Thursday, November 17, 2005

Tell 'em Willie Pete Was Here

Well, knock me down and sear my skin to the texture of IHOP bacon, it turns out that the U.S. military does use white phosphorus. But don't confuse this flesh-burning confection with a chemical weapon, silly -- this is just a lil' ol' incendiary.

Reuters reports:

"Army Lt. Col. Barry Venable, a Pentagon spokesman, said the U.S. military had not used the highly flammable weapons against civilians, contrary to an Italian state television report this month that stated the munitions were used against men, women and children in Falluja who were burned to the bone.

"'We categorically deny that claim,' Venable said."

It reminds us of this chestnut from 19th century German Chancellor Otto von Bismack: "Never believe in anything until it has been officially denied."

... But I digress.

Meanwhile, an Italian satellite news channel reported in a special, "Fallujah: The Hidden Massacre," that U.S. troops used white phosphorus, called Willie Pete (evidently by Vietnam-era GIs who longed for Bill Mauldin cartoons), on civilians and military targets alike.

Whatever the truth, The Washington Post's William M. Arkin offers this perspective on the matter:

"I for one am reluctant to pronounce whether the use of white phosphorous for 'shake and bake' missions in Fallujah and the evident blundering use of white phosphorous in areas known to be occupied by civilians is illegal. Neither am I buying the State Department's line that the use of white phosphorous in this way -- that is, to possibly inflict unnecessary suffering -- is not 'illegal' use.\

"What I'm sure of is that the use of white phosphorous is not just some insensitive act. It is not just bad P.R. It is the ill thought out and panicked use of a weapon in an illegitimate way. It is a representation of a losing strategy.

"U.S. military forces have the most stringent legal rules, the most aggressive internal lawyer class, the most constraining rules of engagement with regard to the laws of war and civilian casualties -- even under the shoot-em-first-ask-questions-later Bush administration. Those rules are scrupulously followed, as long as everything is going well and the chain of command is strong and in control.

"When the chain of command breaks down and military formations turn into a mob, Abu Ghraib's result. When forces are frustrated by sandstorms or suicide bombers and pressured by the boss to move quicker, the incentive to unload with firebombs or cluster bombs or to be a little lighter on the trigger results, even if these might not otherwise be the preferred munitions or the preferred methods, because, as we all know, we are not just trying to win in a conventional military way in Iraq, we are also trying to win the peace."

For more on the use of Willie Pete, we humbly offer this BBC story.


At 8:41 PM, Blogger Scribe said...

"'We categorically deny that claim,' Venable said."

Would that be the same Army that denied even using the weapon in the first place just a few days ago?

That's what I thought.


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