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 dis-semen-ation.
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.
Information and Disinformation
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 enemy fighters.”
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 intact.
By then even the Pentagon had admitted that WP was used both to obscure troop movements and “fire at the enemy.”
Still, the US ambassador in Italy and London insisted that WP was only used as an obscurant or to mark targets.
So it was left to the bloggers to blow the whistle. Stephen D., on Daily Kos, unearthed the army’s 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 caused.”
It was only when Kos’s 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 Empire
But maybe WP was used also for other reasons. Here’s 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 phosphorous burns.”
And so now a new game has to begin.
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 right-wing sites.
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 Pike’s 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 skin...”
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 again.
OK, WP was used and used (maybe) against civilians. But who says it’s 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 don’t use them for the purposes of chemical weapons. Since the WP burns were thermic not chemical they aren’t prohibited by the treaty.
Do you get that?
It’s OK to melt human beings down like metal in a furnace so long as it’s not chemical.
Because if it’s chemical, then it joins sarin and mustard gas and VX as too painful and indiscriminate.
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 OPCW’s 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.
It’s 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 feminine.
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 phosphorus.
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 ideology.
Lila Rajiva 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: firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright (c) 2005 by Lila Rajiva
Used Chemical Weapons Against Iraq, a Dissident Voice compilation
Other Articles by Lila
* Dover Bitch
Other Articles by Lila Rajiva
* Dover Bitch