Thursday, November 17, 2005

"Thou has committed fornication....

"But that was in another country/and besides, the wench is dead."--Christopher Marlowe

AMY GOODMAN: But the Pentagon was caught in a lie after it was revealed that an official Army publication called Field Artillery magazine had disclosed the Army had, in fact, used white phosphorus as a weapon. The magazine in its March/April issue reported, quote, "White phosphorus proved to be an effective and versatile munition and a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes." The magazine went on to report, quote, "We fired ‘shake and bake’ missions at the insurgents using W.P. [white phosphorus] to flush them out and H.E. [high explosives] to take them out." On Tuesday, Lieutenant Colonel Barry Venable, another Pentagon spokesperson, admitted on the BBC that white phosphorus was used as an offensive weapon to target insurgents.
"I: Constable Clitoris and I are from the 'ygiene squad, and we'd like to have a word with you about your box of chocolates entitled the "Whizzo Quality Assortment".
H: Oh, yes.
I: If I may begin at the beginning. First there is the Cherry Fondue.
Now this is extremely nasty. (pause) But we can't prosecute you for that.
H: Ah, agreed.
I: Then we have number four. Number four: Crunchy Frog.
H: Yes.
I: Am I right in thinking there's a real frog in 'ere?
H: Yes, a little one.
I: What sort of frog?
H: A...a *dead* frog.
I: Is it cooked?
H: No.
I: What, a RAW frog?!?
H: Oh, we use only the finest baby frogs, dew-picked and flown from Iraq, cleansed in the finest quality spring water, lightly killed, and sealed in a succulent, Swiss, quintuple-smooth, treble-milk chocolate envelope, and lovingly frosted with glucose.
I: That's as may be, but it's still a frog!
H: What else?
I: Well, don't you even take the bones out?
H: If we took the bones out, it wouldn't be crunchy, would it?
I: Constable Clitoris et one of those!! We have to protect the public!"

The Pentagon's admission - despite earlier denials - that US troops used white phosphorus as a weapon in Falluja last year is more than a public relations issue - it has opened up a debate about the use of this weapon in modern warfare.

The admission contradicted a statement this week from the new and clearly under-briefed US ambassador in London Robert Holmes Tuttle that US forces "do not use napalm or white phosphorus as weapons".

The official line to that point had been that WP, or Willie Pete to use its old name from Vietnam, was used only to illuminate the battlefield and to provide smoke for camouflage.

This line however crumbled when bloggers (whose influence must not be under-estimated these days) ferreted out an article published by the US Army's Field Artillery Magazine in its issue of March/April this year.

The article, written by a captain, a first lieutenant and a sergeant, was a review of the attack on Falluja in November 2004 and in particular of the use of indirect fire, mainly mortars.
"I: Now what about this one, number five, it was number five, wasn't it? Number five: Ram's Bladder Cup. (beat) Now, what sort of confectionery is that?!?
H: Oh, we use only the finest juicy chunks of fresh Cornish Ram's bladder, emptied, steamed, flavoured with sesame seeds, whipped into a fondue, and garnished with lark's vomit.
H: Correct.
I: It doesn't say anything here about lark's vomit!
H: Ah, it does, at the bottom of the label, after "monosodium glutamate".
I: I hardly think that's good enough! I think it's be more appropriate if the box bore a great red label: "WARNING: LARK'S VOMIT!!!"
H: Our sales would plummet!"
This tactic of forcing opponents out of cover is not new and should not really have come as a surprise. An article looking back at the Vietnam war published in 1996 by a US armoured unit (1st Battalion, 69th Armor) referred to "Willie Pete" weapons and their use in getting North Vietnamese troops to leave their positions:

"Our normal procedure was to fire these things at a hillside as soon as possible in order to get them out of the fighting compartment."

One wonders of course if, in Falluja, WP was used more directly to kill insurgents and not just to flush them out. In battle, soldiers take short cuts and this seems an obvious one.
I: We have to protect the public! People aren't going to think there's a real
frog in chocolate! Constable Clitoris thought it was an almond whirl!
They're bound to expect some sort of mock frog!
H: (outraged) MOCK frog!?! We use NO artificial additives or preservatives of ANY kind!
The debate about WP centres partly though not wholly on whether it is really a chemical weapon. Such weapons are outlawed by the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) to which the United States is a party.

The CWC is monitored by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, based in The Hague. Its spokesman Peter Kaiser was asked if WP was banned by the CWC and he had this to say:

"No it's not forbidden by the CWC if it is used within the context of a military application which does not require or does not intend to use the toxic properties of white phosphorus. White phosphorus is normally used to produce smoke, to camouflage movement.

"If that is the purpose for which the white phosphorus is used, then that is considered under the Convention legitimate use.

"If on the other hand the toxic properties of white phosphorus, the caustic properties, are specifically intended to be used as a weapon, that of course is prohibited, because the way the Convention is structured or the way it is in fact applied, any chemicals used against humans or animals that cause harm or death through the toxic properties of the chemical are considered chemical weapons."

The US can say therefore that this is not a chemical weapon and further, it argues that it is not the toxic properties but the heat from WP which causes the damage. And, this argument goes, since incendiary weapons are not covered by the CWC, therefore the use of WP against combatants is not prohibited.

However the United States has not signed up to a convention covering incendiary weapons which seeks to restrict their use.

This convention has the cumbersome title "Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons." Agreed in 1980, its Protocol III covers "Prohibitions or Restrictions on use of Incendiary Weapons."

This prohibits WP or other incendiaries (like flamethrowers) against civilians or civilian objects and its use by air strikes against military targets located in a concentration of civilians. It also limits WP use by other means (such as mortars or direct fire from tanks) against military targets in a civilian area. Such targets have to be separated from civilian concentrations and "all feasible precautions" taken to avoid civilian casualties.
"I: (continuing) And what is this one: Spring Surprise?
H: Ah, that's one of our specialities. Covered in dark, velvety chocolate, when you pop it into your mouth, stainless steel bolts spring out and plunge straight through both cheeks.
I: (stunned) Well where's the pleasure in THAT?!? If people pop a nice little chockie into their mouth, they don't expect to get their cheeks pierced!!!"

From the Battle Book ST 100-3, (1999) U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Leavenworth, Kansas, Chapter 5:

(4) Burster Type White phosphorus (WP M110A2) rounds burn with intense heat and emit dense white smoke. They may be used as the initial rounds in the smokescreen to rapidly create smoke or against material targets, such as Class V sites or logistic sites. It is against the law of land warfare to employ WP against personnel targets.
"I: (stunned) I shall have to ask you to accompany me to the station.
H: (shrugging) It's a fair cop.
I: And DON'T talk to the audience."

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