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escribacat On April - 8 - 2010


**WARNING** Disturbing pictures.

I met a woman at a conference today who had just returned from a year teaching writing to soldiers in Afghanistan. She told me something disturbing — that she knew a 20 year Afghani woman who’d been burned by white phosphorus. She said the girl went to the hospital and when the doctor started treating the injury, the burn “exploded,” creating a much bigger injury. According to the woman I met, the delivery method used for a white phosphorus attack is by air and she said the only party capable of an air attack in Afghanistan is the USA.

When I got home, I looked this up and got a distressing number of hits about the use of white phosphorus in Gaza and in Afghanistan. White phosphorus does not fall under the category of a chemical weapon and is therefore not banned. The Geneva Convention prohibits the use of incendiary weapons such as white phosphorus against civilian populations but their use against “military targets” is not specifically prohibited. Some of the material I found online indicated that you could use it in mortar and rocket attacks — which contradicts what the writing teacher told me.

Whoever is using it, the effects of white phosphorus are horrific. The stuff sticks to your skin and then continues burning, creating deep destructive burns. Exposure to the smoke can also damage the lungs, eyes, and mucous membranes.

Palestinian boy with white phosphorus burns

Israel used white phosphorus on the village of Khoza’a, southern Gaza:
White phosphorus in Gaza: the victims

Radio Free Europe reports that US and Nato forces in Afghanistan acknowledge using white phosphorus to “create smokescreens” in Farah province:
Investigation Launched Into White Phosphorus Claims In Afghanistan

UK Guardian reports on same Farah province attack (May 2009):
Phosphorus claim after fatal air strikes in Afghanistan

London Times says it’s the Taleban using white phosphorus:
Taleban using white phosphorus, some of it made in Britain

US also claims it was the other guys using white phosphorus in the Farah attack:
U.S.: Afghan militants using white phosphorous

Categories: News & Politics

35 Responses so far.

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  1. Mightywoof says:

    From the time humans first picked up a stone and used it against another human, we have been inventing more and more horrific ways of hurting and killing each other. The only time I ever despair is when I see/hear of things like this ……… I don’t care which ‘side’ uses this evil, evil stuff -- they should all have it used on them (and I’m not usually a ‘revenge’ freak). It goes back to the torture-as-an-acceptable-instrument-of-information-gathering -- one side ups the ante and the other side one ups them. Will Man/Womankind ever learn! Not in my lifetime, probably never -- and that scares the hell out of me.

  2. AlphaBitch says:

    Hey all -- just dropped by. Ecat -- check out a video on the web called “The Hidden Massacre of Fallujah”, made by Italian journalists about the US use of WP in Iraq. Followed by interviews of military guys who knew they were transporting the stuff. Don’t have time to look it up, but it’s astonishing. And very, very sad.

  3. whatsthatsound says:

    Richard Dawkins assures us that if society would just stop learning “Bronze Age myths” about “sky fairies” and instead learn science and reason, human cruelty would vastly decrease on our long suffering planet.
    Well, what about THESE scientists? A hell of a lot of good their training in the sciences did THEM!
    You want a “demon haunted world”? Just get your engineers to crank out napalm, phosporous, etc., and you’ll get one all right!

    • Daedalus says:

      There is a big difference between scientists and engineers. Scientists try to build mental models that allow us to better predict and describe what we experience. Engineers try to build cool stuff (they would say that they use the models developed by science to solve “practical problems”). The people who invented white phosphorus were engineers, not scientists.
      As for Dawkins, he’s a bit too pompous and sure of himself to make a good scientist, but he might be an excellent engineer.

      • whatsthatsound says:

        I understand the difference, but appreciate your pointing it out. Interestingly, one could draw a parallel between humanity’s great teachers of spiritual truths throughout the ages (the “scientists”), and the “engineers”: the priests, monks, etc. who used those truths either for good or ill.

        But, of course, Mr. Dawkins would be much too, as you and I agree, “pompous and sure of himself” to ever allow such an analogy to interfere with his ideas about science OR religion.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      What’s, want to know how lowbrow I am? The only Richard Dawkins I’d ever heard of was a cheesy game show host on “Family Feud” in the seventies. He was married to Diana Dors--a fellow Brit--who was a Jayne Mansfield wannabe.

      Here’s my Dawkins:

      Seriously, thank you for raising my IQ-- I just read up on your Dawkins and am ashamed I didn’t know his name, even if I heard of his ideas. And he invented the term “meme.”

      And yes-- you are so right about this issue, and scientists. No one is immune from heinous behavior.

      • boomer1949 says:

        Cher,

        Richard DAWSON, not Dawkins. Lord help me, it’s Friday, 2:48 AM EDT, and I’m still sitting in front of this keyboard. I need sleep, not insomnia, but HEY bito, if you’re still awake…it’s time to get your A$$ to $leep!!!


      • whatsthatsound says:

        ha ha…I know him too, but forgot that was his name. That must have made for a pretty interesting take on my comment. “Who the heck cares what Richard Dawkins thinks, anyway?” LOL

        I admire MY Richard Dawkins in certain respects, but think his strident anti-religious near zealotry causes his wonderful mind to get clouded with magical thinking when it comes to the power of science and reason to right the world’s wrongs.

  4. boomer1949 says:

    e’cat,

    I just did a “quick” Google search and found a political (I’m ashamed to say) cartoon from 2005 (if an Admin. would be so kind) to turn the link into the actual image…

    …says volumes about where we were in 2005, if this happened then (still no excuse) or now (I’ll be pissed if it has happened ON or AFTER 1/20/2009).

    Although, I’ve not had the opportunity, much less an invitation, to have a chat and a beer with our POTUS, I refuse to believe Mr. Obama could/would ever condone or approve the use of an agent such this — especially if he has seen the horrific and heart wrenching photo circa 1972 of Phan Thi Kim Ph

    • escribacat says:

      I have vivid memories of that image from Vietnam. I agree that the Obamas and White Phosphorus do not seem to exist on the same plain of reality. Yet he must be aware of it. He’s the president. I do find the idea really troubling.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Sorry, Boomer, I can’t get the second link to publish as image. I don’t know why, but that happens to me often. :sad:

      • boomer1949 says:

        cher,

        Found it…here is the link…and catching a few ZZZZs before I need to be able to function :smile:

      • boomer1949 says:

        NP Cher, it’s quite unpleasant to view anyway, but since it was an award winning (gag) photo, most of us have seen it anyway. On the other hand, the Georgie Porgie Puddin’ and Pie cartoon has vanished…but it was there a couple of minutes ago. Doncha’ hate when that happens?

        NP Cher, the jist was to emphasize 2005 — which was what? — 5 years ago and 3 years before Barrack Obama was elected POTUS…go figure!?!

        Totally OT and I expect no sympathy whatsoever, but…it’s almost 3:00 AM EDT, I’m still here, and I’m supposed to be at work in 5 hours?!?

        • Chernynkaya says:

          Boomer-- I am exhausted and it’s only 11;45 here! Why can’t you sleep? are you OK? email me if you like.

          What the heck happened to the photo???? That’s so weird. Can you please repost the link? It was a great cartoon!

  5. whatsthatsound says:

    I’m not asking everybody in the world to suddenly turn into a Bodhisattva, but wouldn’t it be a sensible and humane course of action if, you’re a chemist or chemical engineer who has gone through a rigid academic program and received top level scientific training, to NOT work on any substance that would be the last, last, LAST thing you yourself would ever want to have inflicted on YOURSELF? You don’t have to work on making gardens bloom in deserts or turning ocean water into drinking water or anything really helpful and useful, but AT LEAST………..!

  6. Chernynkaya says:

    US defends use of white phosphorus against Iraq insurgents
    11.16.2005, 02:59 PM

    WASHINGTON (AFX) -- The US today defended the use of white phosphorus munitions against insurgents in Iraq last year but denied civilians were targeted.

    The toxic agent was used during what a US army journal called ‘shake and bake’ missions against insurgents in the battle for Fallujah last year.

    ‘It’s part of our conventional weapons inventory. We use it like we use any other conventional weapon,’ said Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman.

    Whitman said he had no knowledge of any civilian victims of attacks with white phosphorus.

    ‘We don’t target any civilians with any of our weapons, and to suggest US forces were targeting civilians with these weapons would be wrong,’ he said.

    ‘We don’t target civilian populations. We go to great lengths to do everything possible to prevent civilian casualties, and collateral damage to property,’ he said.

    Reports that white phosphorous was used in Fallujah has thrust the US into a new controversy over Iraq war tactics.

    But another Defense Department spokesman highlighted that white phosphorous has been used by armies around the world for the past century.

    A yellowish substance with a pungent smell similar to garlic, white phosphorous erupts spontaneously into fire when exposed to oxygen, releasing a dense white smoke.

    Incandescent particles of white phosphorus can cause deep, painful chemical burns, said GlobalSecurity.Org, a Washington group that gathers information on military subjects.

    A report on the battle of Fallujah published in April in the army journal Field Artillery said white phosphorous ‘proved to be an effective and versatile munition’ in Fallujah.

    ‘We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE (high explosives),’ said the report.

    ‘We fired ‘shake and bake’ missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out,’ it said.

    ‘We used improved WP for screening missions when HC smoke would have been more effective and saved our WP for lethal missions,’ it said.

    Whitman said US forces used the munition mainly to create smoke screens in battle and to mark targets, but he acknowledged they were used against insurgents as well.

    Lieutenant Colonel Barry Venable, another Pentagon spokesman, said the white phosphorus also was used as an incendiary weapon.

    ‘It has been used in armies the world over for most the past century, I believe. It was used by US forces in Operation Al Fajr, specifically to target enemy combatants so we could defeat them,’ he said.

    I am too tired to repeat my too-long reply to BT

  7. AdLib says:

    I was under the impression too that using phosphorus was a violation of the Geneva Convention.

    How do loopholes for military targets not lead to it falling on people at military targets?

    Disgusting and horrific!

  8. kesmarn says:

    e’cat, thanks for bringing this to our attention.

    I can’t believe that if American forces are using this stuff, it would ever be done with Barack Obama’s approval.

    If we are, I truly believe he will put a stop to it immediately. And I hope my faith in him is justified. I think it is.

  9. choicelady says:

    OMG -- I had NO idea! I’ve never forgiven Dow chemical for napalm, and this is at least that bad if not worse. We do need to find out what’s going on and STOP IT! And find out who makes it, yes!

    Horrible!

  10. PatsyT says:

    Oh boy
    Heartbreaking Ecat.
    I don’t know what to say. So sad.

  11. PepeLepew says:

    My brother briefly worked in a fertilizer factory and once got this stuff splashed on him and it was the same way; it just kept burning and burning deeper. It was mostly on his thighs. I’m pretty sure it had phosphorus in it. He quit shortly after because he said it came damn close to burning something really important off!


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