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