Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Fog of War, Thick with Lies

Whenever you see the attribution, "Pentagon spokesman," you can be fairly certain of one thing: the words that said spokesman will utter are likely to be almost the exact opposite of the truth surrounding the issue in question.

And so it was with the latest mouthings of Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Barry Venable when he claimed, while admitting that US forces did use "willy pete" in the Falluja assault, that US forces did not use white phosphorous "against civilians." In general terms, this is clearly false, as evidenced by pictures of roasted babies that had been made public on RAI television. I can't imagine what Venable is thinking when saying something like this. Can he be unaware of these pictures?

Perhaps Mr. Venable should have qualified his statement by saying that the US military didn't use WP against civilians on purpose. However unsatisfying that statement might be, we could. at least, believe it. Of course, this does not excuse the fact that many civilians died horrible deaths as a direct result of the Army's indiscriminate use of WP on an urban environment. Did the Pentagon think it had "smart" willy pete, capable of melting the skin off insurgents while leaving the innocent untouched? A sort of a phosphorous passover as it were.
As evidence of his claim, Veneable cites the Army's Field Artillery magazine story, The Fight for Falluja, and the description contained therein. Venable seem to believe his claim is vindicated by this one line,
We fired `shake and bake' missions at the insurgents.
Apart from his lack of awareness of the pictures of melted babies, Venable also seems unaware of a report from April 10, 2004, in the North County Times by embedded reporter Darrin Mortenson, who describes the firefight in Falluja thusly,
Bogert is a mortar team leader who directed his men to fire round after round of high explosives and white phosphorus charges into the city Friday and Saturday, never knowing what the targets were or what damage the resulting explosions caused.
Anyone mortaring a city like this would have to believe that civilians were going to die. And, of course, this motaring is not the rogue action of a few "bad apples." It may be hard to tell
from how high up the chain of command the order to "light it up" came, but bad apples were not responsible for this.

The larger reason why the words of Lt. Col. Venable are cast in doubt is the fact that the Defense Department has been recursively denying each new revelation. First they denied the use of chemical weapons in Falluja. Then they said they had used WP "sparingly" and for "illumination," but not, rest assured, as a weapon. Now, they admit they did use it as a weapon but not "against civilians." and that WP is not technically outlawed, a technicality the skinless victims of willy pete probably do not well appreciate. One wonders what the next iteration will be:
Uh, ok ... yes, we did cause the death of untold numbers of civilians by horribly melting the skin off their bodies, and it should have been obvious to anyone that blanketing a city with white phophorous would result in a lot of dead civilians, but we didn't mean to kill them. It just kind of ... happened. Okay?
This doesn't even begin to delve into the miserable history the military has in claiming they were "targeting insurgents," when they had actually blown up weddings. This they have done on more than one occasion. Who can forget their continued insistence that a wedding, captured on video, was still a pocket of deadly terrorists who needed to be taken out?

Sometimes I imagine being tele-transported into the head of an ordinary Iraqi citizen, preferably one living in Falluja, and experience what it is like for these people to hear the pathetic words of these mendacious assholes. It must be bloody infuriating.


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