Blackwater dropped blinding tear gas on Iraqis, US soldiers in 2005
John Byrne
Published: Thursday January 10, 2008 |
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Blackwater security contractors employed in Iraq dropped a blinding riot-control gas on Iraqi civilians and US military personnel on a busy Baghdad street in May 2005, according to the reporter who first broke the NSA wiretapping scandal in the New York Times.

"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," James Risen writes. "An armored vehicle on the ground also released the gas, temporarily blinding drivers, passers-by and at least 10 American soldiers operating the checkpoint."

CS gas -- 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile -- is among the most common tear gases used by law enforcement and militaries in conflict zones.

Use of CS gas in war is prohibited by the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention (signed in 1993), as it could trigged retaliation with more toxic substances such as nerve gas. "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," the Times notes.

"The chemical reacts with moisture on the skin and in the eyes causing a burning sensation and the immediate forceful and uncontrollable shutting of the eyes," the entry adds. "Reported effects can include tears streaming from the eyes, running nose full of mucus, burning in the nose and throat areas, disorientation, dizziness and restricted breathing. In highly concentrated doses it can also induce severe coughing and vomiting."

The revelation raises new questions about the purview of private security contractors in Iraq and how much authority they have to exercise military-like action without following the rules of engagement or international treaties that the Pentagon requires its troops to follow.

About 10 American troops and several Iraqis on foot and in vehicles were exposed.

"None of the American soldiers exposed to the chemical, which is similar to tear gas, required medical attention, and it is not clear if any Iraqis did," Risen adds.

“This was decidedly uncool and very, very dangerous,” Capt. Kincy Clark of the Army, the senior officer at the scene, wrote later that day, Risen said. “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.”

However, a Blackwater spokesman claimed that the releasing of the gas was a mistake, and that the Department of Defense already investigated the incident, even though the paper reported that military officials in Iraq and D.C. could not confirm that.

The full Times article is available here.