Three reports highlighting UK hypocrisy over chemical weapons and humanitarian intervention.
For those wondering why we in the UK didn’t know about ‘our’ secret history of producing, exporting and using chemical weapons, we didn’t know because we have no right to know. Thatcher’s press spokesman, Bernard Ingham, exposed this policy of secrecy when he told American journalists in an off-the-record briefing:
There is no freedom of information in this country; there’s no public right to know. There’s a commonsense idea of how to run a country and Britain is full of commonsense people … Bugger the public’s right to know. The game is the security of the state – not the public’s right to know.
For our American readers, your knowledge of US forces’ use of chemical weapons may be clouded by your own governments secrecy. For instance did you know that napalm was first used to target the French town of Royan? David Swanson writes in his review of Howard Zinn’s ‘The Bomb’:
In mid-April 1945, the war in Europe was essentially over. Everyone knew it was ending. There was no military reason (if that’s not an oxymoron) to attack the Germans stationed near Royan, France, much less to burn the French men, women, and children in the town to death. The British had already destroyed the town in January, similarly bombing it because of its vicinity to German troops, in what was widely called a tragic mistake. This tragic mistake was rationalized as an inevitable part of war, just as were the horrific firebombings that successfully reached German targets, just as was the later bombing of Royan with napalm. Zinn blames the Supreme Allied Command for seeking to add a “victory” in the final weeks of a war already won. He blames the local military commanders’ ambitions. He blames the American Air Force’s desire to test a new weapon. And he blames everyone involved — which must include himself — for “the most powerful motive of all: the habit of obedience, the universal teaching of all cultures, not to get out of line, not even to think about that which one has not been assigned to think about, the negative motive of not having either a reason or a will to intercede.”
By the time of war in Vietnam, napalm had been developed to such an extent that those exposed could do little to ease their suffering and pain. In ‘For ‘Reasons of State’ Noam Chomsky quotes a US pilot describing the rationale behind this development:
‘We sure are pleased with those backroom boys at Dow [Chemical]. The original [Napalm] product wasn’t so hot—if the gooks were quick they could scrape it off. So the boys started adding polystyrene—now it sticks like shit to a blanket. But then if the gooks jumped under water it stopped burning, so they started adding Willie Peter [white phosphorus] so’s to make it burn better. It’ll burn under water now. And just one drop is enough; it’ll keep on burning right down to the bone so they die anyway from phosphorus poisoning.’
John Pilger describes his own first hand experience in his 1998 book, Hidden Agendas:
‘At least three million people died during the Vietnam War, the great majority of them civilians. My own introduction to this war against civilians was at the hospital at Can Tho in the Mekong Delta in 1967. … “I guess he’s around ten years old,” said the young American doctor, a volunteer. Before us was a child whose nose and chin had merged, whose eyes apparently could not close and whose skin, once brown, was now red and black and papery, like frayed cloth. “Beats me how these kids live through all that shit out there,” said the doctor. “This one’s been burned with Napalm B. That’s the stuff made from benzene, polystyrene and gasoline. It sticks to the body and is impossible to get off, and either burns the victim to death or suffocates him by using up all the oxygen.”‘
Revealed: Britain Sold Nerve Gas Chemicals to Syria 10 Months After War Began
FURIOUS politicians have demanded Prime Minister David Cameron explain why chemical export licences were granted to firms last January – 10 months after the Syrian uprising began by Russell Findlay (Daily Record)
BRITAIN allowed firms to sell chemicals to Syria capable of being used to make nerve gas, the Sunday Mail can reveal today.
Export licences for potassium fluoride and sodium fluoride were granted months after the bloody civil war in the Middle East began.
The chemical is capable of being used to make weapons such as sarin, thought to be the nerve gas used in the attack on a rebel-held Damascus suburb which killed nearly 1500 people, including 426 children, 10 days ago.
President Bashar Assad’s forces have been blamed for the attack, leading to calls for an armed response from the West.
British MPs voted against joining America in a strike. But last night, President Barack Obama said he will seek the approval of Congress to take military action.
The chemical export licences were granted by Business Secretary Vince Cable’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills last January – 10 months after the Syrian uprising began.
They were only revoked six months later, when the European Union imposed tough sanctions on Assad’s regime.
Yesterday, politicians and anti-arms trade campaigners urged Prime Minister David Cameron to explain why the licences were granted.
Dunfermline and West Fife Labour MP Thomas Docherty, who sits on the House of Commons’ Committees on Arms Export Controls, plans to lodge Parliamentary questions tomorrow and write to Cable.
He said: “At best it has been negligent and at worst reckless to export material that could have been used to create chemical weapons.
“MPs will be horrified and furious that the UK Government has been allowing the sale of these ingredients to Syria.
“What the hell were they doing granting a licence in the first place?
“I would like to know what investigations have been carried out to establish if any of this
material exported to Syria was subsequently used in the attacks on its own people.”
The SNP’s leader at Westminster, Angus Robertson MP, said: “I will be raising this in Parliament as soon as possible to find out what examination the UK Government made of where these chemicals were going and what they were to be used for.
“Approving the sale of chemicals which can be converted into lethal weapons during a civil war is a very serious issue.
“We need to know who these chemicals were sold to, why they were sold, and whether the UK Government were aware that the chemicals could potentially be used for chemical weapons.
“The ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria makes a full explanation around these shady deals even more important.”
A man holds the body of a dead child A man holds the body of a dead child
Mark Bitel of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (Scotland) said: “The UK Government claims to have an ethical policy on arms exports, but when it comes down to practice the reality is very different.
“The Government is hypocritical to talk about chemical weapons if it’s granting licences to companies to export to regimes such as Syria.
“We saw David Cameron, in the wake of the Arab Spring, rushing off to the Middle East with arms companies to promote business.”
Some details emerged in July of the UK’s sale of the chemicals to Syria but the crucial dates of the exports were withheld.
The Government have refused to identify the licence holders or say whether the licences were issued to one or two companies.
The chemicals are in powder form and highly toxic. The licences specified that they should be used for making aluminium structures such as window frames.
Professor Alastair Hay, an expert in environmental toxicology at Leeds University, said: “They have a variety of industrial uses.
“But when you’re making a nerve agent, you attach a fluoride element and that’s what gives it
its toxic properties.
“Fluoride is key to making these munitions.
“Whether these elements were used by Syria to make nerve agents is something only subsequent investigation will reveal.”
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: “The UK Government operates one of the most rigorous arms export control regimes in the world.
“An export licence would not be granted where we assess there is a clear risk the goods might be used for internal repression, provoke or prolong conflict within a country, be used aggressively against another country or risk our national security.
“When circumstances change or new information comes to light, we can – and do – revoke licences where the proposed export is no longer consistent with the criteria.”
Assad’s regime have denied blame for the nerve gas attack, saying the accusations are “full of lies”. They have pointed the finger at rebels.
UN weapons inspectors investigating the atrocity left Damascus just before dawn yesterday and crossed into Lebanon after gathering evidence for four days.
They are now travelling to the Dutch HQ of the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons.
It could take up to two weeks for the results of tests on samples taken from victims of the attack, as well as from water, soil and shrapnel, to be revealed.
On Thursday night, Cameron referred to a Joint Intelligence Committee report on Assad’s use of chemical weapons as he tried in vain to persuade MPs to back military action. The report said the regime had used chemical weapons at least 14 times since last year.
Russian president Vladimir Putin yesterday attacked America’s stance and urged Obama to show evidence to the UN that Assad’s regime was guilty.
Russia and Iran are Syria’s staunchest allies. The Russians have given arms and military backing to Assad during the civil war which has claimed more than 100,000 lives.
Putin said it would be “utter nonsense” for Syria to provoke opponents and spark military
retaliation from the West by using chemical weapons.
But the White House, backed by the French government, remain convinced of Assad’s guilt, and Obama proposes “limited, narrow” military action to punish the regime.
He has the power to order a strike, but last night said he would seek approval from Congress.
Obama called the chemical attack “an assault on human dignity” and said: “We are prepared to strike whenever we choose.”
He added: “Our capacity to execute this mission is not time-sensitive. It will be effective tomorrow, or next week, or one month from now.
“And I’m prepared to give that order.”
Some fear an attack on Syria will spark retaliation against US allies in the region, such
as Jordan, Turkey and Israel.
General Lord Dannatt, the former head of the British Army, described the Commons vote as a “victory for common sense and democracy”.
He added that the “drumbeat for war” had dwindled among the British public in recent days.
Winston Churchill’s Shocking Use of Chemical Weapons
The use of chemical weapons in Syria has outraged the world. But it is easy to forget that Britain has used them – and that Winston Churchill was a powerful advocate for them by Giles Milton (The Guardian)
Secrecy was paramount. Britain’s imperial general staff knew there would be outrage if it became known that the government was intending to use its secret stockpile of chemical weapons. But Winston Churchill, then secretary of state for war, brushed aside their concerns. As a long-term advocate of chemical warfare, he was determined to use them against the Russian Bolsheviks. In the summer of 1919, 94 years before the devastating strike in Syria, Churchill planned and executed a sustained chemical attack on northern Russia.
The British were no strangers to the use of chemical weapons. During the third battle of Gaza in 1917, General Edmund Allenby had fired 10,000 cans of asphyxiating gas at enemy positions, to limited effect. But in the final months of the first world war, scientists at the governmental laboratories at Porton in Wiltshire developed a far more devastating weapon: the top secret “M Device”, an exploding shell containing a highly toxic gas called diphenylaminechloroarsine. The man in charge of developing it, Major General Charles Foulkes, called it “the most effective chemical weapon ever devised”.
Trials at Porton suggested that it was indeed a terrible new weapon. Uncontrollable vomiting, coughing up blood and instant, crippling fatigue were the most common reactions. The overall head of chemical warfare production, Sir Keith Price, was convinced its use would lead to the rapid collapse of the Bolshevik regime. “If you got home only once with the gas you would find no more Bolshies this side of Vologda.”The cabinet was hostile to the use of such weapons, much to Churchill’s irritation. He also wanted to use M Devices against the rebellious tribes of northern India. “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes,” he declared in one secret memorandum. He criticised his colleagues for their “squeamishness”, declaring that “the objections of the India Office to the use of gas against natives are unreasonable. Gas is a more merciful weapon than [the] high explosive shell, and compels an enemy to accept a decision with less loss of life than any other agency of war.”
He ended his memo on a note of ill-placed black humour: “Why is it not fair for a British artilleryman to fire a shell which makes the said native sneeze?” he asked. “It is really too silly.”
A staggering 50,000 M Devices were shipped to Russia: British aerial attacks using them began on 27 August 1919, targeting the village of Emtsa, 120 miles south of Archangel. Bolshevik soldiers were seen fleeing in panic as the green chemical gas drifted towards them. Those caught in the cloud vomited blood, then collapsed unconscious.
The attacks continued throughout September on many Bolshevik-held villages: Chunova, Vikhtova, Pocha, Chorga, Tavoigor and Zapolki. But the weapons proved less effective than Churchill had hoped, partly because of the damp autumn weather. By September, the attacks were halted then stopped. Two weeks later the remaining weapons were dumped in the White Sea. They remain on the seabed to this day in 40 fathoms of water.
Britain’s dirty secret
Originally published 6 March 2003
A chemical plant which the US says is a key component in Iraq’s chemical warfare arsenal was secretly built by Britain in 1985 behind the backs of the Americans, the Guardian can disclose.
Documents show British ministers knew at the time that the £14m plant, called Falluja 2, was likely to be used for mustard and nerve gas production.
Senior officials recorded in writing that Saddam Hussein was actively gassing his opponents and that there was a “strong possibility” that the chlorine plant was intended by the Iraqis to make mustard gas. At the time, Saddam was known to be gassing Iranian troops in their thousands in the Iran-Iraq war.
But ministers in the then Thatcher government none the less secretly gave financial backing to the British company involved, Uhde Ltd, through insurance guarantees.
Paul Channon, then trade minister, concealed the existence of the chlorine plant contract from the US administration, which was pressing for controls on such exports.
He also instructed the export credit guarantee department (ECGD) to keep details of the deal secret from the public.
The papers show that Mr Channon rejected a strong plea from a Foreign Office minister, Richard Luce, that the deal would ruin Britain’s image in the world if news got out: “I consider it essential everything possible be done to oppose the proposed sale and to deny the company concerned ECGD cover”.
The Ministry of Defence also weighed in, warning that it could be used to make chemical weapons.
But Mr Channon, in line with Mrs Thatcher’s policy of propping up the dictator, said: “A ban would do our other trade prospects in Iraq no good”.
The British taxpayer was even forced to write a compensation cheque for £300,000 to the German-owned company after final checks on the plant, completed in May 1990, were interrupted by the outbreak of the Gulf war.
The Falluja 2 chlorine plant, 50 miles outside Baghdad, near the Habbaniya airbase, has been pinpointed by the US as an example of a factory rebuilt by Saddam to regain his chemical warfare capability.
Last month it featured in Colin Powell’s dossier of reasons why the world should go to war against Iraq, which was presented to the UN security council.
Spy satellite pictures of Falluja 2 identifying it as a chemical weapons site were earlier published by the CIA, and a report by Britain’s joint intelligence committee, published with Tony Blair’s imprimatur last September, also focused on Falluja 2 as a rebuilt plant “formerly associated with the chemical warfare programme”.
UN weapons inspectors toured the Falluja 2 plant last December and Hans Blix, the chief inspector, reported to the security council that the chemical equipment there might have to be destroyed.
But until now, the secret of Britain’s knowing role in Falluja’s construction has remained hidden.
Last night, Uhde Ltd’s parent company in Dortmund, Germany, issued a statement confirming that their then UK subsidiary had built Falluja 2 for Iraq’s chemical weapons procurement agency, the State Enterprise for Pesticide Production.
A company spokesman said: “This was a normal plant for the production of chlorine and caustic soda. It could not produce other products”.
The British government’s intelligence at the time, as shown in the documents, was that Iraq, which was having increasing difficulty in obtaining precursor chemicals on the legitimate market, intended to use the chlorine as a feedstock to manufacture such chemicals as epichlorohydrin and phosphorous trichloride. These in turn were used to make mustard gas and nerve agents.
Paul Channon, since ennobled as Lord Kelvedon, was last night holidaying on the Caribbean island of Mustique. He issued a statement through his secretary, who said: “He can’t object to the story. So he’s got no comment.”