"This is about the large-scale indiscriminate use of weapons that the civilized world long ago decided must never be used at all, a conviction shared even by countries that agree on little else... And there is a reason why no matter what you believe about Syria, all peoples and all nations who believe in the cause of our common humanity must stand up to assure that there is accountability for the use of chemical weapons so that it never happens again."
These statements by Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday put on display the hypocrisy of the United States, a serial user of weapons widely condemned by the global community.
From cluster bombs to depleted uranium to napalm, recent history of U.S. warfare shows a trail of weapons leaving long-lasting civilian harm.
The U.S. has not joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions and instead continues to produce and sell cluster bombs, and used them as recently as seven years ago. According to the Cluster Munition Coalition, from the 1960s to 2006, the U.S. dropped cluster bombs on Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Albania, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Napalm was not only widely used by the U.S. during the years of the Vietnam War but also in 2003 during the invasion of Iraq, though it only admitted to having used it in Iraq after irrefutable evidence was out.
The U.S. also used white phosphorus on Iraq and Afghanistan. White phosphorus was used in 2004 during the assault on Fallujah, and the New York Times reported its use as recently as in 2011 in Afghanistan. Steve Goose and Bonnie Docherty of the Arms Division at Human Rights Watch wrote:
The Associated Press reported that an 8-year-old Afghan girl, Razia, was injured when a white phosphorus shell ripped through her home in the Tagab Valley of Kapisa province in June 2009. When she reached the operating room, white powder covered her skin, the oxygen mask on her face started to melt, and flames appeared when doctors attempted to scrape away the dead tissue.
White phosphorus munitions cause particularly severe injuries, including chemical burns down to the bone. Wounds contaminated by white phosphorus can reignite days later when bandages are removed, produce poisoning that leads to organ failure and death, and lead to lifetime health problems.
The U.S. use of depleted uranium, what one peace activist described as America's Silent Weapon of Mass Destruction, in Iraq has left a horrific legacy of birth defects and cancers for Iraqis and soldiers.
There is also the death and destruction the U.S. launched in 1945 when it became the only country to drop nuclear bombs.
This all leads Middle Eastern history professor Mark LeVine to ask on Tuesday:
Can a government that supported the use of chemical weapons in one conflict claim any moral, political or legal authority militarily to attack another country for using the same weapons, particularly when the attack is not authorised by the UN Security Council?
Not only did the US aid the use of chemical weapons by the former Iraqi government, it also used chemical weapons on a large scale during its 1991 and 2003 invasions of Iraq, in the form of depleted-uranium (DU) ammunition.
As Dahr Jamail's reporting for Al Jazeera has shown, the use of DU by the US and UK has very likely been the cause not only of many cases of Gulf War Syndrome suffered by Iraq war veterans, but also of thousands of instances of birth defects, cancer and other diseases - causing a "large-scale public health disaster" and the "highest rate of genetic damage in any population ever studied" - suffered by Iraqis in areas subjected to frequent and intense attacks by US and allied occupation forces.
Thus what we have now is a situation in which a government (the United States) that has both supported and committed large-scale and systematic war crimes in one country (Iraq) is leading the international effort to stop Iraq's neighbour Syria from continuing to use chemical weapons against its own people.
This week, as we hear corporate media amplifying calls to attack Syria and know of U.S. complicity in Iraq's use of chemical weapons, a piece from the Guardian's George Monbiot from November of 2005 stands out. He wrote, in part:
We were told that the war with Iraq was necessary for two reasons. Saddam Hussein possessed biological and chemical weapons and might one day use them against another nation. And the Iraqi people needed to be liberated from his oppressive regime, which had, among its other crimes, used chemical weapons to kill them. Tony Blair, Colin Powell, William Shawcross, David Aaronovitch, Nick Cohen, Ann Clwyd and many others referred, in making their case, to Saddam's gassing of the Kurds in Halabja in 1988. They accused those who opposed the war of caring nothing for the welfare of the Iraqis.
Given that they care so much, why has none of these hawks spoken out against the use of unconventional weapons by coalition forces?