After about a week of denying Italian state television claims that the U.S. military used white phosphorous against insurgents in last year’s battle of Falluja, the Pentagon finally admitted yesterday that they had indeed used the incendiary bombs.
However, the military continues to insist that the white phosphorous was not used against civilians (another claim made by the Italians), which would be illegal under international law. Rather, according to Pentagon spokesman Lt Col Barry Venable, it was employed as part of a “shake and bake” campaign: “US forces used white phosphorous both in its classic screening mechanism and … when they encountered insurgents who were in foxholes and other covered positions who they could not dislodge any other way.” Once “dislodged” (presumably the “shake”), the insurgents were then shot (the “bake”).
Those details, of course, were irrelevant to most bloggers, who saw in this disclosure exactly what they wanted to see. Chris Greece at The Reign of Terror thinks the use of white phosphorous is proof that “America considers itself ‘better’ than everybody else, and as such, it is quite within its right to do unto others what it itself does not want done to itself.” He continues, “Of course, this is not new. This has been consistent behavior that goes as far back as the extermination of the majority Amerindian population in what is now the USA. Whether through contaminated blankets that caused severe smallpox outbreaks or free flowing whisky during the expansion era, massive aerial bombings of civilians during WWII, extensive use of toxins during the Vietnam war or the use of Depleted Uranium and white phosphorus in Iraq today, U.S. policy remains firm: give them your worst and expect the best.”
Some bloggers have focused on the military’s uncharacteristic “flip-flopping” on the story, as Michal Stickings put it at the Moderate Voice: “Why deny it, then un-deny it? Again, phosphorus may not be a ‘chemical’ weapon in the sense of a WMD (TNT is also a chemical, the argument goes — indeed, everything is ‘chemical,’ strictly speaking, but that’s just postmodern flattening), and there may (repeat: may) be good reasons for using it on the battlefield, but the Bush administration must know that the use of phosphorus as a weapon doesn’t look good. That is, phosphorus may not be a chemical weapon, but it could be perceived as one.”
The blogosphere being what it is, not everyone is bothered by this news, or even thinks it’s news to begin with. Listening to NPR yesterday, the blogger running tjic.com nearly lost it: “I waited in vain for someone — anyone — to point out that (a) white phosphorus is no more nor less humane a weapon than a bullet; (b) white phosphorus is entirely legitimate as a tool of war; (c) the use, as described in the radio show, was not to burn people, but to drive Islamo-fascists out of hardened bunkers so that they could be killed outside with bullets (presumably a more humane approach than bombing the city block where they were holed up, thus generating civilian casualties).”
What of the question of all those presumably civilian bodies of women and children in the Italian documentary, clearly burnt down to the bone? Is that the result of white phosphorous as well? The Pentagon’s responseyesterday was that “It would not be out of the realm of the possible.” To which Mark Kraft at Insomnia offered this bit of sarcasm: “I hear that the smart money in neocon circles is that the mysterious deaths were caused by aliens with highly acidic saliva, or were thwarted terrorist acts of spontaneous combustion. Or maybe God smote them.”