Chemical Weapons

4 decades after war ended, Agent Orange still ravaging Vietnamese

July 22 2013

In many ways, Nguyen Thi Ly is just like any other 12-year-old girl. She has a lovely smile and is quick to laugh. She wants to be a teacher when she grows up. She enjoys skipping rope when she plays.

But Ly is also very different from other children. Her head is severely misshapen. Her eyes are unnaturally far apart and permanently askew. She’s been hospitalized with numerous ailments since her birth.

Her mother, 43-year-old Le Thi Thu, has similar deformities and health disorders. Neither of them has ever set foot on a battlefield, but they’re both casualties of war.

Le and her daughter are second- and third-generation victims of dioxin exposure, the result of the U.S. military’s use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, when the U.S. Air Force sprayed more than 20 million gallons of Agent Orange and other herbicides over parts of southern Vietnam and along the borders of neighboring Laos and Cambodia. The herbicides were contaminated with dioxin, a deadly compound that remains toxic for decades and causes birth defects, cancer and other illnesses.

To this day, dioxin continues to poison the land and the people. The United States has never accepted responsibility for these victims – it denies that Agent Orange is responsible for diseases among Vietnamese that are accepted as Agent Orange-caused among American veterans – and it’s unclear when this chain of misery will end.

On Thursday, President Barack Obama will meet with Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang at the White House, only the third meeting between chief executives of the two countries since Vietnam and the United States established diplomatic relations in 1995.

The two countries share many contemporary concerns. The White House says Obama plans to discuss cooperation on regional issues and trade, plus other U.S. priorities such as climate change and human rights. The two countries share a strong common interest in countering China, which has become increasingly assertive over potentially oil-rich areas of the South China Sea.

Many Vietnamese say it’s time for the United States to do more to address the issue of Agent Orange and its victims, so that the last tragic chapter of the Vietnam War finally can be closed.

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                                                    Working on fixing the connection

WW1 allied soldiers repairing telephone lines in the midst of a gas attack - 100 Years of Chemical Weapons

“Multiple reports and witnesses have confirmed that almost half of Gaza city is now covered with white phosphorus gas. Mainly Shaja’ya area. This is not the first time Israel uses this brutal and heartless war method which burns the body and produces toxic gases. Incase you didn’t know, white phosphorus gas is illegal in all international war laws, and UN laws. It is a war crime.”

Mohammed Zeyara

the thing about chemical weapons and war contaminants–including tear gas–is that their use is always deliberate. they have their immediate effects–killing and injuring people–but the long term effects are even more insidious. chemical weapons (and I use this term deliberately) can cause long term disability and illness in people immediately exposed to them–think cancer, chemical injury, nerve damage, pulmonary and respiratory illnesses, etc.

but even more distressing than that, is research that demonstrates the long term impact of these chemical agents on environments and communities. this shit stays in the air, the soil, the water. exposure causes not only injury and illness to people immediately in the line of fire, it can cause birth anomalies long after the conflict has ceased. add in the fact that these kinds of weapons are deployed against marginalized populations whose access to healthcare is restricted, and you have effectively suppressed and marginalized not only the current generation, but future ones as well.

There is not a lot of research on this, because these weapons are deployed against people the state wants dead anyway– in our current context, Black people in the US and Palestinians in Gaza. let me be real clear about this: chemical weapons are being deployed against Black people by police; this is directed chemical warfare motivated by racism. 

So with tear gas, you get this funny thing where police are praised for using “less lethal” measures, when in fact the long term consequences are pretty damn lethal, but all of that gets covered up by time and distance and “lack of research”. 

There is a pattern here of dumping toxic shit on people, either through outright violence or through industrial environmental degradation (or both!), and then shrugging when a host of ongoing health problems emerge. In particular, use of chemical weapons constitutes an ongoing act of violence designed to disable and surpress populations. Tear gas is different in degree, not in kind.

Some links on this below the cut:

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Toxic legacy of US assault on Fallujah ‘worse than Hiroshima’

The shocking rates of infant mortality and cancer in Iraqi city raise new questions about battle

July 24 2010

Dramatic increases in infant mortality, cancer and leukaemia in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, which was bombarded by US Marines in 2004, exceed those reported by survivors of the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, according to a new study.

Iraqi doctors in Fallujah have complained since 2005 of being overwhelmed by the number of babies with serious birth defects, ranging from a girl born with two heads to paralysis of the lower limbs. They said they were also seeing far more cancers than they did before the battle for Fallujah between US troops and insurgents.

Their claims have been supported by a survey showing a four-fold increase in all cancers and a 12-fold increase in childhood cancer in under-14s. Infant mortality in the city is more than four times higher than in neighbouring Jordan and eight times higher than in Kuwait.

Dr Chris Busby, a visiting professor at the University of Ulster and one of the authors of the survey of 4,800 individuals in Fallujah, said it is difficult to pin down the exact cause of the cancers and birth defects. He added that “to produce an effect like this, some very major mutagenic exposure must have occurred in 2004 when the attacks happened”.

US Marines first besieged and bombarded Fallujah, 30 miles west of Baghdad, in April 2004 after four employees of the American security company Blackwater were killed and their bodies burned. After an eight-month stand-off, the Marines stormed the city in November using artillery and aerial bombing against rebel positions. US forces later admitted that they had employed white phosphorus as well as other munitions.

In the assault US commanders largely treated Fallujah as a free-fire zone to try to reduce casualties among their own troops. British officers were appalled by the lack of concern for civilian casualties. “During preparatory operations in the November 2004 Fallujah clearance operation, on one night over 40 155mm artillery rounds were fired into a small sector of the city,” recalled Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster, a British commander serving with the American forces in Baghdad.

He added that the US commander who ordered this devastating use of firepower did not consider it significant enough to mention it in his daily report to the US general in command. Dr Busby says that while he cannot identify the type of armaments used by the Marines, the extent of genetic damage suffered by inhabitants suggests the use of uranium in some form. He said: “My guess is that they used a new weapon against buildings to break through walls and kill those inside.”

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German troops advance during a gas attack.

The Germans were the first to use lethal gas during WWI, at Ypres in 1915. within a very short timeframe all the major powers on both sides were using gas to disable or kill their opponents. In fact, a gas attack was one of the most feared events in WWI, and many soldiers wrote home that it left them terrified and immobilized.

Initially chlorine gas was used, chlorine is a diatomic gas, about two and a half times denser than air, with a pale green color and a strong, bleach-like odor which soldier described as a ‘mix of pineapple and pepper’. 

It reacts with water in the lungs to form hydrochloric acid, which can quickly lead to death. At lower concentrations, it can cause coughing, vomiting, and irritation to the eyes.In its first uses, chlorine was deadly. Against soldiers not yet equipped with gas masks, it wreaked havoc, and it’s estimated over 1,100* were killed in the first large scale attack at Ypres. The German forces weren’t prepared for just how effective it would prove, and their delay in pressing into the gap formed in enemy lines actually meant they gained very little ground initially.However, chlorine’s effectiveness was short-lived. Its obvious appearance, and strong odor, made it easy to spot, and the fact that chlorine is water-soluble meant that even soldiers without gas masks could minimize its effectiveness by placing water-soaked rags over their mouth and nose. 

Additionally, the initial method of its release posed problems, as the British learnt to their detriment when they attempted to use chlorine at Loos in France. The released gas changed direction as the wind changed, engulfing the British lines instead of those of the enemy, and leading to a large number of self-inflicted casualties.

Phosgene was the next major agent employed, again used first at Ypres by the Germans in December 1915 (although some sources state the French were the first to employ it). Phosgene is a colorless gas, with an odor likened to that of ‘musty hay’. For this odor to be detectable, the concentration of phosgene actually had to be at 0.4 parts per million, several times the concentration at which harmful health effects could be expected. It is highly toxic, due to its ability to react with proteins in the alveoli of the lungs and disrupt the blood-air barrier, leading to suffocation.

Phosgene was much more effective and deadly than chlorine, though one drawback was that the symptoms could sometimes take up to 48 hours to manifest. Its immediate effects are coughing, and irritation to the eyes and respiratory tract. Subsequently, it can cause the build-up of fluid in the lungs, leading to death. I

It’s estimated that as many as 85% of the 91,000 deaths attributed to gas in World War 1 were a result of phosgene or the similar agent diphosgene. It’s hard to put a precise number on, since it was commonly used in combination with chlorine gas, along with the related chemical diphosgene. Combinations of gases became more common as the war went on. For example, chloropicrin was often used for its irritant effects, and its ability to bypass gas masks, causing sneezing fits which made soldiers remove their masks, exposing them to poison gases.

Along with chlorine, the most commonly known poison gas used in the conflict is mustard gas. Sulfur mustards are actually a class containing several different compounds; in their pure forms, they are colorless liquids, but in warfare impure forms are used, with a yellow-brown color and odor akin to garlic or horseradish. Mustard gas is an irritant, and also a strong vesicant (blister-forming agent). 

It causes chemical burns on contact with the skin, leading to large blisters with yellow fluid. Initially, exposure is symptomless, and by the time skin irritation begins, it is to late to take preventative measures.The effectiveness of mustard gas was due to its debilitating effects. Its mortality rate was only around 2-3% of casualties, but those who suffered chemical burns and respiratory problems due to exposure were unable to return to the front, and required extensive care for their recovery. Those who did recover were at higher risk of developing cancers during later life due to the chemical’s carcinogenic properties.

Source (you can also get the same information from the CDC, I was too lazy to type this information out myself)

The US has no credibility dealing with chemical weapons
September 9, 2013

The Syrian regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons against civilian areas on August 21 constitutes a breach of the Geneva Protocol of 1925, one of the world’s most important disarmament treaties, which banned the use of chemical weapons.

In 1993, the international community came together to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), a binding international treaty that would also prohibit the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention, and transfer or use of chemical weapons. Syria is one of only eight of the world’s 193 countries not party to the convention.

However, US policy regarding chemical weapons has been so inconsistent and politicized that the United States is in no position to take leadership in any military response to any use of such weaponry by Syria.

The controversy over Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles is not new. Both the Bush administration and Congress, in the 2003 Syria Accountability Act, raised the issue of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles, specifically Syria’s refusal to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention. The failure of Syria to end its chemical weapons program was deemed sufficient grounds by a large bipartisan majority of Congress to impose strict sanctions on that country. Syria rejected such calls for unilateral disarmament on the grounds that it was not the only country in the region that had failed to sign the CWC—nor was it the first country in the region to develop chemical weapons, nor did it have the largest chemical weapons arsenal in the region.

Indeed, neither of the world’s two largest recipients of US military aid - Israel and Egypt - is a party to the convention either. Never has Congress or any administration of either party called on Israel or Egypt to disarm their chemical weapons arsenals, much less threatened sanctions for their failure to do so. US policy, therefore, appears to be that while it is legitimate for its allies Israel and Egypt to refuse to ratify this important arms control convention, Syria needed to be singled out for punishment for its refusal.

The first country in the Middle East to obtain and use chemical weapons was Egypt, which used phosgene and mustard gas in the mid-1960s during its intervention in Yemen’s civil war. There is no indication Egypt has ever destroyed any of its chemical agents or weapons. The US-backed Mubarak regime continued its chemical weapons research and development program until its ouster in a popular uprising two years ago, and the program is believed to have continued subsequently.

Israel is widely believed to have produced and stockpiled an extensive range of chemical weapons and is engaged in ongoing research and development of additional chemical weaponry. (Israel is also believed to maintain a sophisticated biological weapons program, which is widely thought to include anthrax and more advanced weaponized agents and other toxins, as well as a sizable nuclear weapons arsenal with sophisticated delivery systems.) For more than 45 years, the Syrians have witnessed successive US administrations provide massive amounts of armaments to a neighboring country with a vastly superior military capability which has invaded, occupied, and colonized Syria’s Golan province in the southwest. In 2007, the United States successfully pressured Israel to reject peace overtures from the Syrian government in which the Syrians offered to recognize Israel and agree to strict security guarantees in return for a complete Israeli withdrawal from occupied Syrian territory.

The US position that Syria must unilaterally give up its chemical weapons and missiles while allowing a powerful and hostile neighbor to maintain and expand its sizable arsenal of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons is simply unreasonable. No country, whether autocratic or democratic, could be expected to accept such conditions.

This is part of a longstanding pattern of hostility by the United States toward international efforts to eliminate chemical weapons through universal disarmament agreements.

One of the most effective instruments for international arms control in recent years has been the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which enforces the Chemical Weapons Convention by inspecting laboratories, factories and arsenals and oversees the destruction of chemical weapons. The organization’s most successful director general, first elected in 1997, was the Brazilian diplomat José Bustani, praised by the Guardian newspaper as a “workaholic” who has “done more in the past five years to promote world peace than anyone.” Under his strong leadership, the number of signatories of the treaty grew from 87 to 145 nations, the fastest growth rate of any international organization in recent decades, and - during this same period - his inspectors oversaw the destruction of 2 million chemical weapons and two-thirds of the world’s chemical weapons facilities. Bustani was re-elected unanimously in May 2000 for a five-year term and was complimented by Secretary of State Colin Powell for his “very impressive” work.

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Syria’s 99 Percent: The Problem With Focusing on Chemical Weapons

John Kerry’s off-the-cuff remarks about Assad handing over his chemical weapons have triggered a potential resolution to the Syrian crisis. Kerry’s gaffe-from-the-gods led to furious diplomatic maneuvering that averted an immediate U.S. air strike against Syria.

There’s no question that Obama escaped a seemingly impossible situation. If Congress had rejected the use of force, what was Obama going to do? Press ahead with air strikes amidst congressional howls? Or back down meekly and suffer a diminished presidency?

The deal offers a face-saving way to claim some success. Assad hands over his chemical weapons stockpiles. The taboo against using chemical weapons is upheld.

Americans also avoided a dangerous military adventure. U.S. missile strikes would be big enough to embroil the United States in the Syrian civil war but too small to really make a difference on the battlefield—unless, of course, the U.S. campaign escalated into something much grander.

But Syrians, on the other hand, remain very much in the line of fire.

Read more. [Image: Goran Tomasevic/Reuters]

During the Vietnam War, the Pentagon drenched South Vietnam with 76 million liters of herbicides — including Agents Blue, White and Orange — in a bid to destroy its enemies’ crops and jungle hiding places. The U.S. government assured Vietnamese people and their own troops that these “rainbow herbicides” were perfectly harmless to human health. But it was lying.

Agent Blue, the Pentagon’s preferred chemical for killing rice crops, included a poisonous compound of arsenic. Among the ingredients of Agent White were the carcinogens hexachlorobenzene and a cocktail of nitrosamines. Agent Orange, the best known and most commonly used herbicide, contained dioxin. Categorized as one of the deadliest poisons on the planet, dioxin has a lethal dose measured in the millionths of grams; it is also teratogenic, meaning it can damage the growth of the fetus.


However, according to Tho, when these birth problems first began to emerge in the late-1960s, the government of South Vietnam had a special name for the source of this scourge.

“They called it ‘Okinawa bacteria.’ During the war, Okinawa had many U.S. Air Force bases, and American planes came from there to bomb South Vietnam. There were stories that the planes that used to spray these chemicals came from Okinawa, too.”

From 1945 to 1972, Okinawa was under U.S. jurisdiction, and during the Vietnam War the island served as the Pentagon’s forward staging post for the conflict. Used to train troops, store supplies and ship them to the war zone, Okinawa also hosted the more clandestine side of the American war machine, including at one point as many as 1,200 nuclear warheads, as well as a massive arsenal of nerve and mustard gas.

Given the presence of these weapons of mass destruction, the storage of rainbow herbicides on Okinawa should come as no surprise. Dozens of U.S. veterans and Okinawa base workers claim these substances were warehoused on the island and sprayed around the bases’ fences to keep back the vegetation, a practice also common in South Vietnam at the time. Although the Pentagon denies such allegations, many of these former service members have illnesses consistent with dioxin exposure. Moreover, their children — and grandchildren — are sick, too.

29 April is Day of Remembrance for all Victims of Chemical Warfare. It’s the date in 1997 on which the Chemical Weapons Convention entered into force. 

This Day provides an opportunity to pay tribute to the victims of chemical warfare, as well as to reaffirm the commitment of Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to the elimination of the threat of chemical weapons, thereby promoting the goals of peace, security, and multilateralism.


Cluster bombs are munitions that air-burst over a target, releasing often either tens, to hundreds ( in some cases thousands) of sub-munitions onto a target.

These can be filled with either smart, or retarded munitions. Incediary, HE, propaganda, what ever the creator of the weapon want’s, can be delivered by cluster bombs.

The reason as to why they’re so heavily frowned upon, is that, like most munitions, they have a dud rate. This varies, from weapon to weapon, nation to nation, battlefield environment to battlefield environment, but is generally some where between 5, and 50%. The issue is, dud’s with a cluster bomb, doesn’t result in one peice of un-exploded ordnance, but possibly tens, or more, per bomb. This can quickly add up. These unexploded bombs are often picked up by children, who assume they’re toys, resulting in a plethora of civilian casualties.

Nations around the globe have come together to ban these weapons. Notable non-signatory’s include the United States, China, and The Russian Federation.

U.S. Honest John missile warhead cutaway, showing M134 Sarin bomblets.