Below is a vastly expanded and reworked version of a column originally published in the Nov. 11 edition of the Moscow Times. For my first MT report on chemical warfare in Fallujah, see Filter Tips. For a report on the destruction of the city as it was happening, see Ring of Fire, from November 2004.
This week, the broadcast of a shattering new documentary provided fresh confirmation of a gruesome war crime covered by this column nine months ago: the use of chemical weapons by American forces during the frenzied, Bush-ordered destruction of Fallujah in November 2004.
Using filmed and photographic evidence, eyewitness accounts, and the direct testimony of American soldiers who took part in the attacks, the documentary – "Fallujah: The Hidden Massacre" – catalogues the American use of white phosphorous shells and a new, "improved" form of napalm that turned human beings into "caramelized" fossils, with their skin dissolved and turned to leather on their bones. The film was produced by RAI, the Italian state network run by a government that backed the war.
Vivid images show civilians, including women and children, who had been burned alive in their homes, even in their beds. This use of chemical weapons – at the order of the Bushist brass – and the killing of civilians are confirmed by former American soldiers interviewed on camera. "I heard the order to pay attention because they were going to use white phosphorous on Fallujah," said one soldier, quoted in the Independent. "In military jargon, it's known as Willy Pete. Phosphorous 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 broadcast is an important event: shameful, damning, convincing. But it shouldn't be news. Earlier this year, as reported here on March 18, a medical team sent to Fallujah by the Bush-backed Iraqi interim government issued its findings at a press conference in Baghdad. The briefing, by Health Ministry investigator Dr. Khalid ash-Shaykhli, was attended by more than 20 major American and international news outlets. Not a single one of these bastions of a free and vigorous press reported on the event. Only a few small venues – such as the International Labor Communications Association – brought word of the extraordinary revelations to English-speaking audiences.
Yet this highly credible, pro-American official of a pro-occupation government confirmed, through medical examinations and the eyewitness testimony of survivors – including many civilians who had opposed the heavy-handed insurgent presence in the town – that "burning chemicals" had been used by U.S. forces in the attack, in direct violation of international and American law. "All forms of nature were wiped out" by the substances unleashed in the assault, including animals that had been killed by gas or chemical fire, said Dr ash-Shaykhli. But apparently this kind of thing is not considered news anymore by the corporate gatekeepers of media "truth."
As we noted here in March, Dr ash-Shaykhli's findings were buttressed by direct testimony from U.S. Marines filing "after-action reports" on websites for military enthusiasts back home. There, fresh from the battle, American soldiers talked openly of the routine use of Willy Pete, propane bombs and "jellied gasoline" (napalm) in tactical assaults in Fallujah. As it says in the scriptures: by their war porn ye shall know them.
This week, as in March, the Pentagon said it only used white phosphorous shells in Fallujah for "illumination purposes." But the documentary's evidence belies them. Although there are indeed many white bombs bursting in air to bathe the city in unnatural light, the film clearly shows other phosphorous shells raining all the way to the ground, where they explode in fury throughout residential areas and spread their caramelizing clouds. As Fallujah biologist Mohamed Tareq says in the film: "A rain of fire fell on the city, the people struck by this multi-colored substance started to burn, we found people dead with strange wounds, the bodies burned but the clothes intact."
As word of the documentary spread across the Internet and into a very few mainstream media sources, intrepid investigators dug out even more confirmation of how Bush's battalions whipped out the Willy Pete and flayed Fallujah's heathen devils with flesh-eating fire. A Daily Kos diarist, Stephen D., dug up one of the U.S. military's own publications, Field Artillery Magazine, which eagerly related the use of white phosphorous, which "proved to be an effective and versatile munition," the article said. "We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE. We fired 'shake and bake' missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out."
Mr. D also points to a comment on Altercation.com, that provides further ammunition – for "illumination purposes" – on the effect of white phosphorous on human beings. There, Mark Kraft writes: "There is no way you can use white phosphorus like that without forming a deadly chemical cloud that kills everything within a tenth of a mile in all directions from where it hits. Obviously, the effect of such deadly clouds weren't just psychological in nature."
Another Kossack, "Hunter," digs up mention of Willy Pete use as a weapon in Washington Post reports from the battlefield itself last November. He then takes on the hair-splitters who immediately arose on the Right to declare that white phosphorous is not itself a banned substance, so it's OK to incinerate children with it. Hunter's incandescant irony is worth quoting at length:
"First, I think it should be a stated goal of United States policy to not melt the skin off of children. As a natural corollary to this goal, I think the United States should avoid dropping munitions on civilian neighborhoods which, as a side effect, melt the skin off of children. You can call them 'chemical weapons' if you must, or far more preferably by the more proper name of 'incendiaries.' The munitions may or may not precisely melt the skin off of children by setting them on fire; they do melt the skin off of children, however, through robust oxidation of said skin on said children, which is indeed colloquially known as 'burning'…
"And I know it is true, there is some confusion over whether the United States was a signatory to the Do Not Melt The Skin Off Of Children part of the Geneva conventions, and whether or not that means we are permitted to melt the skin off of children, or merely are silent on the whole issue of melting the skin off of children…[However] I am going to come out, to the continuing consternation of Rush Limbaugh and pro-war supporters everywhere, as being anti-children-melting, as a matter of general policy."
Meanwhile, in the Guardian, Mike Marquesse pounded home the reality of the overarching atrocity of the attack:
"One year ago this week, US-led occupying forces launched a devastating assault on the Iraqi city of Falluja. The mood was set by Lt Col Gary Brandl: 'The enemy has got a face. He's called Satan. He's in Falluja. And we're going to destroy him.'
"The assault was preceded by eight weeks of aerial bombardment. US troops cut off the city's water, power and food supplies, condemned as a violation of the Geneva convention by a UN special rapporteur, who accused occupying forces of "using hunger and deprivation of water as a weapon of war against the civilian population". Two-thirds of the city's 300,000 residents fled, many to squatters' camps without basic facilities…
"By the end of operations, the city lay in ruins. Falluja's compensation commissioner has reported that 36,000 of the city's 50,000 homes were destroyed, along with 60 schools and 65 mosques and shrines. The US claims that 2,000 died, most of them fighters. Other sources disagree. When medical teams arrived in January they collected more than 700 bodies in only one third of the city. Iraqi NGOs and medical workers estimate between 4,000 and 6,000 dead, mostly civilians -- a proportionately higher death rate than in Coventry and London during the blitz."
The atrocity-breeding mindset behind the attack was evident from the very first, as I noted in a Moscow Times column of November 18, 2004: "One of the first moves in this magnificent feat of arms was the destruction and capture of medical centers. Twenty doctors – and their patients, including women and children – were killed in an airstrike on one major clinic, the UN Information Service reports, while the city's main hospital was seized in the early hours of the ground assault. Why? Because these places of healing could be used as "propaganda centers," the Pentagon's "information warfare" specialists told the NY Times. Unlike the first attack on Fallujah last spring, there was to be no unseemly footage of gutted children bleeding to death on hospital beds. This time – except for NBC's brief, heavily-edited, quickly-buried clip of the usual lone "bad apple" shooting a wounded Iraqi prisoner – the visuals were rigorously scrubbed."
When you begin by bombing hospitals, devouring innocent people with hot jellied death is not exactly a stretch. It is simply part and parcel of the inhumanity of the Bushist mindset.
Indeed, the slaughter in Fallujah was a microcosm of the entire misbegotten enterprise launched by those two eminent Christian statesmen, Bush and Blair: a brutal act of collective punishment for defying the imperial will; a high-tech turkey shoot that mowed down the just and unjust alike; an idiotic strategic blunder that has exacerbated the violence and hatred it was meant to quell. The vicious overkill of the Fallujah attack alienated large swathes of previously neutral Iraqis and spurred many to join the resistance. It further entangled the United States and Britain in a putrid swamp of war crime, state terrorism and atrocity, dragging them ever deeper into a moral equivalency with the murderous extremists that the Christian leaders so loudly and self-righteously condemn.
Let's give the last word to Jeff Engelhardt, one of the ex-servicemen featured in the documentary, who recently issued this plea to his fellow U.S. soldiers on Fight to Survive, a new dissident web site run by Iraqi War vets:
"I hope someday you find solace for the orders you have had to execute, for the carnage you helped take part in, and for the pride you wear supporting this bloodbath. Until then, you can only hope for an epiphany, something that stands out as completely immoral, that convinces you of the inhumanity of this war. I don't know how much more proof you need. The criminal outrage of Abu Ghraib, the absolute massacre of Fallujah, the stray .50 caliber bullets or 40mm grenades or tank rounds fired in highly packed urban areas, 500-pound bombs dropped on innocent homes, the use of depleted uranium rounds, the inhumane use of white phosphorus, the hate and the blood and the misunderstandings…this is the war and the system that you support."