ARC's 1st Law: As a "progressive" online discussion grows longer, the probability of a nefarious reference to Karl Rove approaches one

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Willie Pete

Many electronic bits have been used to decry the alleged use of White Phosphorous (aka Willie Pete) in an attack in Iraq. Amy Goodman's Democracy Now! discussed this recently. I don't know the details as to whether this event actually occured or not. But, as with the Geneva Conventions and their applicability to illegal combatants (aka terrorists), the Left is disingenous when they claim that we're acting in violation of international treaties.

For more information on White Phosphorous and its potential uses (most commonly as a smoke screen), see this WikiPedia entry.

It turns out that White Phosphorous is a banned incendiary under Protocol III of the UN Convention on Conventional Weapons. However, as with Protocol II of the Geneva Conventions which automatically affords terrorists with POW status, the US is not a signatory to the protocol that restricts the use of incendiaries such as Willie Pete and napalm.

In fact, Amy Goodman reads directly from Protocol III of the Convention on Conventional Weapons to describe Willie Pete as a restricted weapon.

LT. COL. STEVE BOYLAN: Well, part of what he was saying was fading in and out, so I'm not clear on everything he said. But again, I would assert that [White Phosphorous] is a legal weapon to use. It is not considered a chemical weapon as chemical weapons are described today. And again, he is again in error. And I would stack up my 21 years of training in the military versus his and what his profession is now. All of our chemical weapons have been declared to the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons are being destroyed in the United States in accordance with our obligations under the chemical weapons convention. So he, again, is in error that it is considered a chemical weapon, as are all other individuals asserting that fact.

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. [aka Protocol III] 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.

Surely she knows that we are not a signatory to this protocol? Jimmy Carter (and his successors) never signed this protocol... She's either a liar or stupid. I'll let her pick which...

Check out John Cole's Balloon Juice for more info... And the Kossacks are in a tizzy over this, too - even calling White Phosphorous a Chemical Weapon. (Are they really this stupid?)

Tip of the Hat to the "intellectual" insurgent.

Be sure to check out the Daily Ablution and Protein Wisdom as well. Both debunk the claims being made regarding the use of Willie Pete (as opposed to my position which is that it doesn't matter if it was used or not - we're in a friggin' war and all approved weapons should be "on the table". And that isn't to say that White Phosphorous is an offensive weapon - it's primary use is as an obscurant, not to inflict damage on the enemey. But to say that the US military shouldn't be able to use such a tool in warfare is ludicrous.)

Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: St Wendeler

Comments (6)
Intellectual Insurgent said...

St. Wendeler,

Thanks for the information and thanks for the hat tip.

Does the fact that the US did not sign Protocol III affect whether something is classified as a chemical weapon? Should it?

The question isn't whether it was legal or not. The question is whether it is moral. If something has the capacity to dissolve someone's skin on contact, shouldn't that be prohibited? Was the American soldier lying about what he saw?

I would bet money that if Saddam used WP on his citizenry, the spinmeisters would call it a chemical weapon in a heartbeat. What do you think?

St Wendeler said...

Well, Protocol III does not classify WP as a chemical agent... it classifies it as an incendiary. So, no... it's not a chemical weapon.

Can it be painful to die from WP? Sure... it's also painful to die from Napalm... and High Explosive IEDs. If you're asking whether it's moral to kill in a time of war, I suppose we can have that conversation - but I think it's beyond this specific debate. Amy Goodman and Co aren't asking whether it's moral.. they're arguing that the US military is acting ILLEGALLY in this war on terror - from our unwillingness to extend POW status to illegal combatants (which we are not required to do because we didn't sign Geneva Convention Protocol II - Carter wasn't dumb).

I don't think WP would be classified as a chemical weapon... mustard gas? yes.. VX gas? sure... white phosphorous? I think the military guys would be laughing if we tried to claim that it was a WMD, as they are undoubtedly laughing right now...

St Wendeler

Intellectual Insurgent said...

If WP wouldn't be classified as a chemical weapon, why did the Lieutenant in the interview say that they don't use it against people?

What's the difference between a chemical weapon and an incendiary? Can't something be both?

BTW - thanks for all the information. I appreciate your knowledge on the subject.

Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden said...

11 09 05

Hello I found you via II's blog. EXCELLENT source of info. And yes in times of war, people die. Like I said on II's blog we nuked Hiroshima and Nagasaki because we wanted to WIN (and test out the new technology). If the purpose of war is to WIN, how much sense does it make to regulate which weapons can be used and which not, if the end goal is the same: DEATH to ones enemy?

Great job!

Intellectual Insurgent said...


Although your logic is appealing, let's hope it doesn't come back to bite us.

St Wendeler said...

II - Yes, a weapon could be considered an incendiary and a chemical weapon. WP is considered the former and not the latter, as its use is specifically banned by signatories to Protocol II.

The US has signed up to the ban on chemical weapons and, according to the terms of that Protocol, we identified all chemical weapons in our position and are destroying them.

We are not destroying White Phosphorous shells because they are not considered to be chemical weapons. M1A1 tanks go into battle with WP shells to mark targets... This is as conventional a weapon as it gets.