Thursday, November 24, 2005

White Phosporus Chillingly Explained

The Guardian's George Monbiot recently posted an article about the United States' use of high-explosive assualt weapons containing white phosphorus in the battle for Fallujah. Monbiot presents a chilling quote from a 2000 Marine Corps Gazette article that describes the explosive aerosol cloud that thermobaric fuel-air weapons produce and the range of damages observed:
"This cloud is then ignited and the subsequent fireball sears the surrounding area while consuming the oxygen in this area. The lack of oxygen creates an enormous overpressure ... Personnel under the cloud are literally crushed to death. Outside the cloud area, the blast wave travels at some 3,000 metres per second ... As a result, a fuel-air explosive can have the effect of a tactical nuclear weapon without residual radiation ... Those personnel caught directly under the aerosol cloud will die from the flame or overpressure. For those on the periphery of the strike, the injuries can be severe. Burns, broken bones, contusions from flying debris and blindness may result. Further, the crushing injuries from the overpressure can create air embolism within blood vessels, concussions, multiple internal haemorrhages in the liver and spleen, collapsed lungs, rupture of the eardrums and displacement of the eyes from their sockets."
I searched the Marine Corps Gazette archives and I believe the article Monbiot quoted is the following: A "Crushing" Victory: Fuel-Air Explosives and Grozny 2000. Lester W. Grau and Timothy Smith. Volume 84(8): 30-33. August/2000. (The telling scare quotes were intentional by the article's authors.) My search only returned a very brief abstract so I was unable to confirm this article as the source of the quote. Copies of the article can be purchased through the Gazette, but you might acquire them through your library's interlibrary loan system for free.

Look for the typical and tiresome legalistic and semantic wranglings in arguments over whether the US violated international laws and conventions governing the use of incendiary and chemical weapons by using white phosphorus in Fallujah. You're likely all too familiar with similar wranglings in the recent battles over enemy combatants' status and rights, and the methods used to interrogate them.

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