Toronto Star
April 2, 2003

Bush Approves Use of Tear Gas in Battlefield

Weapons experts fear violation of law

by Nicholas Wade and Eric Schmitt
New York Times

President George W. Bush has authorized American military forces to
use tear gas in Iraq, the Pentagon says, a development that some
weapons experts said could set up a conflict between American and
international law.

The U.S. Defense Department said that tear gas, which has been issued
to American troops but not used by them, would be used only to save
civilian lives and in accordance with the Chemical Weapons
Convention, ratified by the United States in 1997. Critics say any
battlefield use of tear gas would violate the convention, offend
crucial allies including Britain, and hand Saddam Hussein a legal
basis for using chemical weapons against the United States.

"Riot-control agents, such as C.S., better known as tear gas, are
non-lethal and may be used by U.S. forces only when authorized by the
president and only under specific, well-defined circumstances, to
protect non-combatants," a Pentagon spokesperson, Lt. Col. Dave
Lapan, said in response to questions Friday. Use of the agents for
defensive purposes to save lives "would be consistent with the
Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits the use of riot control
agents as a method of warfare," he said.

Some experts disagreed. Elisa Harris, of the Center for International
and Security Studies at the University of Maryland, said a violation
could arise if riot control agents were used against Iraqi soldiers
using civilians as a screen. This battlefield use would contravene
the Chemical Weapons Convention, she said, but is explicitly
permitted by an Executive Order of 1975.

The Pentagon was citing the language of this Executive Order in
saying Bush had authorized use of riot control agents in Iraq, she
said. Harris worked on chemical weapons policy for the National
Security Council during the Clinton administration.

Riot-control agents may be used behind battlefield lines, to quell
riots or control prisoners being transported, but the chemical
weapons convention says riot-control agents may not be used as a
"method of warfare." Signatories feared their deployment might
escalate to the use of lethal chemicals and had done so in the past.

In four major uses of chemical weapons in the past - by combatants in
World War I; by the Italians in Ethiopia; by the Egyptians in Yemen;
and in the Iran-Iraq war - deployment was preceded by use of
non-lethal agents, Harris said. The framers of the convention
therefore sought to draw a clear line against use of all chemical
agents on the battlefield. This is the position of signatories
including Britain. The British Defense minister, Geoff Hoon, said
last week that non-lethal chemical agents "would not be used by the
United Kingdom in any military operation or on any battlefield."

The U.S. Senate, in a convention-ratifying resolution, wrote in a
condition allowing battlefield use of riot-control agents with
presidential approval.