US prepares to use toxic gases in Iraq

M. Junaid Alam redjaguar at
Sat Mar 1 21:58:59 MST 2003

The word 'surreal' comes to mind a lot these days.
US prepares to use toxic gases in Iraq
By Geoffrey Lean and Severin Carrell
02 March 2003

The US is preparing to use the toxic riot-control agents CS gas and
pepper spray in Iraq in contravention of the Chemical Weapons
Convention, provoking the first split in the Anglo-US alliance.
"Calmative" gases, similar to the one that killed 120 hostages in the
Moscow theatre siege last year, could also be employed.

The convention bans the use of these toxic agents in battle, not least
because they risk causing an escalation to full chemical warfare. This
applies even though they can be used in civil disturbances at home: both
CS gas and pepper spray are available for use by UK police forces. The
US Marine Corps confirmed last week that both had already been shipped
to the Gulf.

It is British policy not to allow troops to take part in operations
where riot control agents are employed. But the US Defence Secretary,
Donald Rumsfeld, has asked President Bush to authorise their use. Mr
Bush, who has often spoken of "smoking out" the enemy, is understood to
have agreed.

Internal Pentagon documents also show that the US is developing a range
of calmative gases, also banned for battlefield use. Senior US defence
sources predict these could be used in Iraq by elite special forces
units to take out command and control bunkers deep underground.

Rear Admiral Stephen Baker, a Navy commander in the last Gulf War who is
now senior adviser to the Centre for Defence Information in Washington,
told The Independent on Sunday that US special forces had knock-out
gases that can "neutralise" people. He added: "I would think that if
they get a chance to use them, they will."

The Pentagon said last week that the decision to use riot control agents
"is made by the commander in the field".

Mr Rumsfeld became the first senior figure on either side of the
impending conflict to announce his wish to use chemical agents in a
little-noticed comment to the House of Representatives Armed Services
Committee on 5 February - the same day as Colin Powell's presentation of
intelligence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction to the UN.

The Defence Secretary attacked the "straitjacket" imposed by bans in
international treaties on using the weapons in warfare. He specified
that they could be used "where there are enemy troops in a cave [and]
you know there are women and children in there with them". General
Richard Myers, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke of using
them against human shields.

The revelations leave the Bush administration open to charges of double
standards at a time when it is making Iraq's suspected arsenal of
chemical and biological weapons the casus belli. Charles Kennedy, leader
of the Liberal Democrats, said last night: "This all adds to the
confusion over how the war will be conducted. If the argument with
Saddam Hussein is over disarming him of weapons of mass destruction, it
is perverse of the US to push the boundaries of international chemical
warfare conventions in order to subdue him."

Leading experts and Whitehall officials fear that using even pepper
spray and CS gas would destroy the credibility of the Chemical Weapons
Convention, provoke Iraqi chemical retaliation and set a disastrous
legal precedent. Professor Julian Perry Robinson, one of the world's
foremost authorities on the convention, said: "Legally speaking, Iraq
would be totally justified in releasing chemical weapons over the UK if
the alliance uses them in Baghdad.

"When the war is over and these things have been used they will have
been legitimised as a tool of war, and the principle of toxic weapons
being banned will have gone. The difference between these weapons and
nerve gas is simply one of structural chemistry."

The Ministry of Defence has warned the US that it will not allow British
troops to be involved in operations where riot control agents are used,
or to transport them to the battlefield, but Britain is even more
concerned about the calmatives. This is shown by documents obtained by
the Texas-based Sunshine Project under the US Freedom of Information
Act. These reveal that the US is developing calmatives - including
sedatives such as the benzodiazapines, diazepam, dexmeditomide and new
drugs that affect the nervous system - even though it accepts that "the
convention would prohibit the development of any chemically based agent
that would even temporarily incapacitate a human being".

A special working group of the Federation of American Scientists
concluded last month that using even the mildest of these weapons to
incapacitate people would kill 9 per cent of them. It added: "Chemical
incapacitating weapons are as likely as bullets to cause death."

The use of chemical weapons by US forces was explicitly banned by
President Gerald Ford in 1975 after CS gas had been repeatedly used in
Vietnam to smoke out enemy soldiers and then kill them as they ran away.
Britain would be in a particularly sensitive position if the US used the
weapons as it drafted the convention and is still seen internationally
as its most important guardian.

The Foreign Office said: "All states parties to the Chemical Weapons
Convention have undertaken not to use any toxic chemical or its
precursor, including riot-control agents. This applies in any armed
   1 March 2003 23:54

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