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Spinning the News: Fallujah

Rowan Wolf

On the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams on November 16, 2005, they ran a report "Weapons Controversy." While it is excellent that the issue of the use of chemical weapons - particularly white phosphorus - in the attack on Fallujah make the corporate press, the report contained inaccuracies and spin.

I made my own transcript of the report, which you can find in full at the end of this article.

Miklaszewski starts off the report with the statement: The accusations first aired by Italian television claimed the U.S. military used chemical weapons - specifically incendiary white phosphorus munitions- against Iraqi civilians in the battle of Fallujah one year ago. This is patently not true. There were reports in June 2005 that the U.S. used chemical weapons in its assault on the city.

Miklaszewski goes on to state: The documentary showed images of badly burned bodies, it claims were civilians, who had been attacked and killed by the fiery weapons. If you watch the

Miklaszewski then goes on to extract from an article "The Fight for Fallujah" in Field Artillery magazine, which clearly depicts the deliberate offensive use of white phosphorus in Fallujah.

In an article from the Independent/UK - US Forces Used 'Chemical Weapon' in Iraq, the Pentagon admits that it used white phosphorus as an offensive weapon, and that it is apparently a common practice. The Independent article quote Col. Veneable

"We use them primarily as obscurants, for smokescreens or target marking in some cases. However it is an incendiary weapon and may be used against enemy combatants."

Asked directly if it was used as an offensive weapon during the siege of Fallujah, he replied: "Yes, it was used as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants".

He added: "When you have enemy forces that are in covered positions that your high explosive artillery rounds are not having an impact on and you wish to get them out of those positions, one technique is to fire a white phosphorus round into the position because the combined effects of the fire and smoke - and in some case the terror brought about the explosion on the ground - will drive them out of the holes so that you can kill them with high explosives," he said. "

However, Professor Rodgers of the Bradford department of peace studies stated:

... white phosphorus would be considered as a chemical weapon under international conventions if it was "deliberately aimed at people to have a chemical effect".

He told PM: "It is not counted under the chemical weapons convention in its normal use but, although it is a matter of legal niceties, it probably does fall into the category of chemical weapons if it is used for this kind of purpose directly against people."

Miklaszewski then diverted to Vietnam and the use of napalm. Then he states:"That has since been removed from the US arsenal." This is also a lie (at least technically). Napalm has been replaced in the U.S. arsenal by Mark-77 Mod 5. The United States has made wide use of this new and improved napalm in Iraq (i.e. US defends use of napalm-like firebombs, U.S. Broadcast Exclusive - "Fallujah: The Hidden Massacre" on the U.S. Use of Napalm-Like White Phosphorus Bombs)

Some might say that the report was substantively accurate, however it is the spin (especially when added together with related information) that sticks in people's brains. If it is against international law to use chemical weapons against human beings, then whether one calls them civilians or "enemy combatants" makes absolutely no difference whatsoever. The fact that the Pentagon now claims that offensive use of chemical weapons against "enemy combatants" or "insurgents" is only acknowledgement that they are being used illegally.

To report that the U.S. arsenal has purged napalm form the inventory is "technically" correct, but it leads one to assume that nothing of that sort is in the arsenal (or in use). This is clearly not true. Napalm was replaced by a new and improved "napalm-like" substance known as MK-77. Further, it is not only in the arsenal, it is being widely used in Iraq against human populations.

Lies of omission, lies of commission, "stretching the truth" all add up to spinning a report. NBC is certainly not the only culprit, but they got caught this time.

My transcript of the "Weapons Controversy" report - video may be available at this link

Williams: Controversy is just now emerging over one of the weapons U.S. forces used in that assault (...) white phosphorus.

Miklaszewski: The accusations first aired by Italian television claimed the U.S. military used chemical weapons - specifically incendiary white phosphorus munitions- against Iraqi civilians in the battle of Fallujah one year ago. But the U.S. ordered civilians to leave Fallujah before the offensive. An estimated 40,000 remained in the densely packed city.

The documentary showed images of badly burned bodies, it claims were civilians, who had been attacked and killed by the fiery weapons.

Former Army Specialist Jeff Englehardt was at Fallujah:

Englehardt: I do know that white phosphorus was used which is definitely without a shadow of a doubt a chemical weapon.

Miklaszewski: Pentagon spokesman Brian Whitman acknowledged today that white phosphorus was used in Fallujah, and is legal when used against enemy combatants. Whitman denied the military was targeting civilians.

White phosphorus rounds are normally used to mark targets or lay down a smokescreen. But in Fallujah, the U.S. military used them as offensive weapons.

In a report on the battle of Fallujah ("The Fight For Fallujah") in Field Artillery Magazine, U.S. soldiers said the white phosphorus was used in a "shake and bake' mission and proved to be a "potent psychological weapon against insurgents" in trench lines and spider holes. The phosphorus rounds were used to "flush them out" so that other bombs could "take them out."

During Vietnam, American forces made wide use of napalm. That has since been removed from the US arsenal. But white phosphorus can produce even more devastating injuries.

Robert Musil, PhD (Physicians for Social Responsibility): White phosphorus is very different than things even like napalm. It goes straight down to the bone, and it burns through any flesh that's in the way...

Miklaszewski: White phosphorus is illegal if used intentionally against civilians. And while the U.S. military claims it was aimed only at insurgents, it's put the Pentagon on the defensive, and brought the overall use of the incendiary weapons under renewed scrutiny.


Williams: Thanks for that Jim.

<>Rowan Wolf is a columnist for Project for the Old American Century

and the editor of Radical Noesis and Uncommon Thought Journal .

Her email is [email protected]

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