US prepares to use toxic gases in Iraq

Dr. Robert Harley
Mon, 3 Mar 2003 10:25:29 +0100 (CET)

US prepares to use toxic gases in Iraq
By Geoffrey Lean and Severin Carrell

02 March 2003

The US is preparing to use the toxic riot-control agents CS gas and
pepper spray in Iraq in contravention of the Chemical Weapons
Convention, provoking the first split in the Anglo-US alliance.
"Calmative" gases, similar to the one that killed 120 hostages in the
Moscow theatre siege last year, could also be employed.

The convention bans the use of these toxic agents in battle, not least
because they risk causing an escalation to full chemical warfare.
This applies even though they can be used in civil disturbances at
home: both CS gas and pepper spray are available for use by UK police
forces.  The US Marine Corps confirmed last week that both had already
been shipped to the Gulf.


The Ministry of Defence has warned the US that it will not allow
British troops to be involved in operations where riot control agents
are used, or to transport them to the battlefield, but Britain is even
more concerned about the calmatives.  This is shown by documents
obtained by the Texas-based Sunshine Project under the US Freedom of
Information Act.  These reveal that the US is developing calmatives -
including sedatives such as the benzodiazapines, diazepam,
dexmeditomide and new drugs that affect the nervous system - even
though it accepts that "the convention would prohibit the development
of any chemically based agent that would even temporarily incapacitate
a human being".

A special working group of the Federation of American Scientists
concluded last month that using even the mildest of these weapons to
incapacitate people would kill 9 per cent of them.  It added: "Chemical
incapacitating weapons are as likely as bullets to cause death."

The use of chemical weapons by US forces was explicitly banned by
President Gerald Ford in 1975 after CS gas had been repeatedly used in
Vietnam to smoke out enemy soldiers and then kill them as they ran
away.  Britain would be in a particularly sensitive position if the US
used the weapons as it drafted the convention and is still seen
internationally as its most important guardian.

The Foreign Office said: "All states parties to the Chemical Weapons
Convention have undertaken not to use any toxic chemical or its
precursor, including riot-control agents.  This applies in any armed

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