November 09, 2005

Crow. The Other White Meat

Yesterday, I wrote blog post responding a pack of lies passed off as journalism by the Independent's Peter Popham.

Popham wrote an article accusing the United States military of using massive quantities of white phosphorous as a chemical weapon the battle of Fallujah. He claimed massive civilian casualties. He claimed that assault went unreported by the media, as were (presumably) the supposed atrocities. But none of Popham's story is supported by the truth.

I wrote a scathing reply to his false charges in this post, pointing out the very obvious fact that many journalists were in Fallujah, including Kevin Sites who shot the internationally famous (or infamous) video of a Marine shooting a wounded terrorist in a Fallujah mosque, or of a picture that made a Kentucky Marine famous as the "Marlboro man."

News photographers shot thousands of photos and hours of video in Fallujah. I was so right about the fact that they were there, but I was so wrong about what their presence and photographic evidence meant.

After reading Popham's article, I must have internalized the quote from the "former American solider" he quotes, who said:

"Phosphorus explodes and forms a cloud. Anyone within a radius of 150 metres is done for."

I then claimed that the lack of protective gear in the photos proved white phosphorous could not have been used in "massive quantities" as claimed by Popham. Boy, was I wrong. It proves nothing of the sort.

From a reader, who happens to be something of an expert:

You made an erroneous correlation in your commentary "Popham, Meet Sites" concerning the absence of chemical protection on the Marines indicating that WP would not have been used. Chemical protection is not needed nor used when WP is employed. There is no respiratory "chemical threat" associated with WP. Our chemical protection suits would not protect a person from burns associated with WP. (WP would burn right through a chemical protection suit.)

In other words, the lack of protective gear I cited meant precisely nothing, because protective gear wouldn't stop white phosphorous, nor even slow it down. He further clarifies the properties of WP:

WP is not employed in an anti-personnel roll. It works great in disabling equipment because of the extreme heat properties of the chemicals. It can burn through thinner steel and iron very quickly rendering equipment unusable. Of course it will quickly ignite fuel and ammunition, hence its use against POL [petroleum/oil/lubricants] and Ammo storage areas. It does not work well against heavily armored equipment like tanks because the there just isn't a large enough mass of burning phosphorus to burn through tank armor.

But wait. Didn't Popham claim the following?

Provided by the Studies Centre of Human Rights in Fallujah, dozens of high-quality, colour close-ups show bodies of Fallujah residents, some still in their beds, whose clothes remain largely intact but whose skin has been dissolved or caramelised or turned the consistency of leather by the shells.

So clothes don't remain "largely intact" nor is skin "dissolved," but is instead completely burned away. White phosphorous does not leave skin "carmelised" nor turns the skin "consistency of leather."

High explosives, commonly used in warfare, however, can "carmelise" skin, and dead bodies in hot dry desert air tends to begin to mummify, and can quite easily turn " the consistency of leather" because of the desiccation of the human body in such an environment.

In short, these wounds are not caused from WP. Period. The burn physics of white phosphorous does not change, though the excuses on the Left flitter by like the wind.

The expert concludes:

Most of the Fallujah operation was conducted in daylight, so the primary use of WP would have been as an obscurant. WP especially from mortars would serve no useful destructive purpose (like an HE round). Technically, in this employment roll, WP would be a tactic, not a weapon – in that it would not be fired with the expectation of killing the enemy. If the enemy was inside a building WP would be wholly ineffective as a weapon employed to neutralize/kill him...

In your defense, Sites and any other reporters close at hand did not report any massive use of WP. It would seem to me that if the Marines had used massive amounts of WP rounds; something out of the ordinary as compared to tactics previously employed, there would have been reporter comments. Not comments condemning the use of chemical weapons, but comments about the employment of an unseen and unusual tactic. Those comments were not forthcoming.

Scott Burgess at the UK blog The Daily Ablution has a similar conversation with an expert today that follows a similar path and reaches similar conclusions.

The Independent stories--Popham's yesterday, and Andrew Buncombe's today--are meritless, tawdry political theater based upon willful ignorance and deliberately uncritical reporting and editing.

I guess there is a place for "Mary Mapes-style" journalism in the world after all.

Also: While you're here, consider this post, will you?

Posted by Confederate Yankee at November 9, 2005 05:21 PM | TrackBack

That's the Independent for you. I dont know how well they cover British issues, but much of their "reporting" on America is just laughable. It makes the Guardian look downright centrist.

Posted by: Go Metro at November 9, 2005 10:32 PM

WP ("Willie Peter") has been around a long time. Check out WWII combat films on TV (especially from the Pacific) that show white clouds from exploding rounds. Like napalm, WP was used to get at people protected from conventional explosives. In my Army days, 1959-1961, we fired WP rounds from 4.2-inch mortars for practice. We were told the stuff is nasty, because it will adhere to skin and cannot be extinguished with water. The reporter on this story is only a half-step from breathlessly telling us that bullets are used in Iraq and that they can hurt people.

Posted by: Hammerin' Hank at November 9, 2005 10:45 PM

[PDF file] on artillery use from the March/April edition of the US Army's "Field Artillery Magazine."

. . . "WP proved to be an effective and versatile munition. 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. We fired 'shake and bake' missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out."

Embedded reporter describing "shake and bake" WP use in Fallajuh:

"The boom kicked dust around the pit as they ran through the drill again and again, sending a mixture of burning white phosphorus and high explosives they call "shake 'n' bake" into a cluster of buildings where insurgents have been spotted all week."

Posted by: Dave Johnson at November 9, 2005 11:06 PM

Its not a "chemical weapon" just another incindiary. One that happens to be hard to put out.

We should make some sodium based incindiary rounds - how could anyone complain about 1/2 the constituent "chemical" in table salt?

Pure sodium is quirky stuff to handle though...

Posted by: Purple Avenger at November 10, 2005 12:05 AM

If only it were that easy...
"A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes." - Mark Twain

Whatever the truth of the matter is, the ranks of traitors and seditionists are going to keep pounding and pounding on the "US used chemical weapons on civilians in Fallujah" until it becomes an article of faith, and the facts of the case no longer matter. Watch for their representatives in Congress to call for investigations before long.

Posted by: Tommythegun at November 10, 2005 04:04 AM

Okay, instead of "Willy Pete", we go after these insurgents in their caves with non-stop sixties peace songs blasted at them from giant speakers until they die laughing, kill themselves with their own weapons, or "turn on, tune in, drop out".

Posted by: Tom T at November 10, 2005 09:53 AM

Tom, you obviously underestimate the power of William Shatner's version of "Mr. Tambourine Man" and Leonard Nimoy's rendition "If I Had a Hammer."

Talk about cruel and unusual punishment...

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at November 10, 2005 11:09 AM

Actually the March-April 2004 issue of Field Artillery magazine

and the May-June 2004 issue of Infantry magazine,
both DoD publications, confirm the offensive use of WP. The Field Artllerly issue confirms its use in Fallujah.

Posted by: Rob W at November 10, 2005 01:50 PM

No one is disputing the actual usage of WP, Rob. The dispute is what WP can do, and what it was used for. The propaganda film that claimed all this BS says that WP would not burn clothes - which is a blatant lie. It also says that breathing WP would melt you from the inside - lie. If you look at any medical fact sheet on the substance, you'll see how completely insane all these claims are.

The Field Artillery issue confirms that they used WP to "flush them out" and HE to "take them out". In other words, just as was said above in this post, WP was used as a tactical weapon, while HE was used as a destructive weapon.

Don't let facts and science get in your way though!

Posted by: Seixon at November 10, 2005 02:28 PM

man, it's dark meat.

Posted by: sojourning crow at November 10, 2005 02:35 PM

You gotta remember that these "peace activists" never let mere facts get in the way of truth.

Posted by: shoprat at November 10, 2005 10:38 PM

You may want to share this with your readers. This is not a professional work, but just an informal analysis.

I had this conversation yesterday regarding this news story about WP being used as a chemical weapon.

I am a former fire support officer, who was trained to travel with infantry and armor units and be the eyes of the artillery to call for fire.
I read the article from the Italian news source, and let me state unequivocally that what it claims is physically impossible. A white phosphorous round used for illumination is a base ejecting projectile that "opens" in the air and floats down under a parachute. The projectile casing does continue down range, but fire direction officers and fire support officers along with the maneuver commanders clear this impact area as part of the calculations. The projectile casing itself could kill a person, as any bullet would, but it is not possible to use it as a chemical warfare attack.
The flare itself floats down and you would pretty much have to chase after it and position yourself under where you project it will land to even get burned. It is possible although very unlikely that this flare could hit a building and could cause a fire, but the injury wouldn’t be a chemical burn, but a burn from the building fire. I have never seen anything close to this happen.
The flares come down slowly and usually burn out first, but since they are the brightest thing in the sky, it would be easy to avoid one if it landed while burning. I have seen a few flares land on the ground while burning, but this is much different than a chemical attack.
The only way you could purposely harm anyone with this is if you direct fired at a short range. The projectile most likely wouldn't eject the flare (it has a timed fuse) and it really wouldn't matter if you fired Cheetohs at someone at that range, the concussion would kill them.
An artillery unit wouldn't use direct fire unless it was being attacked. And even then it would use their organic direct fire weapons and if necessary, another type of projectile. To use a WP for direct fire would be entirely counterproductive to the security of the battery even in self defense.

This Italian news story is nothing but a lie.

After being asked repeatedly to analyze the “Italian News Story” (gag), I analyzed the video, here are my thoughts

I analyzed the video and am pleased to announce that it is junk. There are many things I could point out, but here is what sticks out.
1. The “fire raining down from the helicopter” was the part that concerned me. I had to watch it repeatedly to figure it out. At first I thought it was the backblast from a missile being fired the other direction. After a more thorough analysis, I realize it was an air burst of WP artillery rounds. Those are basically small rags that looked like balls of fire. This is because it is night and it is hard to get perspective at night, with or without night vision equipment. Taken out of context, it is easy to make it look like fire raining down on the city. The rag would certainly burn, but it would be like a cigarette and you would just need to brush it off, maybe take off clothes, and get away from it.
2. The voice over states "contrary to the claim by the state department that WP was used in open fields, this was not true because tracer rounds were used to illuminate the enemy" Nothing could have spelled out liar any bigger than that one statement. Tracy rounds are never used to illuminate the enemy. The glow from a tracer round lasts tenths of a second and travels hundreds of miles an hour; it could not possibly be used for this function, again a claim that defies all practicality. Tracer rounds are used to see where your bullets are going so your fire can be adjusted, flat out. And quoting the State Department about a military function?

3. The pictures of dead bodies while hideous provide no analytical value. Contrast the opening from Vietnam, with the burned little girl, running from a napalmed village. That is conclusive evidence. Nothing about these dead bodies looked any different to the many dead bodies I have seen analyzing other videos (of dead bodies) that were all made that way (dead) by Saddam’s regime and then by Jihadists. There is no way to determine what killed these people by looking at pictures, except maybe by a forensics expert.

4. The soldiers, this is more complicated:
I find the taller guy, I think his name was Garret, credible. His story rang true and is tragically repeated. But this is not a war crime or a chemical attack, but bad target identification and a complete human tragedy, assuming the "civilians" were indeed non combatants, it is very hard for the soldiers to tell. Although I do question his motives that is irrelevant to this analysis since he provides no “evidence” of chemical weapons.
The other guy Jeff was a liar, to the point I would need to see his orders to believe he was in Iraq. He states, (paraphrasing) "the orders unequivocally came from the pentagon to wait until after the election".
How does he know this? Was he CENTCOM commander at the time? Did the CENTCOM commander call him up and tell him that? Even if it was true, that fact in itself is not nefarious.
The re-election of Bush would be a crushing blow to the Jihadists in Fallujah, and let me tell you, I have seen their own videos recovered from there and the place was crawling with them. It would make tactical sense to wait, if you were pretty confident that Bush would win. They call this tactical patience.
Also, the timing of the attack was heavily influenced by the Iraqi Provisional Authority. The U.S. had just helped them form and wanted to get them involved with running their country as soon as possible. That is why the first battle of Fallujah was ended, because the new Iraqi government wanted more time to talk with the Jihadists. That is until the new Iraqi government officials figured out that they were now the primary target of the Jihadists and told the U.S. effectively, go get them (the Jihadists in Fallujah) as soon as you can.
Jeff states (paraphrasing), that the U.S. was using chemical weapons because we used WP. Hogwash. The video itself showed the flares floating slowly to the ground and the ground itself gave perspective. Now I am not saying I would want WP on my skin, but I wouldn't want Drano on my skin either and I am not declaring chemical warfare on my home. Now a person could make the argument that you could take that Drano and throw it on your neighbor and that would be a chemical attack. True, but, you can not spew WP from a deployed flare because if it is burning, it is burning the WP. You wouldn’t want to put your mouth over it, of course, and you wouldn’t want to purposely hold it to your skin, but you would have to go out of the way to hurt yourself with a flare.

c. He states (paraphrasing) when they used the stuff (WP) they would come over the net and say the WP is coming or "commence bombing" or something.
Commence bombing? Who was on the net giving this sitrep, Clark Gable? That’s about the last time anybody used this term. This guy is a clown. And notice he makes claims and then says, oh, I didn't see it, but I heard about it.

5. The real tip off about the credibility of this “news story” is the pictures of dead animals.
The voice over said, paraphrasing: that several animals were found dead with no visible sign of trauma.
First off, did they examine the animals? If so, they didn’t show it. Sure something is not visible, if you don’t look! Animals die everyday from natural causes, hunger, disease, or even getting hit by cars or possibly by conventional weapons.
And get this, they show people who appear burned and claim this to be a sign of a chemical weapon, then they show animals with no injuries in the context of this discussion to imply they died of a mysterious chemical weapon. Their “facts” not only fail to support each other, but they directly conflict with each other. Yet they choose to throw them at the viewer with full understanding of the emotional impact of these images.

6. A human rights group based in Fallujah? For crying out loud, that was Saddam's power base. That is were the people burned four contractors and hung them from a bridge.

By introducing these “facts” in the context of a chemical weapons discussion, yet not having any supporting evidence, I can only conclude that not only are these charges false, but this was done with the documentary creator’s full knowledge that they were baseless charges. In other words, they purposely lied, which goes to their credibility.

After I wrote this, I was informed of more “supporting evidence” linked on the

“"WP [i.e., white phosphorus rounds] proved to be an effective and versatile munition. 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. We fired 'shake and bake' missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out."
-- Field Artillery Magazine, via Steven D

My analysis:

I don’t mean to speak for the author, but this is evident

""WP [i.e., white phosphorus rounds] proved to be an effective and versatile munition."

Very true and widely known among redlegs (artillerymen). Nothing interesting here.

"We used it for screening missions at two breeches ..."

The kind of projectile they are speaking about here creates smoke. It is widely, commonly, and legally used by every army to conceal their men. Usually, if an obstacle needs to be breeched, the smoke is delivered by artillery in between the obstacle and the enemy observer. It can also be placed on the enemy to confuse and scare them. The smoke itself is uncomfortable, but not dangerous, unless you want to sit on top of the projectile and breathe it. I know because I have experienced it.

"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."

Notice he said psychological weapon and not chemical weapon. This is because the smoke would confuse the enemy and conceal our movements and would indeed, scare them.

"We fired 'shake and bake' missions at the insurgents"

A poor choice of phrasing because it is not technically accurate and does give the wrong impression, but this is a soldier and not a politician or a marketing strategist. (After further consideration, I think if the reference is to the projectile itself and not to the effect on flesh, it could be accurate. The HE would shake the ground and the material that creates smoke does so by burning (baking) but you would pretty much have to try to set yourself on fire by rolling around in it.)

"using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out."

This takes a little bit of imagination. Imagine you are in a fighting position and the enemy is dropping smoke near your position. You ask yourself "why are they dropping smoke here?" the answer "because they are coming right through here." So, you haul butt out of your defensive position and expose yourself to HE.

This statement has absolutely nothing to do with the “dual use” of smoke (WP) as a chemical weapon. It is stating that WP can have a psychological effect as well as a tactical use. That is the only “dual use” here.

-Ray Robison is a Sr. Military Operations Research Analyst with Scientific Applications International Corporation at the Aviation and Missile, Research, Development, Engineering Command in Huntsville Alabama. His background includes over ten years of military service as an officer and enlisted soldier in the Medical Branch, Field Artillery and Signal Corp including the Gulf War and Kosovo operations. Most recently he worked as a contractor for DIA with the Iraqi Survey Group.

Posted by: Ray Robison at November 12, 2005 06:49 PM

So, no more cavalry in the house to throw in the gauntlet and fight like knights?
You guys make General Custer look hot LOOOL.

Posted by: Nader at November 20, 2005 09:30 AM

As you say Tom T (does this stand for Mr. T?) there are many ways of going after the Iraqi resistance. There is always the Texas Chainsaw drama. or, the classic Charles Manson approach.

Posted by: Nader at November 20, 2005 10:36 AM