Thursday, May 14, 2009

Taleban Chemical Weapons Claim strains credulity

We are now to believe that the Pentagon has been keeping evidence of the Taliban's chemical weapons use -- chem weapons! WMDs! -- under wraps for years.

Suddenly, after the emergence of glaring evidence of Afghan civilians being seared and maimed by these chemical weapons following American airstrikes and combat operations, the Pentagon has released "classified information" claiming that the Taliban have actually been using white phosphorus weapons for six years.


Burn After Reading: Intel Dump Muddies Dirty War Waters

by Chris Floyd

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Throughout the long history of the Afghan War, the United States has never accused the Taliban of using white phosphorus weapons -- until now. Suddenly, after the emergence of glaring evidence **SEE BELOW** of Afghan civilians being seared and maimed by these chemical weapons following American airstrikes and combat operations, the Pentagon has released "classified information" (***see way below***) claiming that the Taliban have actually been using white phosphorus weapons for six years, since 2003: a practice that the Pentagon -- which has been using white phosphorus weapons in Afghanistan since 2002 if not before -- denounced as "reprehensible."

This is very curious. The bipartistan managers of the Terror War have always been eager to trumpet -- even exaggerate -- the atrocities committed by the various armed groups opposing the imposition of foreign troops in Afghanistan. But now we are to believe that the Pentagon has been keeping evidence of the Taliban's chemical weapons use -- chem weapons! WMDs! -- under wraps for years.

The "classified intelligence" was released in friendly territory: The Times (UK), owned by Fox News' own Rupert Murdoch.

(By the way, isn't it strange that super-duper top-secret material which would threaten the very existence of the United States and its way of life if it were divulged to, say, lawyers for torture victims or members of the public who've been illegally spied upon, can always be released when there are PR gains to be made? Why, it almost makes you think that Arthur Silber might be right

when he tell us that "the 'secret' knowledge, which goes by the viciously misnamed designation 'intelligence' ... is almost always wrong... and is primarily used as propaganda, to provide alleged justification to a public that still remains disturbingly gullible and pliable -- and it is used after the fact, to justify decisions that have already been made."

Could that really be true? Would they really, you know, just lie and exaggerate and make things up? Perhaps we could ask the brand-new commander whom Obama has appointed in Afghanistan: Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal,

the Special Ops honcho who ran covert ops and commandos in Iraq (see "Ulster on the Euphrates" for more on such activities on "the dark side, if you will"), and later signed off on the shameful concoction of the "heroic death in battle" of the war-questioning, Chomsky-reading Pat Tillman, who was in fact killed by his own men.)

In any case, Murdoch's minions in The Times dish up the murky Pentagon stew with nary a leavening of skeptical salt. While stovepiping assertions of "hundreds" of Western soldiers and Afghan civilians burned by the Taliban's Willy Pete (again, glaring war crimes that the Americans have mysteriously failed to highlight over the years), The Times does not fail to push the new "get Pakistan" line as well. After first noting that much of the alleged Taliban WP seems to have been leftovers from the mountains of ordnance dumped in the country during decades of war, some of the rounds are, we're told, "newer models which, it is suspected, had been smuggled across the border from Pakistan." Straight from those halal-eating surrender monkeys in Islamabad, I'll bet! We need to go in there and clean that nest of vipers out!

What's more, the Pentagon is now trying to claim that the mass slaughter of more than 140 civilians last week -- killed after a sustained bombing raid destroyed a compound where children, women and old men were sheltering from a battle miles away -- was really the Taliban's fault. How can that be, when officials of the U.S.-backed Afghan government, the International Red Cross and eyewitnesses on the ground all say that the compound, and three surrounding villages, were pulverized by a raid lasting several hours? Why, the discovery that some survivors were also by white phosphorus proves it! Because although the Pentagon routinely uses white phosphorus all over the country, it didn't use it on the day of the slaughter! And how do we know this? Because... the Pentagon said so! Case closed! Just as it was when General McChrystal signed off on Tillman's medal for his heroic death in battle, despite knowing the truth about the "friendly fire" killing.

I hold no brief for the Taliban -- or rather, for the collection of various armed groups battling the occupation, when they are not battling each other or creating their own brand of "collateral damage." I'm sure if they got hold of some white phosphorus, they'd use it. Why should they, in their small-scale way, be any more moral or humane than the full-blown, world-straddling war machine of the American empire? For those who turn to violence, who make blood their argument, there are rarely any restraints. But it remains extremely puzzling -- not to say unbelievable -- that the Americans would simply sit on all this "hard evidence" of chemical weapon atrocities by their relentlessly demonized enemies, for years on end, without ever saying a word.

Whatever the provenance of this "secret knowledge," it was in fact the glaring evidence of the occupation forces' own "reprehensible" activities that has panicked the Pentagon into these "revelations." Yet even this is a curious defense; it essentially boils down to saying: "Hey, we aren't the only ones who burn people with chemical weapons and kill civilians! The Taliban does it too!"

What a worthy stance, eh? But such is the moral level of this very dirty war -- a war which is about to get even dirtier, as the new appointment by Obama and his Bush carryover, Robert Gates, clearly shows.
Chris Floyd at his deskChris Floyd has been a writer and editor for more than 25 years, working in the United States, Great Britain and Russia for various newspapers, magazines, the U.S. government and Oxford University. Floyd co-founded the blog Empire Burlesque, and is also chief editor of Atlantic Free Press. He can be reached at

This column is republished here with the permission of the author.


Day after day, week after week, Barack Obama's "Overseas Contingency Operations" keep churning through the bodies of children: sometimes with chemical weapons that sear their flesh and leave them maimed and disfigured for life; sometimes with carefully aimed bullets ripping through their organs and leaving them dead right on the spot.

And in every such case, our brave and noble Terror Warriors -- who, lest we forget, are upholding the highest values of world civilization, bringing hope and change to benighted lands and defending our sacred way of life -- run screaming like spinsters in a hissy fit from the slightest hint of responsibility for their actions. Their first response, always, is to blame someone else: either the designated enemy of the day -- or else the burned and shredded children themselves.

This tendency was on vivid display this week in two stories from separate fronts in the ever-spreading Terror War. (Both pieces, from McClatchy and Reuters, come via the Angry Arab, who rightly notes Obama's moral ownership of the bullets and bombs of the militarist campaigns).

The most garish example can be found in Iraq, where American soldiers shot a 12-year-old boy in the streets of Mosul, one of the most troubled cities in the conquered land. Mosul, you may recall, is where Generalissimo David Petraeus -- now in military command of the entire Terror War -- built his vaunted but vaporous reputation for "effective counterinsurgency techniques" early in the war. It was a miniature model of the later "surge": using a massive influx of American troops, along with payoffs to favored local forces, to suppress the endemic chaos and violence unleashed by the invasion just long enough to establish a PR narrative of "success." Once the media spotlight has moved on, the evil, inevitable fruits of the original crime -- the Hitlerian act of military aggression -- flourish once more.

As in Iraq at large, so it is in Mosul. Last Thursday, American occupation troops rolling through the city were attacked by a grenade. In response, they shot a killed a 12-year-old boy, Omar Musa Salih, who was standing on the roadside selling fruit juice. Although eyewitnesses on the scene said the boy had not thrown the grenade -- they had seen, with their own eyes, an older man lobbing it toward the Americans -- President Obama's Pentagon insisted that the dead boy was an "insurgent" who deserved to die. Their proof? He had a handful of Iraqi dinars -- less than $9 -- in his hand when they inspected his corpse. So that means he was in the pay of terrorists, you see.

"We have every reason to believe that insurgents are paying children to conduct these attacks or assist the attackers in some capacity, undoubtedly placing the children in harm's way," a faceless "U.S. military spokesman" told McClatchy, in an email. Smearing the victim: a dead child -- oh, how noble, how civilized, how redolent of honor! You can certainly understand why no one would want to attach their face or name -- or even their voice -- to such a depraved, shameless and cowardly apologia.

For as McClatchy notes, there is no evidence whatsoever that young Omar was involved in the attack; quite the contrary, in fact:

....eyewitnesses said the boy, identified as Omar Musa Salih, was standing by the side of the road selling fruit juice - a common practice in Iraq -- and had nothing to do with the attack.

A friend, Ahmed Jassim, 15, said he was selling cans of Pepsi nearby when he heard the grenade explode. He dove behind a parked car, then heard the roar of machine gun fire. "When the shooting was over and the patrol went away, I stood and I saw Omar on the ground covered with blood," Jassim said.

Another witness, Ahmed IzAldeen, 56, said he saw the person who threw the grenade. It wasn't the boy, but a man in his twenties, he said. IzAldeen said he saw the man standing behind a truck holding the grenade as the American patrol approached....

"When attacked, the Americans just open fire, whether on the gunman or just randomly," said Usama Al Nujaifi, a member of Parliament from Mosul. "The American presence in the cities is wrong, we urged them to stay outside from the beginning."

American combat forces are supposed to pull out of all cities by June 30 under an agreement signed last year that hands security over to Iraqi forces. But the two sides have discussed pushing back the deadline, especially in the most violent cities, such as Mosul.

Oh yes, these "deadlines" will doubtless prove to be infinitely flexible, easily extended; after all, President Obama has consistently reiterated his determination to be guided by the advice of his military officials and by "the facts on the ground" in implementing his scheme to remove some American troops from Iraq while leaving tens of thousands behind: a process of streamlined occupation that for some reason is called a "withdrawal."

But the lives of children are not so flexible, not so extendable. Omar Salih will not get up again. "Friends of the Salih family said he was the oldest of 6 children," McClatchy writes. "He quit school in the first grade, when he was six or seven years old. He was well-known in the Ras Al-Jadda neighborhood, where the attack took place."

He quit school at six or seven; that is, in 2003 or 2004, in the midst or in the aftermath of the American invasion. His life was spent on the street, trying to earn a pittance for his family. And now he is damned as a terrorist by the most powerful, most "advanced" nation in the world -- because he had a few strips of colored paper in his hand when he was gunned down at his fruit stand.

As we've noted several times in recent days, this is an inevitable result of military occupations in hostile lands: all of the natives come to be seen as the enemy -- children, women, the old and weak included. All are deemed imminent and/or potential threats by the conquerors, who live steeped in fear and incomprehension and anger at the "ingratitude" and hostility and recalcitrance of the locals. And so, ultimately, every civilian death can be "justified" -- because there are no civilians. There are just Them -- and Us. And whatever We do to protect ourselves from Them -- or to put Them in their place -- is rightful and just and should not be questioned.

This is the logic of the conqueror, the logic of domination. And it is the foundation and the philosophy of the War on Terror that America's bipartisan political class -- past and present, conservative and "progressive" -- has so enthusiastically embraced.

This week reports emerged about the possible use of white phosphorus shells in the American bombing assault last week that killed more than 140 children, women and old men who were taking shelter from a battle several miles away. These chemical weapons are "legal" when used "to illuminate a target or create smoke," but are illegal under international law if used purposely as a weapon. Of course, in dealing with attacks on populated areas -- the very heart of Terror War "counterinsurgency" -- this is a distinction without a difference. The shells explode in the midst of homes and streets, throwing their searing, unquenchable chemical gel everywhere, causing unbearable agony and permanent damage to the afflicted. However, the inherent ambiguity of carrying out military operations in civilian areas provides convenient cover for the use of this chemical weapon to put the natives in their place. (As we saw in Fallujah, for example, and most recently in Gaza.)

As always, the illumination-bringers in the American war machine blame someone else for the strange, horrific burns that doctors have discovered among the survivors of the massacre. After denying the use of white phosphorus in the attack for any reason, they first suggested that it was the Taliban who lobbed the advanced chemical weapon into villages that Afghan officials and the International Red Cross say were devastated by American bombs. Then they said the burns might have been caused by propane tanks exploding during the bombardment. But doctors dealing directly with the victims scoffed at this, as AP reports:

Dr. Mohammad Aref Jalali, the head of the burn unit at the Herat Regional Hospital in western Afghanistan who has treated five patients wounded in the battle, described the burns as "unusual."

"I think it's the result of a chemical used in a bomb, but I'm not sure what kind of chemical. But if it was a result of a burning house . from petrol or gas cylinders . that kind of burn would look different," he said.

Gul Ahmad Ayubi, the deputy head of Farah's health department, said the province's main hospital had received 14 patients after the battle, all with burn wounds. Five patients were sent to Herat. "There has been other airstrikes in Farah in the past. We had injuries from those battles, but this is the first time we have seen such burns on the bodies. I'm not sure what kind of bomb it was," he said.

U.N. human rights investigators have also seen "extensive" burn wounds on victims and have raised questions about how the injuries were caused, said a U.N. official who asked not to be identified talking about internal deliberations.

These new concerns come amidst new calls for an investigation of an earlier chemical weapon attack, which left an eight-year-old girl, Razia, with "her face an almost unrecognisable mess of burnt tissue and half her scalp a bald scar." She is the first known civilian victim of white phosphorus in Afghanistan. As Reuters reports:

"The kids called out to me that I was burning but the explosion was so strong that for a moment I was deaf and couldn't hear anything," her father, Aziz Rahman, told Reuters. "And then my wife screamed 'the kids are burning' and she was also burning," he added, his face clouding over at the memory.

The flames that consumed his family were fed by a chemical called white phosphorous, which U.S. medical staff at Bagram said they found on Razia's face and neck. It bursts into fierce fire on contact with the air and can stick to and even penetrate flesh as it burns....

Colonel Gregory Julian, a spokesman for the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, confirmed that Western forces in the country use the chemical.

"In the case of white phosphorus it is used on the battlefield in certain applications ... It is used as an incendiary to destroy bunkers and enemy equipment; it's used for illumination"...

Razia and her family are the first known civilian casualties of its use in Afghanistan.

As in the recent massacre, occupation officials point to the Taliban as the culprit in the chemical weapon attack -- a claim belied by experts on the region. But in the AP story on the massacre, Julian is suddenly asserting that "military officials believe that Taliban militants have used white phosphorus at least four times in Afghanistan in the past two years." We have heard nothing of this before, nor have any Afghan government official or acknowledged specialists. These charges of Taliban chemical weapons emerged only after Human Rights Watch began pushing the story of Razia's plight and the doctors in Herat found the strange burns in the massacre survivors. As Reuters reports:

U.S. Major Jennifer Willis suggested instead that the Taliban had fired the shot: "An enemy mortar team, known to have been operating in that area, may have been responsible."

The Afghan government, military specialists and experts on the Taliban told Reuters, however, that insurgents have never been observed using white phosphorus. The only forces on the battlefield known to use it are the United States and NATO. "I am not aware that the Taliban have used this in any of their attacks," said Zaher Murad, a Defence Ministry spokesman.

Ahmed Rashid, Pakistan-based author of a widely acclaimed book on the hardline Islamists, said that he was also not aware of such reports.

"To think they (the Taliban) are employing white phosphorus as a weapon in their arsenal is very far-fetched," said Marc Garlasco, senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch and a former senior intelligence analyst at the Pentagon. "The U.S. has optics that will allow them to see through the smoke, so it is useless for (the Taliban). They don't need to illuminate because that is telegraphing to the United States where they are going to go and fight. Plus they know the area. They want high explosive to shock and kill; flames raining down from the sky aren't going to frighten the U.S. forces."

NATO spokeswoman Willis said insurgents had been observed using white phosphorus weapons in the past. Asked to provide examples of the Taliban using the chemical, she wrote back to say that she was unable to do so.

Yet even here, as with the "child insurgents" of Mosul, the Pentagon can do no more than wanly assert its "belief" that such things could be going on. No proof is offered. There is only the bristling attempt to thrust away any responsibility, to deflect, distract, smear -- and obfuscate the inescapable realities of subjugating another nation by force.

Whatever the good intentions of this or that ordinary individual serving in the occupation forces -- such as the military doctors who saved what was left of Razia's life -- the underlying logic of domination will have its way, churning relentlessly through the bodies of innocent people caught up -- deliberately or "collaterally" -- in the brutal power of foreign forces which should not be in their land.
I wrote a piece last year about the lasting effects of those insescapable realities of subjugation. Although it deals with a different area of the Terror War, I'd like to close with an excerpt from it -- for, unfortunately, it is just as relevant as ever, if not more so. From "Written on the Body: The Reality of War" (see original for links):

[In] these heated debates on policy, strategy, funding, etc. [of the Terror War], there is always a danger of losing sight of the most overwhelmingly important aspect of the conflict: its effects on actual human beings, the suffering it imposes on our fellow creatures. The reality of war is written on the bodies . and seared into the anguished psyches . of the individuals who experience it. That is what war is, that is where it actually exists . in blood, in bone, in the synapses that carry the electric fire of human consciousness.

A new report from Fallujah . the Guernica of the Iraq War . brings this home most forcefully. Two of the great witnesses of this war . Dahr Jamail and his collaborator, Ali al-Fadhily . present disturbing evidence of how the use of chemical weapons against the people of Fallujah during the brutal decimation the city in 2004 continues to bear horrific fruit today:

Babies born in Fallujah are showing illnesses and deformities on a scale never seen before, doctors and residents say. The new cases, and the number of deaths among children, have risen after "special weaponry" was used in the two massive bombing campaigns in Fallujah in 2004.

After denying it at first, the Pentagon admitted in November 2005 that white phosphorous, a restricted incendiary weapon, was used a year earlier in Fallujah. In addition, depleted uranium (DU) munitions, which contain low-level radioactive waste, were used heavily in Fallujah. The Pentagon admits to having used 1,200 tons of DU in Iraq thus far.

Many doctors believe DU to be the cause of a severe increase in the incidence of cancer in Iraq, as well as among US veterans who served in the 1991 Gulf War and through the current occupation.

"We saw all the colors of the rainbow coming out of the exploding American shells and missiles," Ali Sarhan, a 50-year-old teacher who lived through the two US sieges of 2004 told IPS. "I saw bodies that turned into bones and coal right after they were exposed to bombs that we learned later to be phosphorus. The most worrying is that many of our women have suffered loss of their babies, and some had babies born with deformations."

"I had two children who had brain damage from birth," 28-year-old Hayfa' Shukur told IPS. "My husband has been detained by the Americans since November 2004 and so I had to take the children around by myself to hospitals and private clinics. They died. I spent all our savings and borrowed a considerable amount of money...."

This is the fate of the actual human beings in Fallujah. Behind all the debates and commentary, the think-tank wonkery, the campaign rhetoric, the academic studies and the witlessrantings of TV talking heads, this is the war: a young woman wandering through a ruined city, carrying her broken, dying children to hospitals left without medicine or gear...

I ended the piece with a quote I've used before, from Italo Calvino, because it is, as I said then, "one of the very best encapsulations of the horror, and hope, of our human condition":

"The what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space."

****** propaganda ******

HEADLINE - Taleban using white phosphorus, some of it made in Britain

Eight-year old Afghan girl injured during an air strike in Garni village in western Farah province

Propaganda Photo

An eight-year-old girl, injured during an airstrike in the Afghan village of Garni in western Farah province, recovering in hospital in Herat city

Michael Evans, Defence Editor

Taleban fighters have been using deadly white phosphorus munitions, some of them manufactured in Britain, to attack Western forces in Afghanistan, according to previously classified United States documents released yesterday.

White phosphorus, which can burn its victims down to the bone, has been found in improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in regions across Afghanistan including in the south, where British troops are based. It has also been used in mortar and rocket attacks on American forces.

Last night the US military in Kabul condemned the use of white phosphorus by the insurgents as .reprehensible.. White phosphorus is banned as an offensive weapon under international rules of armed conflict.

Major Jennifer Willis, a spokeswoman for the US Army at Bagram, near Kabul, said that markings on some of the white phosphorus munitions that had been recovered showed that they had been manufactured in a number of different countries, including Britain, China, Russia and Iran.

Although a full investigation is under way, it is not yet clear how the Taleban and other insurgent forces using them had acquired the white phosphorus munitions from Britain. However, Major Willis said that Afghanistan was littered with ordnance of every kind and it was not a surprise that the insurgents had got their hands on white phosphorus.

The US military said that the Taleban had found white phosphorus rounds left over from the war with the Soviet Union in the 1980s. But there were newer models which, it is suspected, had been smuggled across the border from Pakistan.

Major Willis said that the use of white phosphorus in IEDs was a relatively new development. The earliest report of the insurgents using white phosphorus was in February 2003, but the eight known IED cases, including one in the south, have all occurred since March 2007.

The Ministry of Defence in London said that there was no evidence that British soldiers had been burnt by white phosphorus munitions in Helmand, but said that there would have to be an investigation into how British-manufactured munitions were in the hands of the Taleban.

Royal Ordnance factories owned by BAE Systems make 81mm mortars that the British fire with white phosphorus rounds for illumination in Afghanistan. But the MoD denied that the Taleban had somehow acquired British mortars sent to troops in Helmand. The US evidence showed that the only white phosphorus shells found in that province were 120mm and 105mm munitions. .These are not used by British forces,. the MoD said.

The US military released details of 44 known cases . six in southern Afghanistan . which included incidents where Nato troops and Afghan civilians had received severe burns. US sources said that there was strong evidence that the Taleban had been responsible for the deaths of more than 100 civilians in the battle that took place in Farah province last week and that they had used white phosphorus.

The Americans were initially blamed for killing the civilians in airstrikes. But local doctors discovered unusual burns among the dead and injured, which pointed to the use of white phosphorus.

Colonel Greg Julian, the senior US military spokesman in Afghanistan, said that the Americans had not used the material in the battle on May 4.

Major Willis confirmed that the US and Nato.s International Security Assistance Force used white phosphorus in Afghanistan but never as an anti-personnel weapon. .That.s not allowed under the terms of international law,. she said.

White phosphorus, she said, was only used for marking targets, screening troops from enemy positions, illuminating areas, destroying unoccupied bunkers and buildings and .for igniting enemy ammunition or petroleum production..

The use of white phosphorus in war became a highly controversial issue during the attacks on Gaza by the Israeli Defence Forces in January.

Israel denied firing white phosphorus shells into civilian areas but when The Times revealed the increasing number of civilian casualties suffering from strange burns, it admitted using the material and announced an investigation into why the munitions had been fired into densely populated areas.

Six in south

March 16 An IED rigged to a 107mm white phosphorus (WP) round defused in Zabol province

March 11 Cache, including ten rounds of 120mm WP mortar ammunition, in Helmand, where US troops based

December 2, 2008 Insurgents fire a WP rocket at an Isaf base in Kandahar

June 1, 2008 Isaf team destroys munitions, including 105mm WP projectiles in Helmand, where British troops are stationed

November 18, 2007 Afghan child finds a WP rocket in Kandahar

June 15, 2004 Large cache, including 46 rounds of 82mm WP ammunition, discovered in a home in Zabol

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