Dexter Filkins), but they've refused to report on what happened in Falluja.

If they had been willing, it might not have taken a year to force a confirmation that the Pentagon used it. Or, a week later, that not only did they use it but, despite Steve Boylan's claims, they used it as a weapon.

While the domestic mainstream media has been more than happy to report myths and happy talk on Falluja, reality has been in short supply. Democracy Now! receives no credit from the mainstream media (are they scared of it -- probably) and now the AP strips the BBC of their credit.

We've gotten press releases from the Green Zone (plus Dexy's "award winning" 'reporting') but we haven't gotten much truth.

Some will read Robert Burns' AP story and think, wrongly, that the US mainstream media is hot on the trail of the real story. They'll read it and think, "Wow, that AP broke a story!" They repeated a story that they added a little to. That's all they did.

As for the BBC, will they stand by the story this time? This time because last week they were flipping like flap jacks. (Click on "White Death . . ." and that takes you to a Dahr Jamail archive, from which you'll click on "BBC and Fallujah: War Crimes . . ." The Brussels Tribunal doesn't provide individual web page addresses.)

Let's note this from Democracy Now!'s "A Debate: Did the U.S. Military Attack Iraqi Civilians With White Phosphorous Bombs in Violation of the Geneva Conventions?:"

AMY GOODMAN: Jeff Englehart, you are the Specialist -- former U.S. Specialist in the Army, a member now speaking out against the war. You are interviewed in this documentary explaining how white phosphorus was used in Fallujah. Can you tell us more?
JEFF ENGLEHART: Oh, yeah. I mean, I definitely heard it being called for. And I even talked to reconnaissance scouts after the siege, and they said they had actually called for it. The Pentagon spokesperson says that they use this for concealment, or some sources say they use it for illumination. But, I mean, I think that's ridiculous, because we would use -- just based on my training as a reconnaissance scout myself, we would use illumination separately, as it’s on exclusive ground. Since my training, we were taught that white phosphorus is used for troops out in the open or to destroy equipment and that it burns and that the only way to prevent the burning is to douse it with wet mud.
To me, it's definitely a chemical weapon in the fact that it burns, and it burns indiscriminately. In fact, the use of white phosphorus violates the Geneva protocol for the prohibition of use in war of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases and bacterial methods of warfare. So, I mean, even if the Geneva Protocol says it's illegal, I don't see how we're able to use it and then say that it's used for our own cover or illumination, when it actually could hurt our own troops. So I just think that, from the very top, the big problem with this war is that from the very top to the lowest level soldier, everyone's being lied to. And then the news gets gentrified by the mass media to make it sound like, 'Oh, well, white phosphorus is a good weapon that we can use to help spot targets,' when it's actually designed to burn its victims.

Please note, the Pentagon spokesperson, faced with that last week, continued to deny that white phosphorous was used as a weapon in Falluja. Now they want to say that it was used as a weapon but only on "insurgents."

A working press would be all over this story. A working press would note that the admission-denial that preceded (by one week) the latest admission would call the credibility of the Pentagon into question on this issue. They'd be working to get to the bottom of this.

Will that happen? Probably not at the New York Times. They're too invested in the "award winning" reporting of Dexter Filkins. Last week, I noted here (repeatedly, to the point of harping on it, Thursday was the longest entry on this topic) that Judith Miller's departure didn't change a thing at the paper. (Ruth also noted that in her Ruth's Morning Edition Report Saturday.)

We'll wind down by again noting the Democracy Now! report:

MAURIZIO TORREALTA: Well, that is a serious problem for information, the fact that you got only information that are controlled when you are embedded. You might find an agreement that obliges you to accept the fact that you are not going to give out information that could jeopardize or make difficulties for the army you are embedded with. So that is a serious problem that was not coming out from one end of journalists, staying only from one side of the fight.

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