Although studiously ignored by the mainstream news media, last month came reports that the U.S. used napalm and chemical weapons in its assault upon the city of Fallujah. The assault of November 2004 resulted in the near-total destruction of the city, as well as the deaths of thousands of non-insurgent Iraqi civilians. If the reports about napalm and chemical weapons are true, not only would the U.S. be in violation of international law, it would be guilty of the very crimes against humanity that it previously leveled against Saddam Hussein and used as a justification for invading Iraq.
Reportedly, Dr. Khalid ash-Shaykhli of the Iraq Ministry of Health held a press conference last month and charged the U.S. with using napalm, mustard gas, and nerve gas when it attacked Fallujah in November 2004. Dr. ash-Shaykhli described "melted" bodies and fires that could not be put out with water. Similarly, Dr. ash-Shaykhli described entire sections of the city where nothing, neither cats nor dogs nor birds, was left alive, suggesting the use of chemical weapons.
Promptly, the United States denied Dr. ash-Shaykhli's allegations about mustard and nerve gasses. The U.S. even went so far as to deny the very existence of Dr. ash-Shaykhli or that anyone by that name ever worked for Iraq's Ministry of Health. According to the U.S., the false story about the U.S. military's use of chemical and nerve gasses in Fallujah was invented by a web site pretending to be that of the Qatari television network Al Jazeera.
Unfortunately, the U.S. denial of wrongdoing in Fallujah cannot withstand scrutiny.
For example, while the U.S. is correct that a fake Al Jazeera ("aljazeera.com") published a story about U.S. atrocities in Fallujah, the U.S. glosses over the fact that the real Al Jazeera ("aljazeera.net") published a similar story. On March 17, 2005, the real Al Jazeera reported on the wholesale killings of civilians by U.S. forces in Fallujah, including through the use of napalm. In that story, the real Al Jazeera provided eyewitness accounts of U.S. forces killing entire families, including women and children. Likewise, the real Al Jazeera reported that the U.S. raided the only hospital in Fallujah at the beginning of the assault in order to prevent reports of civilian casualties.
The U.S. has yet to attempt to discredit the story published by the real Al Jazeera.
Furthermore, U.S. denials about using prohibited weapons in Fallujah, particularly napalm, lack credibility inasmuch as the U.S. was forced to retract previous denials of similar accusations. On March 22, 2003, following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that U.S. forces had used napalm. Noting that napalm had been banned by a United Nations convention in 1980 (a convention never signed by the U.S.), U.S. military spokesmen denied using napalm in Iraq. On August 5, 2003, however, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that U.S. officials confirmed using "napalm-like" weapons in Iraq between March and April 2003.
In a feat of semantic hair-splitting of which Bill Clinton would have been proud, the U.S. claimed the incendiaries used in Iraq contained less benzene than the internationally-banned napalm and, therefore, were "firebombs" and not napalm. According to U.S. officials, had reporters asked about firebombs in March of 2003, the U.S. would have confirmed their use. Nonetheless, the U.S. was forced to concede that regardless of the technicalities, the napalm-like weapons were functionally equivalent to napalm. In fact, the difference between napalm and firebombs is so minute that U.S. forces still refer to the weapons as napalm.
With that kind of track-record, it is difficult to swallow the recent denials by the U.S. that it used napalm or any other banned weapons in Fallujah.
Such denials are even less convincing when contrasted with eye-witness reports of what happened in Fallujah. There are, first of all, the findings by Dr. Khalid ash-Shaykhil of Iraq's Ministry of Health that U.S. forces used napalm and chemical weapons in Fallujah. However, even taking as true the U.S. claim that Dr. ash-Shaykhli never existed, much less worked for Iraq's Ministry of Health, he is not the only individual to claim that the U.S. used banned weapons in Fallujah.
For instance, on November 10, 2004, the San Francisco Chronicle quoted Kamal Hadeethi, a physician from a hospital near Fallujah, as saying, "The corpses of the mujahedeen which we received were burned, and some corpses were melted."
When he spoke from Baghdad on November 29, 2004 with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!, American journalist Dahr Jamail recounted stories told to him by refugees from Fallujah. According to Jamail, the refugees described bombs which covered entire areas with fire that could not be extinguished with water and which burned bodies beyond recognition.
Likewise, in a November 26, 2004 story for the Inter Press Service, Jamail reported eye-witness accounts of U.S. forces using chemical weapons and napalm in Fallujah. Later, in a January 18, 2005 report for Electronic Iraq, Jamail reported eye-witness accounts of U.S. forces using bulldozers and dump-trucks to remove tons of soil from various sections of Fallujah. Eye-witnesses also described U.S. forces using water tankers to "power wash" some of the streets in Fallujah. It does not take a conspiracy-theorist to conclude that U.S. forces wanted to "decontaminate" the city and remove evidence of chemical weapons.
On November 29, 2004, Al Jazeera TV (the real Al Jazeera) interviewed Dr. Ibrahim al-Kubaysi in Baghdad after his medical delegation was denied access to Fallujah. In that interview, Dr. al-Kubaysi recounted eye-witness descriptions of blackened corpses and corpses without bullet holes strewn throughout the streets of Fallujah.
On February 26, 2005, the German newspaper Junge Welt published an interview with Dr. Mohammad J. Haded, a member of the medical staff of the Central Hospital of Fallujah, and Mohammad F. Awad, a member of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society who helped gather corpses in Fallujah for identification. In that interview, Dr. Haded described Fallujah as "Dresden in Iraq" and Awad recounted the "remarkable number of dead people [who] were totally charred." Dr. Haded also described how U.S. forces "wiped out" the hospital in Fallujah, attacked rescue vehicles, and destroyed a makeshift field hospital.
American documentary-maker Mark Manning made similar observations while in Fallujah, as reported in the March 17, 2005 edition of the Santa Barbara Independent. Manning visited Fallujah in January 2005 and interviewed Iraqi physicians who told him that the first target of U.S. forces in the November 2004 assault on Fallujah was the hospital and that ambulances were fair-game. Iraqi physicians told Manning they were certain chemical weapons had been used in Fallujah "because they handled many dead bodies bearing no evident sign of trauma." As for the use of napalm by U.S. forces, Manning returned home from Fallujah with photographs of charred corpses "whose clothes had been melted into their skin."
Michele Naar-Obed, of the Chicago-based Christian Peacemaker Team, also visited Fallujah in early 2005. Naar-Obed described her trip in the March 13, 2005 edition of the Duluth News Tribune of Minnesota. As with Manning, Naar-Obed described Iraqi physicians who were convinced that chemical weapons and napalm were used by U.S. forces in Fallujah. According to Naar-Obed, U.N. representatives confirmed to her reports of execution-style killings of handcuffed and blindfolded Iraqis, as well as reports of bodies that were burned and horribly disfigured.
Finally, on March 21, 2005, the Commission for the Compensation of Fallujah Citizens, established by the Iraqi transitional government, reported that approximately 100,000 wild and domesticated animals were found dead in Fallujah, killed by chemical or gaseous munitions.
An estimated 600 non-insurgent civilians died in the U.S. assaults upon Fallujah. Over half of them were women and children. According to an April 4, 2005 report by IRIN, a U.N. humanitarian information unit, as many as 70 percent of all structures were destroyed or rendered uninhabitable. There is similarly no water, electricity, or sewage treatment in Fallujah. Not surprisingly, a mission that was meant to pacify an insurgent stronghold ended up breeding anti-American hatred among Fallujah's survivors and their sympathizers.
U.S. denials of wrongdoing notwithstanding, there are numerous independent sources making similar reports about U.S. forces employing banned weapons in Fallujah, as well as targeting hospitals and civilians. In the face of such independent and corroborating reports, it is hard to escape the sickening conclusion that the U.S. violated international law and committed war crimes in its assaults upon Fallujah. In doing so, the U.S. became the evil the Bush administration has vowed to eradicate.
Suddenly, the Bush administration's open hostility toward the International Criminal Court in particular, and international law in general, makes a whole lot more sense.
Ken Sanders is a writer based in Tucson, Arizona. Visit his weblog at: www.politicsofdissent.blogspot.com/.
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