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CNN ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES 22:00 ET November 16, 2005

ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES: White Phosphorus

COOPER: Shocking allegations that U.S. troops intentionally attacked Iraqi civilians with an incendiary weapon. But what's the real story? We'll find out in a moment. First, here's what's happening at this moment.

Right now Democrats are lashing back at Dick Cheney this evening. As we reported, the vice president said that accusations the White House misled the American people on Iraq are dishonest and reprehensible. Well, tonight, former presidential nominee John Kerry responded. He said, it's hard to name a government official with less credibility on Iraq than Vice President Cheney.

Also tonight, a startling number in the war on terror, the Associated Press reports the United States has detained 83,000 people in the war on terror since 9/11, 83,000 people. The AP bases that amount on military figures. As of now, some 14,000 detainees remain in U.S. custody.

New developments on the bird flu and they are not good. Tonight, China is reporting the first human case of the virus -- cases, I should say, including a woman who died after being infected. More than 125 people in the Southeast Asia region have been diagnosed with the bird flu, roughly half of the cases have been fatal.

And in Tennessee, a mental evaluation test is being ordered for a student who allegedly opened fire at his school. The 14-year-old boy is accused of killing a school administrator last Tuesday. Two others were injured. Prosecutors hope to try the teen as an adult.

An ugly charge has been made on Italian television that the U.S. military used white phosphorus artillery shells, which produce horrific heat and intense smoke and burn the skin against civilians during last year's offensive in Falluja. It would be easy to say that the Pentagon denies doing any such thing. The fact is the Pentagon does deny the charge but there's nothing easy about these allegations.

CNN's senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, investigates.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Italian TV documentary alleges that during the siege of Falluja a year ago, the U.S. military used white phosphorus artillery shells in a massive and indiscriminate way against civilians, and the result was that noncombatants, including Iraqi women and children, were burned to the bone.

The U.S. military was quick to deny the report and said it did not know how these people died.

BRIG. GEN. DONALD ALSTON, MULTINATIONAL FORCE IRAQ SPOKESMAN: We have not changed our position that in fact we did not use white phosphorus against civilians in Falluja during Operation al-Fajr.

MCINTYRE: But while strongly denying civilians were deliberately targeted, the Pentagon has belatedly admitted the phosphorus shells, which burn extremely hot and produce thick smoke, were used against enemy positions in Falluja. An initial State Department response had claimed incorrectly the incendiary shells were only fired into the air to illuminate enemy positions at night, not at enemy fighters.

Unlike napalm, which is designed to set large areas ablaze, and which the U.S. no longer uses, white phosphorus is usually employed to mark a target or produce a smoke screen to hide troop movements. But the U.S. troops attacking Falluja in November of 2004 had another use for the super-hot burning munition, which they called "shake and bake" missions.

According to an after action report published in Field Artillery Magazine, U.S. troops used white phosphorus as a potent psychological weapon against insurgents in trench lines and spider holes, firing the incendiary rounds against enemy positions to flush them out, then using high explosives to take them out.

The United States never signed an international ban against using incendiary weapons, but experts say that doesn't matter, because the ban didn't apply to legitimate military targets.

JOHN PIKE, GLOBALSECURITY.ORG: There is a Geneva protocol against using it against civilians the way we used firebombs against cities in World War II. It's legitimate under that Geneva protocol to use it against military targets, like in Falluja.

MCINTYRE (on camera): Any munition can inflict unintended civilian casualties, but the Pentagon argues it works hard to avoid the loss of innocent life. In Falluja, the military says civilians were urged for weeks to leave. And by the time the siege took place, most of the people left were either insurgents or their sympathizers.

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Falluja was, of course, perhaps the most intense fighting of the war thus far. As you have heard, white phosphorous artillery shells are not, strictly speaking, categorized as chemical weapons. On the other hand, the way they work can't fairly be described as conventional either. We spoke earlier this evening with CNN's senior medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, about how exactly the weapons work and what impact they have on the body.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Sanjay, what kind of damage can one of these white phosphorus shells do to a person?

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, it is a really interesting powder. Just by coming in contact with air and oxygen, it can actually start a fire, it can explode as well. So a couple of things can happen. You can get bad burns if you're around it. You can also have smoke inhalation injuries just from the smoke and the fire. And you can also have shrapnel injuries from the explosion that might result around it. So, you know, pretty significant.

COOPER: Is there an anecdote to stop the burning? Because it's not like being on fire.

GUPTA: It is not like being on fire. This is critically important. You can't use water, for example, to put this out. Water won't work. What you need to do is somehow cut off the oxygen supply. So you know, stopping -- you know, getting all the air out of there. Or if you put your hand in water if your hand's on fire, for example, that will stop it just because it's removing all the oxygen around it. That is really the only anecdote.

COOPER: Are there long-term effects?

GUPTA: It's hard to say. There haven't been a lot of studies on this sort of thing. They know a couple of things. One is that it can cause liver and kidney damage long term. It also might cause scarring again just from the burns. Also, you know, it used to be used in matchsticks. It was the white powder actually in matchsticks. So the factory workers who worked at those matchstick factories would actually get something known as phossy (ph) jaw, that's what they called it. What would happen was the jawbones would actually disintegrate over time. Really dramatic for them. But again, that was from sustained long-term exposure.

COOPER: Any evidence that these put American troops at risk?

GUPTA: That is -- it is hard to say. I think it would only really happen if it was an unintentional sort of explosion. If it's somehow came into contact with air, exploded, then it would cause all the things we just talked about, the burns and the inhalation injuries and all that sort of stuff.

(END VIDEOTAPE)


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