True or false: The U.S. is planning to break international law again, this time by violating the Chemical Weapons Convention with the use of banned chemical weapons in Iraq.
True or false: Despite their opposition to Saddam’s possession of chemical weapons, some key members of Bush’s Cabinet are actually on record as having opposed the Chemical Weapons Convention.
True or false: Some pro-warriors, fearing the answers to these questions, are right at this moment rapidly trying to formulate a rationalization to support the illegal use of chemical weapons, as long as it is the U.S. doing it.
I’ll help you out on that last one: Our chemical weapons (very real and already shipped into the region) aren’t as bad as the chemical weapons we imagine Saddam has.
George Monbiot (is that a French name?…hmm) writes in the Guardian:
- Last week George Bush authorised US troops to use tear gas in Iraq. He is permitted to do so by an executive order published in 1975 by Gerald Ford, which overrides, within the US, the 1925 Geneva Protocol on chemical weapons. While this may prevent his impeachment in America, it has no standing in international law.
The Chemical Weapons Convention, promoted by George W’s father and ratified by the United States in 1997, insists that “each State Party undertakes not to use riot control agents as a method of warfare.” Tear gas, pepper spray and other incapacitants may be legally used on your own territory for the purposes of policing. They may not be used in another country to control or defeat the enemy.
For the past two months, US officials have been seeking to wriggle free from this constraint. In February, the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, told Congress’s armed services committee that “there are times when the use of non-lethal riot agents is perfectly appropriate.” He revealed that he and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Richard Myers, had been “trying to fashion rules of engagement” for the use of chemical weapons in Iraq.
Rumsfeld, formerly the chief executive of GD Searle, one of the biggest drugs firms in the US, has never been an enthusiast for the Chemical Weapons Convention. In 1997, as the senate was preparing to ratify the treaty, he told its committee on foreign relations that the convention “will impose a costly and complex regulatory burden on US industry”. Enlisting the kind of self-fulfilling prophecy with which we have since become familiar, he maintained that it was not “realistic”, as global disarmament “is not a likely prospect”. Dick Cheney, now vice-president, asked the committee to record his “strong opposition” to ratification.
Last month Victoria Clarke, an assistant secretary in Chemical Donald’s department, wrote to the Independent on Sunday, confirming the decision to use riot control agents in Iraq, and claiming, without supporting evidence, that their deployment would be legal. Last week the US Marine Corps told the Asia Times that “CS gas and pepper spray had already been shipped to the Gulf”. The government of the United States appears to be on the verge of committing a war crime in Iraq.
Given that the entire war contravenes international law, does it matter? It does, for three reasons. The most immediate is that there is no such thing as a non-lethal chemical weapon. Gases which merely incapacitate at low doses, in well-ventilated places, kill when injected into rooms, as the Russian special forces found in October when they slaughtered 128 of the 700 hostages they were supposed to be liberating from a Moscow theatre. It is impossible to deliver a sufficient dose to knock out combatants without also delivering a sufficient dose to kill some of their captives.
The second reason is that, if they still possess them, it may induce the Iraqi fighters to retaliate with chemical weapons of their own. At the same time, it encourages the other nations now threatened with attack by George Bush to start building up their chemical arsenals: if the US is not prepared to play by the rules, why should they?
The third reason is that the use of gas in Iraq may serve, in the eyes of US citizens, to help legitimise America’s illegal chemical weapons development programme. As the US weapons research group the Sunshine Project has documented, the defence department and the army are experimenting with chemicals which cause pain, fear, convulsions, hallucinations and unconsciousness, and developing the hollow mortar rounds required to deliver them. Among the weapons they are testing is fentanyl, the drug which turned the Moscow theatre into a gas chamber. Since March 2002, the government’s “non-lethal weapons directorate” has been training the Marine Corps in the use of chemical weapons.