Column: Becoming the enemy

By Jenette Sturges

I should be surprised that the United States is using chemical weapons in Iraq. After all, we went to war against a dictator guilty of using mustard gas against his own people. Chemical weapons are evil – they harm civilians and are forbidden among the civilized nations of the world. We even signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, vowing never to use them again.

So why aren’t I surprised?

The Pentagon recently confirmed that during the assault on Fallujah last November, the U.S. military used white phosphorus, a chemical that ignites spontaneously, producing intense heat, bright light and thick pillars of smoke. It’s only another step toward making the United States the most hated country in the world.

It’s a valid reason for global distrust. When lit particles of white phosphorus land on exposed skin, they burn through flesh to the bone until deprived of oxygen. Phosphoric acid sometimes leaks into the wound, causing poisoning. Breathing the smoke in burns the throat and lungs until they blister. The victim then suffocates as the phosphorus continues to burn them from the inside.

Long-term exposure to the chemical causes wounds in the mouth that never heal, causing the jaw to disintegrate – a condition called phossy jaw. Exposure to white phosphorus smoke damages the liver, kidneys, heart, lungs and bones.

Still, the U.S. military chose to use this chemical weapon illegally as an incendiary, claiming the deployment of the weapon is not illegal. But the term “illegal” is open to interpretation, since 80 other countries have determined that using white phosphorus as anything other than a smoke screen is illegal. It’s outlined in the Convention on Conventional Weapons, a treaty the United States has refused to sign.

Even more disturbing are the allegations by Radiotelevisione Italiana, the Italian public service broadcaster, that the United States used white phosphorus “massively and indiscriminately” at Fallujah, burning and killing Iraqi civilians, including children.

It’s sickening, unethical and inhumane, not to mention hypocritical.

When President Bush told us we were going to war, he told us it was because Saddam Hussein was an evil man with a lot of weapons. We were told stories of torture, of weapons of mass destruction and of chemical warfare used against minorities. We were going to free the Iraqi people from oppression. They would never have to be afraid of chemical weapons or maniacal rulers ever again.

The Iraqi people are told not to worry about Hussein’s mustard gas anymore – instead, they now fear our weapons. They are told torture is a thing of the past – until our vice president decides it’s still necessary. How much longer can we expect them to trust what our leaders are telling them?

The truth is that we can’t trust our leaders. The Pentagon denied its use of white phosphorus in Fallujah for months until the evidence piled against them.

This war may free the Iraqi people. It could bring peace to the Middle East or be the war to end all wars. But even in the unlikely event that every objective is met and every mission accomplished, it will be forever overshadowed by the disgusting choices that our leaders have made in the name of freedom.

Americans have always rallied around their leaders in times of war because they believed that they were doing noble work. We are supposed to be freeing the world from tyranny and oppression. Instead, we are burning civilians with chemical weapons, denying prisoners basic rights and defending torture.

The job we are doing in Iraq is not noble. Our use of chemical weapons in Iraq should not only surprise Americans, it should make us seriously consider the trust we’ve given to our leaders. They’ve lied. Worse, they’ve compromised this country’s core beliefs – the rights to life and liberty that we should be granting to the citizens of Iraq.

Our leaders represent us to the world. By leaving them in power, we are telling the world that America condones their actions. I, for one, do not.

Jenette Sturges is a junior in LAS. Her column appears every Tuesday. She can be reached at [email protected]