News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: Pope Condemns US Use of White Phosphorus in Fallujah

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Pope Condemns US Use of White Phosphorus in Fallujah

Doing what politicians in the US and Britian are either too cowardly to do or simply too confused ethically to figure out, Pope Benedict XVI has condemned modern weaponry. In what is seen as an allusion to the use of white phosphorus by the US military in its siege of Fallujah, Iraq, the Pope's statement affirms a long tradition of opposing war by the Catholic hierarchy...

Okay, Benedict 16 doesn't explicitly condemn white phosphorus. Speaking in the typical Vaticanese of the Catholic Church's hierarchy, the statement must be placed in its context. As Stacy Meichtry reports, the Pope's words come in the wake of a scathing documentary on Italian TV that depicted the use of white phosphorus as a chemical weapon:

Speaking on the church's annual World Day of Peace and quoting from the Vatican Constitution Gaudium et Spes, Benedict noted that "not everything automatically becomes permissible between hostile parties once war has regrettably begun."

"As a means of limiting the devastating consequences of war as much as possible, especially for civilians, the international community has created international humanitarian law," Benedict said, adding that "respect for that law must be considered binding on all peoples."

Benedict made his appeal following a much-discussed Italian television documentary alleging that the United States indiscriminately used white phosphorus as a weapon against Iraqi insurgents during the battle for Fallujah.

The documentary, aired by RAI News 24 in November, alleged that the U.S. military targeted its use of white phosphorus at areas with heavy civilian concentrations, resulting in the gruesome deaths of hundreds.

Asked at a press conference whether the pope's message on international law applied to the Iraq war, a papal spokesman, Cardinal Renato Martino, responded, "That's correct."

As those who follow such things from the Vatican know, you have to realize that the Pope does not want to pinpoint any one nation or person, no doubt in the hope that diplomatic talk will be more effective.

The Pope relies on the moral weight that the Holy See carries and, no doubt, hopes to appeal to the conscience of those in power. Since the facelessness of most modern states, however, obviate by default anyone taking responsibility for its actions, such appeals to conscience seem somewhat quaint. Therefore, a much more direct statement and approach seems more effective in today's world.

One can hope, however, that "someone" at the Pentagon or in the White House heard the subtle murmur of conscience in the Pope's words. Seeing that the story only made the back pages of a paper in Minnesota, though, leads me to think that no one in power will get the message, much less have their consciences tickled.

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