November 20, 2005
The distant horror of
roasting human beings alive translated comfortingly into a kitchen smell.
It was the characteristic smell of garlic that betrayed the mushroom
clouds over Fallujah as the dissemination of white phosphorus. And I mean
One soldier said, "I heard
the order to pay attention because they were going to use white phosphorus
on Fallujah. In military jargon, it's known as Willie Pete. Phosphorus
burns bodies; in fact it melts the flesh all the way down to the bone. ...
I saw the burned bodies of women and children. Phosphorus explodes and
forms a cloud. Anyone within a radius of 150 meters is done for."
The inevitability with which
white phosphorus is dis-semen-ated abroad under the fond nick-name,
Willie Pete, a nickname from Vietnam Body-melt and bawdy-talk.
Let no one overlook the
pornography of this war.
The imperial member flaunts
itself over the dismemberment of a city.
Willie Pete. Also
called Whisky Papa.
Let no one overlook the
phallocentrism of this war.
Last November, after the
second siege of Fallujah, Dahr Jamail, an unembedded reporter interviewed
a Fallujah doctor who saw civilians suffering unusual burns. He cited
reports that the US was using "weird bombs that put up smoke like a
mushroom cloud" and that "pieces of these bombs explode into large fires
that continued to burn on the skin even after people dumped water on the
burns." The doctor "treated people who had their skin melted."
"A rain of fire came down on
the city, and people targeted by the different coloured substances began
to burn. We found people dead, with strange injuries, with their clothes
intact," said a Fallujah biologist.
So strange that during the
first siege of Fallujah in April 2004, Iraqi police arrested two
journalists from al-Arabiya and their videocassettes were
confiscated. Freelance journalist Enzo Baldoni, killed in Iraq in August
2004, was working on Fallujah. Il Manifesto reporter Giuliana
Sgrena was investigating accounts of Fallujah refugees when she was
kidnapped in February 2005.
The dissemination of white
clouds and the dissemination of black operations.
Last year the State
Department's Counter Misinformation Office insisted that WP was
only "fired into the air to illuminate enemy positions at night, not at
And this year again they
denied using it.
Even when on November 8,
Italian state satellite TV channel RAI News 24 broadcast a
documentary "Fallujah -- the Hidden Massacre" by Sigfrido Ranucci and
Maurizio Torrealta to mark the one-year anniversary of the siege and
destruction. The documentary seems to show footage and eyewitness accounts
of civilians burned alive in their homes, bodies melted with clothing
By then even the Pentagon had
admitted that WP was used both to obscure troop movements and "fire at the
Still, the US ambassador in
Italy and London insisted that WP was only used as an obscurant or to mark
So it was left to the
bloggers to blow the whistle. Stephen D., on Daily Kos, unearthed
the armyís own buried voice in the
March-April issue of
Field Artillery, the magazine of the US Field Artillery:
"We used it for screening
missions ... and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon
against insurgents in trench lines and spider holes ... We fired 'shake
and bake' missions at the insurgents using WP to flush them out and high
explosive shells (HE) to take them out."
Kos added the bland
testimony of an embedded reporter from San Diego:
"Bogert is a mortar team
leader who directed his men to fire round after round of high explosives
and white phosphorus charges into the city Friday and Saturday, never
knowing what the targets were or what damage the resulting explosions
It was only when Kosís
evidence turned up with lightning speed in the British press on November 9
that the state department backtracked and changed its website.
So now WP was used at
Fallujah. At least for psychological effect.
Otherwise called terror.
Let no one overlook the
terrorism of this war.
The Theo-logicians of
But maybe WP was used also
for other reasons. Hereís a Washington Post article from 2004:
"Some artillery guns fired
white phosphorous rounds that create a screen of fire that cannot be
extinguished with water. Insurgents reported being attacked with a
substance that melted their skin, a reaction consistent with white
And so now a new game has to
Sure, WP was used, but could
WP have caused those hideous injuries in the film without burning clothes?
Can bodies melt like grilled cheese between slices of bread?
Impossible, say the
Impossible, says even John
Pike, director of the respected military studies group
GlobalSecurity.org: "If it hits your clothes it will burn your clothes
and if it hits your skin it will just keep on burning."
Consider the propaganda
potential of a weapon whose effects are "impossible" even for the most
acute observers. Whose effects on the body can be passed off as normal
biological decomposition. Which would allow us to believe comfortingly
that the US could never be guilty of the very crimes -- or worse -- for
which it condemns Saddam Hussein.
But Pike had not seen the RAI
film at the time he spoke.
And Pikeís own site
GlobalSecurity.org has this to say:
"If burning particles of WP
strike and stick to the clothing, take off the contaminated clothing
quickly before the WP burns through to the skin. Remove quickly all
clothing affected by phosphorus to prevent phosphorus burning through to
Which is to say that exposed
body parts could easily be burned even while clothes were left intact. And
that could well have happened in a massive WP attack Of the kind we now
know took place at Fallujah.
So then the game shifts
OK, WP was used and used
(maybe) against civilians. But who says itís banned?
Peter Kaiser, spokesman for the Organization for the Prohibition of
Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which enforces the Convention against Chemical
Weapons, says that WP can be used for "military purposes not connected
with the use of chemical weapons and not dependent on the use of the toxic
properties of chemicals as a method of warfare."
Translated this means, sure,
we can use them so long as we donít use them for the purposes of
chemical weapons. Since the WP burns were thermic not chemical they
arenít prohibited by the treaty.
Do you get that?
Itís OK to melt human beings
down like metal in a furnace so long as itís not chemical.
Because if itís chemical,
then it joins sarin and mustard gas and VX as too painful and
Death by physics. But not by
chemistry. Like birth control by biology. But not by physics. Theological
disseminations of the Whisky Papa in heaven.
Whose kingdom comes.
And who is this Peter Kaiser,
head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, who
interprets conventions with the nicety of a schoolman? Why, it turns out
that only three years ago he was spokesman for the same body at the very
time its then head, Jose Bustani, was being unceremoniously booted out by
a vote of all 145 members in a special session that was the first in the
OPCWís five-year history. A session sponsored by none other than the US.
A former ambassador to Moscow
and the UN, the Brazilian Bustani had been unanimously re-elected for a
second four-year term the previous May and knew quite well why he was
being shown the door. His little faux pas had been to urge Iraq to join
the OPCW. That would have let inspectors into the country who might have
proved that there were no Iraqi WMD. And would have put a kybosh in US
plans for the place. So, he was accused of mismanagement and incompetence
and kicked out, even though an audit found nothing wrong with his books.
More pliant souls took up the slack. Souls more prone to the theo-logic of
the American kingdom coming.
So that even if white
phosphorus were banned, we could always fall back on intentions. We never
intend anything: The theo-logicians of empire move the debate from the
bloody effects of power to the bloodless legalism of intentions. To the
unprincipled principles of a phallocentric reason.
Let no one overlook the
rationality of this war.
Intentions and purposes which
can be parsed endlessly while new atrocities are committed and forgotten.
Itís not simply that a
sequence of concealment, denial, and reluctant admission repeats itself
over and over. In the case of white phosphorus. And napalm. And torture.
But that it should be allowed
to repeat itself. Like the icy repetitive chatter of a lunatic.
That it should still be
possible to ask, sanely, whether or not some convention or other was --
mark the word -- violated or not. Said violation to be measured
always by consents, intents, and purposes as measured and measurable by
conventions as an eighteenth century seduction.
It takes a woman, Kathy
Kelly, to cry out, to act against the Pharisees of the law. Enough of
legal quibbles; only connect, she says, speaking the wisdom of the
Wisdom that cries like a
voice in the wilderness.
The dissemination of
propaganda relies on the in-semen-ation of the gendered ideology of
law. The ideology of law in the liberal state, which can always be twisted
to suit our purposes. Which gave us going into Iraq the mushroom cloud
cover of our spotless intentions about Weapons of Mass Destruction. And
gives us again the same cloud cover of our spotless intentions about white
Let no one overlook the
liberalism of this war.
The liberalism which can
never admit the war porn of our white phosphorus and the mind f--- of our
is a free-lance writer in Baltimore and the author of
The Language of Empire: Abu Ghraib and the US Media
(Monthly Review Press, 2005).
She can be reached at:
Copyright (c) 2005 by Lila Rajiva
Used Chemical Weapons Against Iraq, a Dissident Voice compilation