Thursday, November 10, 2005

[politics] More on Willie Pete

First off, let's clear up a few things: white phosphorus (WP) is not a chemical weapon - it is an incendiary device that happens to be categorized as a chemical weapon in an international treaty that the US has not signed:
White phosphorus is not banned by any treaty to which the United States is a signatory. Smokes and obscurants comprise a category of materials that are not used militarily as direct chemical agents. The United States retains its ability to employ incendiaries to hold high-priority military targets at risk in a manner consistent with the principle of proportionality that governs the use of all weapons under existing law. The use of white phosphorus or fuel air explosives are not prohibited or restricted by Protocol II of the Certain Conventional Weapons Convention (CCWC), the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons which may be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to have Indiscriminate Effects.
Of course, this puts us in the same league as North Korea and China; pretty much every other nation has signed this treaty. Second, I'm not buying the 'carmelized' corpse skin or burned skin with the clothing untouched as evidence of the use of WP - WP burns everything it touches, including clothing, so if such burns exist, they were caused by some weapon in the US aresnal of which I am unaware. Third, there are some legitimate reasons to question describing the use of WP as criminal. Compare and contrast these two excerpts from US Army Field Manuals (FM), the bibles, if you will, of a soldier's day-to-day existence. First, FM 6-30: Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Observed Fire, Chapter 4, Section II, Paragraph 16 (1991):
4-16. SHELL WHITE PHOSPHORUS Shell white phosphorus (WP) has four uses: incendiary, marking, obscuring, and screening. It can be used to destroy the enemy's equipment or to limit his vision. It is used against the following: Vehicles. Petroleum, oils and lubricants (POL) and ammunition storage areas. Enemy observers. Also, shell WP can be used as an aid in target location and navigation. It can be fired with fuze time to obtain an airburst.
Compare that with this from FM 7-90: Tactical Employment of Mortars, Appendix B, section 10 (1992):
c. The bursting WP round can be used to produce casualties among exposed enemy troops and to start fires. The casualty-producing radius of the WP round is much less than that of the HE round. Generally, more casualties can be produced by firing HE ammunition than by firing WP. However, the WP burst causes a significant psychological effect, especially when used against exposed troops. A few WP mixed into a fire mission of HE rounds may increase the suppressive effect of the fire.
On the one hand, the first manual does not mention WP in an anti-personnel role. On the other, the second manual clearly indicates that WP may be used as part of a 'fire mission', ie. dropping artillery shells on someone's head and blowing the shit out of them. Now, compare that to this, taken from the US Army Command and Staff College's "Battle Book", ST 100-3 (1999), Chapter 5, Section 3
b. Projectiles. [...] (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.
[emphasis mine] This document is more significant than you might realize - the Command and Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, KS (I bet you thought they only had a prison there, eh?) is responsible for training senior officers of the US Army for leadership in staff positions - command positions, ie. generals and those who work with them, both officer and enlisted. If you are a senior grade service member serving in the US Army, this is part and parcel of your training. You need to know this stuff if you're going to lead, or you're out. IMO, this trumps any field manual: the leadership of the US Army has been taught the use of WP is illegal when employed in an anti-personnel role. So, what is the "law of land warfare"? For this, there is (of course) another field manual, FM 27-10 Law of Land Warfare (1976), Chapter 2, Section III, Paragraph 36:
36. Weapons Employing Fire The use of weapons which employ fire, such as tracer ammunition, flamethrowers, napalm and other incendiary agents, against targets requiring their use is not violative of international law. They should not, however, be employed in such a way as to cause unnecessary suffering to individuals.
There you have it. Personally, I think that constitutes a clear case that using WP rounds in an offensive, anti-personnel capacity is illegal. So, how did the US State Department respond to last year's claims that WP and other proscribed arms were used in Fallujah? With bullshit, of course:
Finally, some news accounts have claimed that U.S. forces have used "outlawed" phosphorus shells in Fallujah. Phosphorus shells are not outlawed. U.S. forces have used them very sparingly in Fallujah, for illumination purposes. They were fired into the air to illuminate enemy positions at night, not at enemy fighters. There is a great deal of misinformation feeding on itself about U.S. forces allegedly using "outlawed" weapons in Fallujah. The facts are that U.S. forces are not using any illegal weapons in Fallujah or anywhere else in Iraq.
How did the spokespersons for the US military respond? Again (and I know this will surprise you), with bullshit:
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to read to you from the Geneva Convention on certain conventional weapons, protocol three. "Protocol and Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Incendiary Weapons. Geneva, October 10, 1980. Article I, definitions for the purpose of this protocol. One, incendiary weapon means any weapon or munition which is primarily designed to set fire to objects or to cause burn injury to persons through the action of flame, heat or combination thereof, produced by a chemical reaction of a substance delivered on the target. (a) Incendiary weapons can take the form of, for example, flame throwers, fougasses, shells, rockets, grenades, mines, bombs and other containers of incendiary substances." Lieutenant Colonel Boylan? LT. COL. STEVE BOYLAN: I know of no cases where people were deliberately targeted by the use of white phosphorus. Again, I did not say white phosphorus was used for illumination. White phosphorus is used for obscuration, which white phosphorus produces a heavy thick smoke to shield us or them from view so that they cannot see what we are doing. It is used to destroy equipment, to destroy buildings. That is what white phosphorus shells are used for.
Okay, let's parse these, shall we? The weapons themselves are not illegal - this is true. They are, however, illegal to use against civilians, and are specifically referred to as such in the context of WP in urban warfare. And there were lots of civilians left in Fallujah. They are also illegal to use where they might cause 'unnecessary suffering to individuals' - this means using WP in an anti-personnel role. Next, do either of these statements about the proper use (and the stated use!) of WP jibe with the description of 'shake and bake' fire missions? No. They do not. Whatver you want to call it, 'shake and bake' missions are clearly anti-personnel missions. They were regarded as so successful that troops wished that they had more WP rounds to deploy, remember? "for lethal missions" was the phrase used in Field Artillery, was it not? This violates a central tenet of the international rules of war (damn, that sounds strange, doesn't it?): proportionality. Much as you as an individual are not allowed to blow the fuck out of an unarmed burglar in your home, the military is not allowed to respond to the enemy with disproportionate force. This is part of why the bombing and strafing of the 'Highway of Death' was stopped during Gulf War I: the means exceeded the ends, the response was no longer proportional to the threat. Some will continue to argue that given the presence of dug-in fighters in Fallujah, the use of WP was definitely proportional, otherwise the only alternative would be house-to-house fighting. I would argue that given the presence of civilians in Fallujah, the use of WP was illegal but was seen as a cheap way to inflict maximum casualties. In other words, it was illegal but so what? This "so what" attitude is entirely in keeping with the attitude that Bush II has brought to our nation's leadership - damn the law, we're going to do whatever we feel like. This has been their approach to torture, it has been their approach to domestic law enforcement, and it has been their approach to this war in Iraq. I stand by my initial piece: we have committed war crimes in Fallujah. The use of WP in Fallujah exceeded the limits allowed under international law, it exceeded the limits of covenants that we are party to, and as such we are committing war crimes. Period. War crimes.

3 Comments:

Blogger RTO Trainer said...

Actually, White Phosphorus isn't banned by any treaty, nor has it been classified as a chemical weapon, signed by the US or otherwise. You've misread the document at the link you provide.

FM 6-30 is discussing only shell white phosphorus which is not an offensive munition. 7-90 discusses completley differnt munitions. ST 100-3 discusses yet another muntion, one fired by artillery rather than a mortar. It is prohibited from use on personnel because it's blast radius is too large to be "proportional" in that use. IOW, firing the M110A2 round at troops in a building is quite likley to cause other damage to civilians, civilian structures, or otehr prohibited targets. Its simply too indiscriminate for that use.

White phosphorus is not used for illumination. That's magnesium.

So long as the mortar crews are being controlled by competent and well-trained Forward Observers who are directing fire onto legitimate military targets, there is no foul. If you or anyone else finds evidence that FOs were nto used, or that the FOs improperly directed fire then there's an issue.

11/10/2005 11:16:00 PM  
Blogger protected static said...

FIrst, I didn't think WP could be used for illumination - if you'll note, that was the official word from Foggy Bottom, which I've already dismissed as bullshit.

Second, I'd have thought that ST 100-3's wording was pretty clear, regardless of the specific munition being discussed: "It is against the law of land warfare to employ WP against personnel targets."

Period. That doesn't seem to leave much by way of wiggle room.

My reading of the manuals was that while WP of all classes could be used offensively (as opposed to its other roles in screening or marking missions) to attack POL or installations, it is never intended to primarily be an anti-personnel weapon. That thread seems to run through all of the manuals I read, regardless of the tube size of the weapon involved.

Where there is some more wiggle room is that in an urban environment almost all of your OPFOR are going to be under cover or concealment - in that instance, it seemed to me that WP might be a legitimate munition, as I conceded in my piece.

Your point about FOs is an interesting one - I need to go back and re-read that Field Artillery article, as I seem to remember that a fair amount of space was devoted to discussing the problems that they had with observers...

11/10/2005 11:46:00 PM  
Blogger RTO Trainer said...

Please note that ST 100-3 is organized by (more or less) Battlefield Operating Systems and then by type. This reference is in the chapter on Fire Support and a section Field Artilery. there is a separte section on Mortars. This reference is specifically on Artillery muntions. Further the specific refrence denotes a specific round, the M110A2. I can't see it supporting a blanket policy. It appears very specific to me.

11/11/2005 07:13:00 AM  

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