A guest-post by TheZoo commenter 5thstate
About four and a half years ago the US military was battering the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, Iraq, into submission. Even as the battle was being fought reports began to surface that White Phosphorous shells were being used, injuring (and/or killing) civilians who had been unwilling or unable to abandon the town despite the inevitability of attack, and despite international agreements that WP-use be significantly constrained if civilians might be hurt.
In the aftermath Italian public television aired a half–hour film purporting to show evidence of the use of “Willie Pete” against the town and its civilians. The blogosphere picked up on the story and buzzed with commentary and accusations—no prizes for guessing which side of the issue left-wing and right-wing blogs fell.
The NY Times reported on the controversy in its International section with an article titled: “US Is Slow to Respond to Phosphorus Charges“, dated November 21, 2005. Of its approximately 24 paragraphs the most lines are given to the US military’s criticism of the Italian documentary and in descriptions of their confusing PR efforts to counter the charges. Nowhere does the NYT article state that the use of “Willie Pete” against civilians is a war crime under international law to which the US is a signatory.
The article concludes:
At home, on the public radio program Democracy Now!, Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, an American military spokesman, said, “I know of no cases where people were deliberately targeted by the use of white phosphorus.”
But those statements were incorrect. Firsthand accounts by American officers in two military journals note that white phosphorus munitions had been aimed directly at insurgents in Falluja to flush them out. War critics and journalists soon discovered those articles.