The New York Times and WashingtonPost.com weigh in on the phosphorus story today. The Times article, by Scott Shane, is so oriented toward dismissing it that it’s hard to know what to think. It’s not that Shane is necessarily wrong; it’s that he lacks evidence. The Post’s contribution comes, once again, in William Arkin’s national-security blog.
Shane gets off to a bad start by stating the Italian documentary that unleashed this story “incorrectly” referred to white phosphorus as a chemical weapon. Farther down in the piece, Shane circles around the issue, in effect conceding that the documentary was incorrect only in referring to the substance as an “illegal” chemical weapon. Legal or not, phosphorus is a chemical, and it is used as a weapon. Can we agree on that?
Shane also writes, “The half-hour film was riddled with errors and exaggerations, according to United States officials and independent military experts.” And there is this from Shane’s story:
“It’s discredited the American military without any basis in fact,” said John E. Pike, an expert on weapons who runs GlobalSecurity.org, an independent clearinghouse for military information. He said the “stupidity and incompetence” of official comments had fueled suspicions of a cover-up.
“The story most people around the world have is that the Americans are up to their old tricks — committing atrocities and lying about it,” Mr. Pike said. “And that’s completely incorrect.”
Now, this may all be true. Pike is a respected military analyst. The problem is that Shane presents no real evidence to disprove the claim that civilians were injured and killed by white phosphorus in the battle for Fallujah last year. The Pentagon has already had to backtrack and admit that phosphorus was used to kill insurgents. Is it really such a stretch to think that civilians were caught in the crossfire?
Arkin’s blog entry is considerably more enlightening than Shane’s article. His target is Lt. Gen. Walter E. “Buck” Buchanan III, who, in Arkin’s view, told the Associated Press “three brainless things” in an interview. Here’s what Arkin says about Buchanan’s remarks concerning the phosphorus reports:
“It is purely used as a marking round, not as a weapon. It marks the target so it becomes very clear,” Lt. Gen. Buchanan told the AP. Sir. In all due respect, have you not been reading the newspapers? The Pentagon and State Department have both acknowledged at this point that the Army used white phosphorous as an anti-personnel weapon during the battle of Fallujah in November 2004.
Was white phosphorus used as an incendiary specifically against civilians? I guess that’s still the $64,000 question. But to utter the boilerplate crap that it is only used as [sic] to create smoke or to mark targets is ignorant and insensitive.
What’s still lacking is any commitment on the part of the American media to investigate whether U.S. forces used chemical weapons (sorry, Mr. Shane) against a Fallujah population that included civilians. The whole world is watching. Just today, South Africa’s Globe & Mail has a story headlined “US used chemical weapons, then lied.” That’s just one example out of many.
Also, Danny Schechter has some phosphorus links today.