Since Fallujah – the hidden massacre [Fallujah – la strage nascosta] was broadcast by RAI News 24, part of the Italian State Broadcaster, in early November of this year much has come to light about the second battle for Fallujah (initially named Operation Phantom Fury, later changed to Operation al-Fajr). In particular, after various denials on the part of the American administration and military that white phosphorus (Wiley Pete, in military jargon) had been used as an offensive weapon, it emerged, thanks to attentive bloggers who found incriminating documentation as proof, that the chemical had been used not only for targetting and obscuration purposes, but also for ‘shake and bake’ missions, intended to physically and psychologically attack insurgents/terrorists forcing them out into the open. Much though remains to be uncovered in relation to the military operation conducted in November 2004.
“We’re currently requesting an interview with the Pentagon,” says Maurizio Torrealta, speaking to Three Monkeys Online from Rome, “to have an official account from the Pentagon on how the battle for Fallujah unfolded, and whether any other non-conventional weapons were used, as well as how and where white phosphorus was used”. Torrealta is the co-producer of Fallujah – the hidden massacre.
Photos from Fallujah
The documentary by Torrealta and Sigfrid Ranucci has its roots in a talk given to an almost deserted European Parliament by Mohammed Tareq al Deraji, the director of the Centre for the defence of human rights in Fallujah. RAI News 24 sent a journalist to cover the story, who was shown disturbing photos from Fallujah by al Deraji. “These were photos that were taken, with the permission of the American army, of the bodies that remained unidentified; so every body that was photographed had an identification number that corresponded with the place they would be buried, ” Torrealta explains. “These are reliable photos that show anomalies that are not easily explainable. They show, according to the account given by Tareq al-Deraji, people whose death can only be explained by serious burns, more than burns they seem to be corrosions of the body, in some cases down to the bone, in certain zones on the body, not on all of the body”.
The photos don’t prove the use of white phosphorus against civilians, as plenty of critics have pointed out (including those critical of the American military, such as George Monbiot), but it could be one explanation for the strange burns seen. An anonymous source in the Red Cross told the press on November 16th 2004 that there were many civilian casualties inside Fallujah and that refugees had claimed that both cluster bombs and a phosphorous weapon that caused severe burns had been used1. These claims were repeated by al Deraji to the RAI broadcast team.
“Obviously to be certain about the cause of death,” Torrealta freely comments, “that there was a cause and effect relationship between the use of white phosporous and the deaths of these people, there needs to be a specific inquiry done.”
The shadow of My Lai still hangs in the air for the American military, a massacre in Vietnam committed by American troops that was widely reported and helped galvanise the anti-war movement at home. Journalist Robert D. Kaplan, who was embedded with American Marines during the first battle for Fallujah in April 2004 outlined how media coverage of attacks on civilians could overshadow military achivements:
“The Marines never got proper credit for Hue, for it was ultimately overshadowed by My Lai, in which an Army platoon killed 347 civilians a month later in 1968. This was despite the fact that the Marines’ liberation of Hue led to the uncovering of thousands of mass graves there: the victims of an indiscriminate communist slaughter. Thus, Hue became a metaphor for the military’s frustration with the media: a frustration revisited in Fallujah.”2
One thing is clear in relation to the battle of Fallujah, and that is that the way it was conducted by the American troops is of huge importance, in terms of propaganda, for either side in the conflict. Civilians remain sidelined. In this context of high stakes it’s reasonable to ask Torrealta about the affidability and impartiality of his Iraqi source, Mohammed Tareq al Deraji: “I met him and tried as far as possible to understand how he lives, from whom he receives money, what type of relationship he has with the United Nations – because it appears that the centre for which he works in Jordan has a relationship with the United Nations,” Torrealta responds, “but in any case, the material that he brought me, these photos, I repeat were taken by the American army or with their permission. Each photo has an identification number that corresponds to the cemetry records. So it shouldn’t be difficultto verify all of this”. Shouldn’t be difficult for anyone who is able to get to, and work in Fallujah, that is.