Wednesday, November 16, 2005

White Phosphorous

If there was any question whether White Phosphorous is a banned chemical weapon under the Chemical Weapons Convention, "to which the U.S. is a party", this ought to clear it up:

The CWC is monitored by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, based in The Hague. Its spokesman Peter Kaiser was asked if WP was banned by the CWC and he had this to say:

"No it's not forbidden by the CWC if it is used within the context of a military application which does not require or does not intend to use the toxic properties of white phosphorus. White phosphorus is normally used to produce smoke, to camouflage movement.

"If that is the purpose for which the white phosphorus is used, then that is considered under the Convention legitimate use.

"If on the other hand the toxic properties of white phosphorus, the caustic properties, are specifically intended to be used as a weapon, that of course is prohibited, because the way the Convention is structured or the way it is in fact applied, any chemicals used against humans or animals that cause harm or death through the toxic properties of the chemical are considered chemical weapons."

Before I speak too soon, however, we have this caveat, which, though not noble by any measure, needs to be considered in determining whether the CAC has been violated:

The US can say therefore that this is not a chemical weapon and further, it argues that it is not the toxic properties but the heat from WP which causes the damage. And, this argument goes, since incendiary weapons are not covered by the CWC, therefore the use of WP against combatants is not prohibited...the United States has not signed up to a convention covering incendiary weapons which seeks to restrict their use.

This convention has the cumbersome title "Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons." Agreed in 1980, its Protocol III covers "Prohibitions or Restrictions on use of Incendiary Weapons."

This prohibits WP or other incendiaries (like flamethrowers) against civilians or civilian objects and its use by air strikes against military targets located in a concentration of civilians. It also limits WP use by other means (such as mortars or direct fire from tanks) against military targets in a civilian area. Such targets have to be separated from civilian concentrations and "all feasible precautions" taken to avoid civilian casualties.

One can imagine that the use of White Phosphorous was not random, and instead was strategized and ordered, and thus vetted by our ever-clever military legal advisors, with the understanding that it would be best if the use of WP was not to become generally known, but, if it did, there was a fallback legal position.

My take is that it is wrong (if not evil) to use a chemical weapon that indiscriminately melts the skin off anyone unfortunate enough to be in the ordinance zone. I'm not saying this in light of the history of war, which has employed much more savage efforts (including our own use of nuclear weapons), but in the language of right conduct and morality, whether true to Christian or other ideals.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Daily News & Commentary

For the best grassroots review of the previous day's news and commentary on the blogosphere, none is better than Cursor.

Check 'em out.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Rebuttal To Krauthammer Still To Come

Totally got sidetracked on the Krauthammer piece proclaiming the victory of neoconservatism, so I'll have to go back and review that and put it together, as promised. My recollection is that there really wasn't much to rebut in Krauthammer's piece, due mainly to its near-total triumphalism, full of pronouncements but with little substance to actually criticize. One can always criticize pronouncments as well, by undermining them with rival pronouncements, so that's what I'll probably do. We'll see...

The Bush Pushback

The Bush Administration is now trying to save its reputation. Having realized that the American people have come to their senses, and concluded that our leadership has brought "shame to our nation", Bush is in damage control mode. His ratings are in the basement, a majority of Americans do not trust him or his leadership, the Democrats are making gains at GOP expense in local races, and his assistant and Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, Scooter Libby, has been indicted for lying about his central role in the Plame leak. In a parliamentary system, Bush would have already been forced to step down or call for new elections. As is, we are not a parliamentary system, and don't want to be, so how best to proceed with a lame duck president who nobody trusts?

This is a tricky issue, because obviously one can look favorably at 2006 prospects for the opposition party to bring some balance to Washington, but ultimately we are conducting an occupation in Iraq and pursuing a campaign against terrorism, and the stakes are high. Are we really to pursue and conduct these activities with a stained, corrupt, and incompetent president unable to lead and govern effectively? To be short, that looks to be the case, but by changing Washington in 2006, and keeping the pressure on the Bush Administration, we can likely demand more accountability and hopefully influence a change of course in our pressing global challenges, which includes far more than neutralizing terrorism, especially in the case of urgent action needed in the global commons as regards climate change, dwindling rainforests, and other ecological crises.

I will be focusing on these issues in my latest return, which hopefully lasts longer than a few days.