Thursday, November 17, 2005

Lie, damned lies and the BBC


From the BBC:


Washington is not a signatory to any treaty restricting the use of white phosphorus against civilians.

White phosphorus is covered by Protocol III of the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons, which prohibits its use as an incendiary weapon against civilian populations or in air attacks against enemy forces in civilian areas.

The US - unlike 80 other countries including the UK - is not a signatory to Protocol III.


Sadly, the BBC is not reporting the facts accurately, but is "spinning" them like Fox News in an election year. It is sad to see the BBC fall prey to such slanted, deliberately inaccurate coverage.

It is true that "Washington is not a signatory to any treaty restricting the use of white phosphorus against civilians." It is also true that Protocol III of the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons prohibits its use as an incendiary weapon against civilian populations or in air attacks against enemy forces in civilian areas.

It is also true that the US has not signed Protocol III.

So the story is true, right? Wrong.

It is NEVER legal under international laws of land warfare to deliberately target civilians. You can not use WP - or any other weapon of any kind - against civilians. We don't "carpet-bomb" like in WWII, when civilian populations were viewed by some as legitimate targets. We do not fire WP or any other weapon at civilians.

Any weapon that is "legal" under the laws of land warfare can be used against enemy forces in civilian areas, as long as the use of that weapon fits the "proportionality" test - you don't kill 500 civilians to get one bad guy, etc.

This story makes it sound like the US is defending its right to use white phosphorus against civilians. That is not the case. The US is reiterating what is a legal and known fact - that WP is not a "chemical weapon" and that it is not a "banned" weapon. It is a conventional weapon like high explosive, bullets, bayonets, or hand grenades. The only restrictions on its use are those that apply to all other weapons - you don't target civilians. If civilians are harmed, by any weapon, it is either an accident or a crime. In combat zones people get hurt - even our own troops in friendly fire incidents - and it is even more likely that civilians, hiding in an enemy-occupied city and whose presence the soldiers are not aware of, will be accidentally hit in the course of the battle. That is not the same as "targeting" civilians, and the US has never claimed WP or any other weapon can be used against civilian populations. Civilians are non-combatants and it is illegal to attack them. There are those who refuse to admit the difference between deliberately targeting civilians and accidentally hitting them in a battle, but that doesn't make the use of WP in Fallujah a crime. The BBC should be ashamed for twisting the facts of this story to imply the US would target civilians deliberately.

Maybe. But the problem with this is that the entire war is a crime, so therefore all that happens, as a result, is a crime as well

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