Blackwater Knows Gas

2 comments January 10th, 2008at 07:11pm Posted by Eli

The US continues to narrow the gap on Saddam. Unlawful imprisonment? Check. Torture? Check. Murder? Check. Rape? Check. Gassing civilians and your own people? Well, no, we haven’t sunk thatCheck.

The helicopter was hovering over a Baghdad checkpoint into the Green Zone, one typically crowded with cars, Iraqi civilians and United States military personnel.

Suddenly, on that May day in 2005, the copter dropped CS gas, a riot-control substance the American military in Iraq can use only under the strictest conditions and with the approval of top military commanders. An armored vehicle on the ground also released the gas, temporarily blinding drivers, passers-by and at least 10 American soldiers operating the checkpoint.

“This was decidedly uncool and very, very dangerous,” Capt. Kincy Clark of the Army, the senior officer at the scene, wrote later that day. “It’s not a good thing to cause soldiers who are standing guard against car bombs, snipers and suicide bombers to cover their faces, choke, cough and otherwise degrade our awareness.”

Both the helicopter and the vehicle involved in the incident at the Assassins Gate checkpoint were not from the United States military, but were part of a convoy operated by Blackwater Worldwide, the private security contractor that is under scrutiny for its role in a series of violent episodes in Iraq, including a September shooting in downtown Baghdad that left 17 Iraqis dead.


“You run into this issue time and again with Blackwater, where the rules that apply to the U.S. military don’t seem to apply to Blackwater,” said Scott L. Silliman, the executive director of the Center on Law, Ethics and National Security at the Duke University School of Law.

Officers and noncommissioned officers from the Third Infantry Division who were involved in the episode said there were no signs of violence at the checkpoint. Instead, they said, the Blackwater convoy appeared to be stuck in traffic and may have been trying to use the riot-control agent as a way to clear a path.


Blackwater says it was permitted to carry CS gas under its contract at the time with the State Department. According to a State Department official, the contract did not specifically authorize Blackwater personnel to carry or use CS, but it did not prohibit it.

The military, however, tightly controls use of riot control agents in war zones. They are banned by an international convention on chemical weapons endorsed by the United States, although a 1975 presidential order allows their use by the United States military in war zones under limited defensive circumstances and only with the approval of the president or a senior officer designated by the president.

“It is not allowed as a method or means of warfare,” said Michael Schmitt, professor of international law at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. “There are very, very strict restrictions on the use of CS gas in a war zone.”

In 2003, President Bush approved the use of riot control agents by the military in Iraq under the 1975 order, but only for such purposes as controlling rioting prisoners. At the time of Mr. Bush’s decision, there were also concerns that the Iraqi Army would use civilians as shields, particularly in a last-ditch battle in Baghdad, and some officials believed that riot control agents might be effective in such circumstances to reduce casualties.

A United States military spokesman in Baghdad refused to describe the current rules of engagement governing the use of riot control agents, but former Army lawyers say their use requires the approval of the military’s most senior commanders. “You never had a soldier with the authority to do it on his own,” said Thomas J. Romig, a retired major general who served as the chief judge advocate general of the United States Army from 2001 to 2005 and is now the dean of the Washburn School of Law in Topeka, Kan.

Several Army officers who have served in Iraq say they have never seen riot control agents used there by the United States military at all. Col. Robert Roth, commander of Task Force 4-64 AR of the Third Infantry Division, which was manning the Assassins’ Gate checkpoint at the time of the Blackwater incident, said that his troops were not issued any of the chemicals.

“We didn’t even possess any kind of riot control agents, and we couldn’t employ them if we wanted to,” said Colonel Roth, who is now serving in South Korea.

Which kinda begs the question: How did Blackwater even have CS in the first place?

And sure, this is nowhere near as bad as Saddam using deadly gas against the Kurds, but I would think that if the US is really trying to win hearts and minds, our military and paramilitary forces should be trying to minimize their resemblance to Saddam, not maximize it. And really, using riot gas to clear traffic? What the hell is WRONG with these people???

(Yes, Blackwater claims it was an honest mistake and they thought they were smoke canisters, but if that were the case, why were they equipped with them in the first place, how did a helicopter and an armored vehicle both make the same mistake at the same time, and why would they be using smoke canisters to clear traffic anyway?)

Entry Filed under: Bush,Iraq,Republicans,War


  • 1. Cujo359  |  January 11th, 2008 at 12:14 am

    I’m not sure what the medical risks of CS use are, but it’s powerful stuff. I was once within a few blocks of a riot that broke out in Seoul, maybe a half mile away. They used CS to break it up, according to what I was told. My eyes were watering to the point where I could barely see.

    Anyway, why Blackwater were authorized to use it, and where they obtained it, are very good questions.

  • 2. Eli  |  January 11th, 2008 at 12:42 am

    I think the answer is pretty much that Nobody Cared. Blackwater is pretty well-connected, and there aren’t enough real troops, so Blackwater is allowed to get away with murder.


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