Fallujah, The Hidden Massacre

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Iraq - Fallujah, The Hidden Massacre
Jeff-Englehart-ex-us-military-2005.jpg
Ex US soldier and anti-war activist Jeff Englehart talking about the use of white phosphorus against Iraqi civilians in Fallujah.
Created by Sigfrido Ranucci and Maurizio Torrealta
Country Italy
Language Italian, English
Original channel RAI
Release date 2005-11-08

Fallujah, The Hidden Massacre is a documentary film by Sigfrido Ranucci and Maurizio Torrealta which first aired on Italy's RAI state television network on November 8, 2005. The film documents the use of weapons that the documentary asserts are chemical weapons, particularly the use of incendiary bombs, and alleges indiscriminate use of violence against civilians and children by military forces of the United States of America in the city of Fallujah in Iraq during the Fallujah Offensive of November 2004.

The film's primary themes are:

  • Establishing a case for war crimes against civilians committed by the United States.
  • Documenting evidence for the use of chemical devices by the US military.
  • Documenting other human rights abuses by American forces and their Iraqi counterparts.

This article offers a synopsis of the material presented in the documentary.

White phosphorus
White phosphorus a highly efficient smoke producing agent, burning quickly and causing an instant bank of smoke. As a result, smoke producing White phosphorus munitions are common, particularly as smoke grenades for infantry, loaded in defensive grenade dischargers on tanks and other armored vehicles, or as part of the ammunition allotment for artillery or mortars. These create smokescreens to mask movement from the enemy, or to mask his fire. As an incendiary weapon, WP burns fiercely and can set cloth, fuel, ammunition and other combustibles on fire. White phosphorus use is legal for purposes such as illumination and obscuring smoke, and the Chemical Weapons Convention does not list WP in its schedules of chemical weapons.

War crimes[edit]

The primary theme of the film is its assertion of a case for war crimes committed by the United States in its military offensive against Fallujah in Iraq.[clarification needed] The film documents the use of weapons based on white phosphorus and other substances similar to napalm, such as Mark-77, by American forces.

Interviews with American ex-military personnel who claimed to have been involved in the Fallujah offensive back up the case for the use of weapons by the United States, while reporters who were stationed in Iraq discuss the American government's attempts to suppress the news by covert means.[clarification needed]

Incendiary weapons used against personnel and civilians[edit]

The film states that the use of napalm and similar agents was banned by the United Nations in 1980 for use against civilians and also for use against military targets in proximity to civilians.

The use of white phosphorus, as a marker, smokescreen layer or as a weapon, is not banned by Protocol III of the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. What is prohibited is the use of incendiary weapons against targets in close proximity to civilians or civilian property. The protocol specifically excludes weapons whose incendiary effect is secondary, such as smoke and tracer rounds. The United States is among the nations that are parties to the convention but have not signed Protocol III.[1]

The March–April 2005 online Field Artillery magazine has confirmed the use of WP (white phosphorus) in so-called "shake 'n bake" attacks, so the use of white phosphorus is substantiated by US Army sources only for screening and psychological effects: "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 [high explosives (HE)]. We fired “shake and bake” missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out." [P.26]

Graphic visual footage of what are claimed to be WP weapons being fired from helicopters into urban areas is displayed, as well as detailed footage of the remains of those allegedly killed by these weapons, including children and women. The filmmakers interview ex US military soldier turned antiwar activist Jeff Englehart of Colorado who discusses the American use of white phosphorus, nicknamed "Willie Pete" (pre-NATO US phonetic alphabet for "WP" - White Phosphorus) by U.S. servicemembers, in built-up areas, and describes the Fallujah offensive as "just a massive killing of Arabs." Englehart spent two days in Fallujah during the battle.[2]

Following pressure from former Labour MP Alice Mahon, the British Ministry of Defence confirmed the use of MK77 by US forces during the initial invasion of Iraq.[3]

Indiscriminate violence[edit]

The film alleges that the US military deliberately targeted Iraqi civilians and children during the Fallujah offensive as part of its campaign to exterminate opposition to its occupation. The film interviews former US Army scout Garret Reppenhagen, also from Colorado, who claims that civilian deaths were common and intentional. However this claim, like some other claims made in this documentary, is unsubstantiated due to the fact that those being interviewed had no part in the fighting in November 2004 in Fallujah.

The US military responded by stating that they gave civilians several days of advanced warning of the assault and urged them to evacuate the city. This was done through loudspeakers and leaflets dropped by helicopter. However, men of "fighting age" were stopped from leaving the city, numerous women and children also stayed behind, and a corresponndent for the Guardian estimated that between 30,000 and 50,000 civilians were still in the city when the assault took place.[1]

Criticism[edit]

Critics of the film point out that white phosphorus is not considered a "chemical weapon" under the Chemical Weapons Convention but an incendiary weapon, making the distinction that white phosphorus does not poison but burns its subject. White phosphorus is also commonly used and accepted by many military powers around the world.[1]

A subsequent documentary, Star Wars in Iraq by Sigfrido Ranucci and Maurizio Torrealta, accounts for human heads being burned, without their bodies, clothes and nearby equipment suffering damage by alleging the use of US experimental weapons. [2] These journalists have no technical explanation of how the weapons might have caused the unusual effects, and the quoted article did not reference comments from forensic pathologists or specialists in weapons effects.

Crucially, [the US] statement that white phosphorus had been used as an incendiary was not an admission that a chemical or otherwise illegal weapon had been deployed. Still less was it evidence that a massacre of civilians had taken place in Falluja.

— Paul Wood (The BBC's defence correspondent) 17 November 2005[4]

The media couldn't have made a bigger pig's ear of the white phosphorus story. So, before moving on to the new revelations from Falluja, I would like to try to clear up the old ones. There is no hard evidence that white phosphorus was used against civilians. The claim was made in a documentary broadcast on the Italian network RAI, called Falluja: the Hidden Massacre. It claimed that the corpses in the pictures it ran "showed strange injuries, some burnt to the bone, others with skin hanging from their flesh ... The faces have literally melted away, just like other parts of the body. The clothes are strangely intact." These assertions were supported by a human-rights advocate who, it said, possessed "a biology degree".

I, too, possess a biology degree, and I am as well qualified to determine someone's cause of death as I am to perform open-heart surgery. So I asked Chris Milroy, professor of forensic pathology at the University of Sheffield, to watch the film. He reported that "nothing indicates to me that the bodies have been burnt". They had turned black and lost their skin "through decomposition". We don't yet know how these people died. But there is hard evidence that white phosphorus was deployed as a weapon against combatants in Falluja. As this column revealed last Tuesday, US infantry officers confessed that they had used it to flush out insurgents"

George Monbiot in The Guardian November 22, 2005[5]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b White Phosphorus Fact Sheet, Federation of American Scientists 
  2. ^ Buncombe, Andrew; Solomon Hughes (15 November 2005). "The fog of war: white phosphorus, Fallujah and some burning questions". The Independent. Retrieved 7 June 2013. 
  3. ^ Ingram, Adam. "D/MSU/4/5/2". UK Ministry of Defense. Retrieved 7 June 2013. 
  4. ^ Staff. Heated debate over white phosphorus BBC NewsWatch 17 November 2005.
  5. ^ George Monbiot Behind the phosphorus clouds are war crimes within war crimes, The Guardian, November 22, 2005

Further reading[edit]

Watch the documentary film (External links)[edit]

The documentary is available for downloading or viewing at the following link: