Burnt with phosphorous

Print edition : December 16, 2005

A documentary made by the Italian state television RAI shows white phosphorous being used by U.S. forces against Iraqi civilians "in a massive and indiscriminate way" during the November 2004 offensive in Fallujah. - RAINEWS24/AP

The United States is caught resorting to the use of torture and chemical weapons against Iraqis whom it wanted ostensibly to liberate from Saddam Hussein.

WITH Iraqi resistance fighters relentlessly piling on the pressure, American occupation forces have been resorting to even more desperate measures to prop up the puppet government in Baghdad. In the first week of November, more than 130 Iraqi civilians were discovered incarcerated at a secret hiding place in Baghdad belonging to the Iraqi Interior Ministry. Many of them had been badly tortured; some had their skins peeled off, others were found paralysed as a result of inhumane interrogation measures. The occupation forces shifted the blame onto the Iraqi Special Forces and the Iraqi Interior Ministry. Yet the fact remains that it was the Americans and the British who trained Iraq's elite military forces.

In the second week of November, The Washington Post revealed the existence of a network of "secret prisons" established by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to interrogate individuals who it thought were connected to Al Qaeda. The Washington Post article said that the CIA was now actively cooperating with foreign intelligence agencies, most of them belonging to Asian countries. Indonesia has been given credit by the Bush administration for actively cooperating in the so-called war against global terrorism. Pakistan too has been actively helping the CIA conduct the war. Indian security agencies are known to be cooperating with the American Federal Bureau of Investigation. Though there is no evidence to suggest that there is cooperation between India's intelligence agencies and the CIA in the "war against terror", it should be noted that the former National Democratic Alliance government in New Delhi signed an agreement with the American government to formalise cooperation between the security agencies of the two countries.

In the same week, details emerged of yet another serious war crime committed by American occupation forces. A documentary on the war made by an Italian television company revealed that American forces had used white phosphorous during their bloody siege of Falluja last November. While the Pentagon spokesman stated that white phosphorous was not used against the civilian populace, the Italian state-run RAI TV said the U.S. had used the chemical in a "massive and indiscriminate way" against civilians during the Falluja offensive. In the face of the evidence, the Pentagon had to admit that United States troops did use the chemical as a weapon against the civilian defenders of Falluja.

The documentary quoted a former ex-marine, Jeff Englehart, as saying that he saw pictures of burned children and women after the bombardment of Falluja. "Burned bodies. Burned children and burned women. White phosphorous kills indiscriminately. It's a cloud that, within 150 metres of impact, will disperse and burn every human being and animal". According to Globalsecurity.org, a security and defence think tank "these weapons are particularly nasty because white phosphorous continues to burn until it disappears - it could burn right to the bone".

A demonstration in Baghdad on November 19 protesting against the Iraqi Interior Ministry special forces with pictures of persons tortured during detention.-KHALID MOHAMMED/AP

U.S. army personnel have admitted that they used white phosphorous on what they called a "shake and bake" mission against guerrilla forces in Falluja. An article published in the March 2005 edition of the American army magazine Field Artillery gives specific details about the use of white phosphorous in the Iraq battlefield. However, the Pentagon spokesman continues to insist that white phosphorous is a "conventional munition". The U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Robert Tuttle, earlier denied that the U.S. forces had ever used the chemical as a "weapon of war". In a letter to the The Independent, he wrote: "U.S. forces do not use napalm or white phosphorous as weapons." The newspaper quoted Professor Paul Rodgers of the University of Bradford as saying that "white phosphorous" would come under the category of chemical weapons if it "was deliberately aimed at people to have a chemical effect".

The 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons banned the use of incendiary devices such as white phosphorous in heavily populated areas. Article Two of Protocol Three bans the use of such weapons against civilians and also military targets located within civilian areas. The U.S. did not sign the agreement.

The firebombing of Hamburg at the end of the Second World War took an estimated 40,000 lives. White phosphorous was widely used in that bombing campaign. According to the Daily Telegraph, Col. Tim Collins, a senior British army commander, trained soldiers under his command in Iraq to use white phosphorous. The officer wrote about this in his recently released autobiography Rules of Engagement. He describes the lethal characteristics of the chemical used during mock drills in Iraq in detail, especially with regard to "house to house" fighting. The officer also mentions that white phosphorous was used by British troops to kill Argentine soldiers in the Falklands war. Britain, unlike the U.S., is a signatory of the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons.

In the third week of November, the United Nations strongly criticised the Bush administration's treatment of prisoners in the infamous Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba. A high-level U.N. team requested permission to visit the prison and meet the prisoners individually, but the American authorities declined. The U.N. has subsequently called for an urgent investigation of the condition of all detainees in Iraqi prisons.

When the invasion of Iraq began in March 2003, there were widespread reports about American forces using napalm. Senior American military officers are now confirming that they did drop "mark 77 firebombs" while approaching Baghdad. These bombs contain napalm. The Bush administration had initially sought to justify its invasion of Iraq on the grounds that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, including chemical and biological weapons. Those claims turned out to be hollow. Now, the U.S. government has been caught using torture on a massive scale along with chemical weapons on the hapless people of Iraq, whom it ostensibly wanted to liberate.

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