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Friday, November 18, 2005

How to spin a story and move goalposts

The WP story is a perfect example of leftist spinning and moving of goalposts.

The leftist activist the entire story has been based on:
  1. Said the US military used chemical weapons. Untrue.
  2. Claimed the US military attacked civilians. Untrue.
  3. Insinuated the US military used a weapon resembling napalm. (Not banned for the US military, as they didn't sign the convention in question). Untrue.
  4. Said he'd witnessed bodies with wounds resulting from napalm-like devices. But the wounds and pattern of clothing burn-marks he described are not those resulting from such weapons, rather they are typical of wounds resulting from small bits of burning phosphorus (ie standard WP shells).
  5. Said he was present during the "battle of Fallujah". Later admitted that was partly untrue, he'd been in patrols after the main attack and was very unlikely to have seen fresh bodies resulting from the main period of combat.
  6. Was discharged from the US military for mental health reasons, therefore perhaps not the best primary source for a story saying the US military used chemical weapons on civilians.
  7. Has very strong left-wing political viewpoints and believes the old Bush-Liar-It's all about Oil storyline on Iraq. Again, this fact would have alerted anyone with a half a brain that his story might bear more fact-checking.
But here is the BBC (and Rob O'Neill) trying to claim THE US MILITARY has been forced to retract its claim. The BBC report says the retraction is "damaging".

Here are the words of the US military spokesman, unfortunately paraphrased and incomplete as provided by the BBC (who wants to bet the BBC Online has somehow twisted what he's said):
Col Venable told the BBC's PM radio programme that the US army used white phosphorus incendiary munitions "primarily as obscurants, for smokescreens or target marking in some cases.

"However it is an incendiary weapon and may be used against enemy combatants."

He said US forces could use white phosphorus rounds to flush enemy troops out of covered positions.

"The combined effects of the fire and smoke - and in some case the terror brought about by the explosion on the ground - will drive them out of the holes so that you can kill them with high explosives," he said.
Sounds like legitimate military tactics to me. Use what (entirely legal) weapons you have at hand to achieve the objective.

So the claims of the RAI report and its primary source have been completely discredited. But if you read Rob O'Neill's post you would think the US military (and Sir Humphrey's) have been discredited. This has been achieved by Rob moving the goalposts and obscuring the original story, presumedly to create the impression he has been right all along and that we have been wrong. In other words: establishing the facts of the matter and outlining context to the reader is not as important as covering ones own arse. The scary thing is this guy actually works as a journalist for a living, though thankfully not covering foreign affairs or defense stories.

Posted by Antarctic Lemur | 11/18/2005 01:20:00 pm


Blogger Rob O'Neill said...

In your own post (http://sirhumphreys.blogspot.com/2005/11/reuters-promotes-yet-another-anti-war.html) you say the US said such bombs were not used.

I quote: "The US military says such bombs were never used in Falluja."

Then in your comment to my original post you deny the existance of a WP incendiary device.

"The paragraph you and the Kos kids misrepresent says nothing about using an incendiary device (probably because there is no such thing anymore as an incendiary artillery shell), and certainly nothing about attacking civilians."

The US now admits it used these non-existent devices and you are pretending you knew it all along!

They have now corrected their initial statement about WP twice - not willingly, under pressure from the media.

All of that gives what Englehart and the Italian TV guys said much more credibility, whether you like it or not.

You are not interested in what actually happened in Falluja AL. As you said yourself you are far more concerned about "international goodwill towards the Bush Administration and the United States."

Even when US statements have proven to be false, twice, you are still prepared to take their statements at face value.

Wake up!

11/18/2005 02:10:00 pm  
Blogger Alan Howard said...

That'd be fine it it weren't for the fact that the US at first denied using it. It wasn't until a number of high-profile bloggers pointed out an article published by the US Army's Field Artillery Magazine in its issue of March/April this year, describing white phosphorus (WP) used as a weapon instead of for illumination.

The problem is that WP, when used for illumination, is not considered a chemical weapon, even though it has qualities which are highly toxic and caustic if they come into contact with people or animal life. It's for those reasons that WP is not meant to be used as a chemical weapon, as chemical weapons are forbidden according to the Chemical Weapons Convention, of which the US is a party to. So while WP is not banned AS a chemical weapons, its' usage as a chemical weapon IS.

To say it's not considered a chemical weapon, while ignoring the fact that it is actually being used as a chemical weapons is playing a stupid game of semantics and trying to lay blame on others for what you're doing yourself. Rather pathetic really.

Getting back to the point at hand... The US tried to deny they were using it, until it was proven they were lying, and then the spin machines started working overtime, pointing out that it's not actually a chemical weapon blah blah bullshite blah.

I always find it amusing - and even more pathetic than playing games of semantics - that the tactics of right-wing enthusiasts is to work against those stories they don't like by usng conjecture or blatant lying to bring into disrepute the author of such stories. By making it seem as if the author is a crackpot, they - you - show that they have no real evidence to counteract the claims that they don't like.

Look at what you wrote. To all the claims that the author wrote, you simply say 'untrue'. You don't provide information to show WHY it's untrue. Because you can't.

The only information you can link to actually supports the claims, and yet you even try to turn that around by using the same tactic.

"Here's the evidence. It's not true, 'cause I say so."
"So where's the evidence to support your claims it's not true?"
"Well, there isn't any... but it's still untrue!"


11/18/2005 02:28:00 pm  
Blogger fm said...

Come on guys, your own partisanship is showing.

The only persons I've noted doing anything like a denial of the use of WP were State Department officials. One was the ambassador to the UK, and the other may have been a daily briefer in Washington. The statement put out yesterday said that these guys had been poorly briefed -- and clearly they were. They're civilians. Most military personnel would have been able to tell them that WP is an ordinary part of their arsenal. The original Reuters article linked by SH quotes a Marine Officer stating that they consider WP to be a conventional weapon. To be fair, that same article quotes a military media spokesman based in Baghdad than that he did not recall the use of WP in Fallujah, but it's hardly a fully fledged denial, especially as it happened a year beforehand and outside of that officer's tour of duty.

Nothing presented to date shows anything like the sort of conspiracy you guys would like to dream about. The military guys treat WP like any other weapon and the State Department guys are ignorant of military affairs and make mistakes about it when put on the spot. Could happen anywhere, and probably does on a daily basis.

You can have a debate about whether WP is a chemical weapon if you like, but considering the weapon has been in the arsenal of most military forces for near on 100 years, some might question why you choose to have this debate now. And that would be a fair question also. You are, after all, deciding to defend the use of these weapons against a bunch of terrorists who incidentally murdered Margaret Hassan in that very same city. It's a curious time to have some reservations about WP.

11/18/2005 03:22:00 pm  
Blogger fm said...

Sorry. When I say murdered, I meant to say "had her head lopped off".

11/18/2005 03:25:00 pm  
Blogger Rob O'Neill said...

The first satement:

"Phosphorous shells are not outlawed. U.S. forces have used them very sparingly in Fallujah, for illumination purposes. They were fired into the air to illuminate enemy positions at night, not at enemy fighters."


The second statement:

[November 10, 2005 note: We have learned that some of the information we were provided in the above paragraph is incorrect. White phosphorous shells, which produce smoke, were used in Fallujah not for illumination but for screening purposes, i.e., obscuring troop movements and, according to an article, "The Fight for Fallujah," in the March-April 2005 issue of Field Artillery magazine, "as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes …." The article states that U.S. forces used white phosphorous rounds to flush out enemy fighters so that they could then be killed with high explosive rounds.]

(that is a correction of the first added at the end of original)

The third statement:

"It was used as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants," spokesman Lt Col Barry Venable told the BBC - though not against civilians, he said.


Now, I have never said WP was a chemical weapon, I have never even accused the US of lying about it, just that the statements thay have made have been false.

Englehart is only the sole source for the Italian documentary if, for some reason, you don't count Iraqis. Since the documentary several other independent accounts of WP being used, and being used indiscriminately, have emerged.

I have agreed with AL that this is a PR disaster. It is the lead international story in both The Australian (hardly a lefty paper) today as well as the SMH.

And I do not believe we know everything we will know about this. As I said, truth will out.

11/18/2005 03:40:00 pm  
Blogger Alan Howard said...

I'm not claiming WP shouldn't be used as it's supposed to be used according to international conventions. My argument has been focused against the semantics, lies or 'spin' employed by right-wingers to discredit the sources of material they don't like hearing about. In exchange for the flawed argument against the reporter who brought the information to light in the first place, I was presenting evidence to support the claims that AL was trying to discredit.

When weapons are used by the US in ways that are against the very conventions that they created and enforce around the world, then they make themselves no better than those they're fighting against. When they say something is illegal, and then do it themselves, they make themselves out to not only be criminal, but also hypocrites. That's the kind of thing I disagree with.

Sure, I'm aware that human nature is such that there might not be blatant lying about the use of such things, but considering that the civilians are saying "There's no way we're using chemical weapons, as that's against the law," and then suddenly it's found that the military is using illumination rounds as chemical wepaons and thus forces a retraction of what the civilians stated, it doesn't put the whole thing into a very good light at all. If you then turn around and try to discredit the person bringing this information to light, that just makes you as a supporter of illegal and immoral uses of such weapons.

It must be embarrassing to find out that you're supporting such things, if you're a right-wing supporter of the Bush administration and everything they do.

11/18/2005 04:02:00 pm  
Blogger fm said...

Alan, the use of WP in Fallujah was mentioned by reporters on the scene at the time and it went unremarked upon. Nothing about the use of them is illegal under conventions the US has signed. It only has become an issue now because lefties are accusing the US military of atrocities against civilians.

Those that are supporting these charges are doing so quite openly for partisan purposes, and for the most part, much of what they say is, frankly, contemptible. You and Rob can cheer lead for these people if you like, but don't start complaining too loudly if you find people thinking similar thoughts of yourselves.

11/18/2005 04:17:00 pm  
Blogger Tane said...

There seems to be some confusion in terminology going on here.

From what I was taught, white phosphorous is an obscuruant/smoke shell that has an added bonus of being highly effective at burning people. We were told that we could only use it in smoke screens, but not to fire directly onto enemy positions due to some international convention. The joke was that we would obscure enemy observation by firing artillery or mortars onto the enemy position, using white phos; they can't see without eyes...... It was frowned upon by the infantry though, as they would then have to clear the position, usually on their stomachs. Try crawling over some exposed WP fragments and you'll know why the grunts didn't like it. There are other types of smoke rounds, both artillery/mortar shells and in hand grenades (WP is also available in grenade form, for the infantry to lay their own smoke screens).

But using WP for illumination is incorrect, at least according to the terminology I was taught. The artillery delivered shells that fired parachute flares were calle 'illumination' rounds (funnily enough), not white phosphorous. Those were completely different. I suggest that some of the sources above (like the US State Dept, dipomats not soldiers) got their terms wrong.

As for the US using WP in Fallujah, well it appears that it was not illegal, but it was pretty brutal of them. There's no such thing as a nice weapon, but WP is a really nasty one; I was taught that it kills by lodging WP pellets inside the body where they continue to burn and are almost impossible to extinguish. Not a nice way to go. Up there with flamethrowers and napalm. Of course, I wasn't a grunt clearing houses, so hey, maybe I'd have done the same. It seems to be a bit of PR mistake though, especially using it in a city with a lot of civvies in it, because, to paraphrase the old saying, 'White Phos sticks to kids'. Not a good look on the front page of a newspaper.

11/18/2005 04:25:00 pm  
Blogger Alan Howard said...

"It only has become an issue now because lefties are accusing the US military of atrocities against civilians.... Those that are supporting these charges are doing so quite openly for partisan purposes, and for the most part, much of what they say is, frankly, contemptible."

You find it contemptible that 'lefties' are against weapons being used on civilians? That seems to be what you're saying. Forgive me if I'm incorrect.

11/18/2005 04:39:00 pm  
Blogger fm said...

My contempt is for those that spread lies and propaganda alleging the US target civilians.

Tane, I think I may be confusing magnesium for illumination with phosphorus for smoke. A good link on it here:


11/18/2005 05:10:00 pm  
Blogger Antarctic Lemur said...

The illumination thing has been going around for a while, but the military and chemical sites I've read describe modern WP munitions of various sizes as primarily designed to create smoke.

The artillery guys at Falluja said they fired WP shells for effect (airburst?) over the insurgent positions, presumedly expecting smoke and WP debris to fall on and around them, forcing/scaring them out into the open. To create a panic effect.

11/18/2005 05:24:00 pm  
Blogger fm said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11/18/2005 05:25:00 pm  
Blogger fm said...

Let me go a little bit further Alan, just to be clear. I'm agnostic about whether certain weapons should be used in warfare. It is absolutely nothing wrong with debating such things. But, consider the company you keep when you do so.

There are folks out there who are openly cheering for the terrorists -- in Fallujah of all places. Others with a partisan motive are now piling on as well. Trying to make the link that WP is a chemical weapon so that you can charge the US with hypocrisy, now, after it's been used for close to a hundred years in such a fashion, in my book that's contemptible as well. No one is forcing anyone to make that argument now where it supports the terrorist's propaganda war.

11/18/2005 05:32:00 pm  
Blogger Tane said...

AL said "The artillery guys at Falluja said they fired WP shells for effect (airburst?)"

I haven't seen the source, but "firing for effect" is when you've finished adjusting your fire on the target (shooting a single round, then correcting the almost inevitable error until you've hit close enough to the target) and then you fire to achieve the effect you want. Airburst is not implied. This is simply one of the effects you may wish to achieve. So firing for effect could be anything; killing infantry in the open, nuetralising dug in troops while your infantry assault, creating a smoke screen or illuminating a couple of square kilometres.

If they 'fired for effect' ON the insurgents using WP, then it implies that they fired directly on them. Not a good thing, even if it is not illegal. But like I said, I wasn't a grunt clearing the insurgents house by house. I think they may have different views.

You'll note I say insurgent, rather than terrorist. It's a matter of perspective. Terrorists fly planes into civilian buildings, or kill handicapped people on cruise liners. Insurgents kill foreign troops in their own country. Sometimes they can be the same people. In that case I'd judge them by their 'worst' act. To my mind, the men in Fallujah were predominantly insurgents.

11/18/2005 07:15:00 pm  
Blogger Antarctic Lemur said...

Ahh. My terminology mistake.

Yes, they said (the link is on NZBC and I can't be bothered finding it right now) they intentionally fired WP shells at the enemy positions.

11/18/2005 07:23:00 pm  
Blogger fm said...

Tane, I appreciate your point of view and I'm not trying to be snarkey here, but I have a tough time getting past poor old Margaret the Aussie aid worker having her head cut off and all the other deliberately inhumane, unlawful and barbaric acts committed in the town against locals and foreigners alike. Sure you could say this was done secretly, beyond the knowledge of the other "insurgents", but I don't buy it.

11/18/2005 07:37:00 pm  
Blogger Alan Howard said...

Isn't it fascinating that the US says that white phosphorus is NOT a chemical weapon, and their use of it doesn't violate any chemical weapons laws. And yet, in a US military document (declassifed) relating to Iraq in 1991 we find this:


To argue against white phosphorus being used as a chemical weapon is not only to argue against the US military's terminology of it, but also to argue in favour of hypocrisy. Not to mention the fact that using it made Saddam Hussein an evil tyrant, and yet when the US Military uses it for the very same purpose, it's ok.

Can anyone see the hypocrisy behind this? Can anyone see themselves being the mindless sheep that they really are, by not only accepting the US military's lies but also arguing in favour of them? You can't argue about the evidence, when the evidence is the US military themselves. Anytime you want to talk about spin, you need to look at the US first. And then you need to look at yourselves, and the spin you also produce in your attempt to justify your blind, ignorant and misplaced loyalty to the US right.

11/22/2005 02:10:00 pm  
Blogger fm said...

This one's for you Alan. From The Independent of all places:

"However, Peter Kaiser, a spokesman for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which enforces the convention, said the convention permitted the use of such weapons for 'military purposes not connected with the use of chemical weapons and not dependent on the use of the toxic properties of chemicals as a method of warfare'. He said the burns caused by WP were thermic rather than chemical and as such not prohibited by the treaty."

11/22/2005 09:43:00 pm  
Blogger Alan Howard said...

Thanks FM, that's very nice of you. However, your statement needs to include everything he said, so that it can be put into context:

"No it's not forbidden by the CWC if it is used within the context of a military application which does not require or does not intend to use the toxic properties of white phosphorus. White phosphorus is normally used to produce smoke, to camouflage movement.

"If that is the purpose for which the white phosphorus is used, then that is considered under the Convention legitimate use.

"If on the other hand the toxic properties of white phosphorus, the caustic properties, are specifically intended to be used as a weapon, that of course is prohibited, because the way the Convention is structured or the way it is in fact applied, any chemicals used against humans or animals that cause harm or death through the toxic properties of the chemical are considered chemical weapons."

The context is, which you so nicely left out, that if the weapon is used as a weapon, taking advantage of its specific properties, then that is prohibited. And as we've all seen, that is exactly how the US has been using it. And as we've also seen, white phosphorous is even considered by the US themselves to be a chemical weapon, when they refer to it being used by Saddam Hussein.

Sorry, you can't spin this one.

11/22/2005 10:51:00 pm  

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