CNN LIVE TODAY 11:00 ET November 18, 2005
CNN LIVE TODAY: White Phosphorus
NGUYEN: Soldiers call it Willy Pete. White phosphorus is a chemical that's used to light up enemy positions. It combusts when exposed to air.
Now, during the chemical reaction phase, white phosphorous causes horrific burns. Now an Italian documentary claims the U.S. military used white phosphorus on Iraqi civilians. I'll talk to the film's producer in just a moment.
First, though, the Pentagon's position on all of this from CNN correspondent Jamie McIntyre.
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): The Italian TV documentary alleges that during the siege of Falluja a year ago, the U.S. military used white phosphorous 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 change our position that, in fact, we did not use white phosphorous against civilians in Falluja during Operation (INAUDIBLE).
MCINTYRE: But while strongly denying civilians were deliberately targeted, the Pentagon has belatedly admitted the phosphorous shells, which burn extremely hot and produce thick smoke, were used against enemy positions in Falluja. An initial State Department response had claimed indirectly, 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 a blaze and which the U.S. no longer uses, white phosphorous 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 call "shake and bake" missions.
According to an after action report published in "Field Artillery" magazine, U.S. troops used white phosphorous "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's a Geneva protocol against using it against civilian, 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: Any munition can inflict unintended civilian casualties, but the Pentagon argues it works very hard to avoid the loss of innocent life. In Falluja, the military says civilians were urged for weeks to leave. By the time the siege took place, most of the people left were either insurgents or their sympathizers.
Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon.
NGUYEN: Maurizio Torrealta is one of the producers of the documentary "Falluja: The Hidden Massacre," and he joins me live now from Rome.
As you just heard, the military has just recently come out to confirm that it did use white phosphorus in Falluja last November. But it says it did not target civilians.
What's your reaction to that?
MAURIZIO TORREALTA, DOCUMENTARY PRODUCER: Well, what we got were pictures of people, young kids, women that were killed in Falluja, apparently from white phosphorus. Of course, you needed to determine with an investigation on the field the exact cause of the deaths. But the story that has been told by the two American soldiers we interviewed in Oregon, and they witness -- I mean, the pictures we got, they confirm that the white phosphorus has been used as a weapon, and as a weapon against insurgents and against civilians, because, otherwise, those people were not there.
I sincerely -- I think that when in a city, you use such a tool, such a weapon, it is difficult to determine who is going to breathe in that cloud, who is living in those houses. So it's very likely that they the use of white phosphorus as a weapon causes death to civilians.
But it's not something that I might support. It's something that has been told by American soldiers that were there.
NGUYEN: You talk about these pictures, and of course we can't show them because they are very, very graphic. But I've seen your documentary, and what it does show, people who are badly burned. But the clothing is not.
Tell me, what did you see from the these pictures in Falluja?
TORREALTA: Well, those pictures show basically people that were killed, but not with normal usual weapons. They were killed by some substance that were aggressive against the face, against the mouth. And white phosphorus is attacking specifically waters, and it's reacting to waters.
So we have very graphic and shocking picture of people that have been corrupted all the way around the face. And they died for no other reason than that agent was attacking (ph) them.
NGUYEN: Are you certain, though, that it was white phosphorus?
TORREALTA: And the clothes -- and the clothes -- well, the soldiers, the American soldiers that were there, they say that there was used Willy Pete, and massive use of Willy Pete against that area of the city. And there are also video that has been shot by the soldier which is individual in the documentary we made in which you can see the kind of cloud produced by the use of massive bombing of white phosphorus.
And therefore, if you see carefully the documentary, that cloud, you may clearly imagine that anybody, any form of life living in that area has been killed. In the picture, individual we got from Falluja, you can see even dogs and other animals that has been killed by this cloud. And...
NGUYEN: Maurizio, let me ask you this very quickly. Iraq's human right ministry has launched an investigation. Do you think that would have happened had it not been for your report?
TORREALTA: Listen, I -- sincerely, I believe that America is able to start (ph) the mistake that has been made. If the Pentagon was able to correct itself, and it did, in fact, I think this is a form of -- it's a very (INAUDIBLE) form of democracy. And I trust that all the international institutions that are working in America, and America first, United States first, will be able to find out what really happened in Falluja.
NGUYEN: And that's a big question a lot of people are looking into now. Maurizio Torrealta, we appreciate your time today. Thank you.
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