11/14/2005 01:06 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Tony Blair's Defeat, and White Phosphorus

While I was blogging from New Orleans, a couple of major stories slipped under the MSM radar (how could that happen with Anderson Cooper now having two hours to anchor?): the dramatic defeat of Tony Blair's attempt to up the allowable confinement time without charge for terrorism suspects from 14 days to three months (happening at the same moment as Australia's wave of terrorism arrests), and the story, coming out of an Italian TV documentary and the British newspaper The Independent alleging that American troops used white phosphorus as an anti-personnel weapon during last year's siege of Fallujah.

First the terrorism stories: Blair's defeat, on an issue he framed as an urgent national-security matter, failed while the Australian arrests were credited to a similar, but far more restricted, reform in that country's anti-terrorism laws.

One would have thought a defeat on such an issue for America's prime ally in the GWOT
would be major news in this country. One doesn't doubt that it's food for major thought inside the White House.

Now, white phosphorus, an incendiary story about an incendiary substance. Conservative bloggers have seized on a key detail in the original report, that skin of victims was burned while their clothing remained intact, to cast grave doubt on the white phosphorus report.

Liberal bloggers have pointed to stories such as this, at the time of the seige, which reported use of white phosphorus in a bland, business-as-usual tone. And a fiercely anti-war website that gathers stories on the war from a multiplicity of sources points to a quote from the US Army Field Manual, which appears to endorse the use of white phosphorus as an anti-personnel weapon, not just as a source of battlefield illumination.

What to think? Whom to believe? In an ideal universe, of course, this would be a big enough story--accusations of the US Army using chemical weapons against Iraqis--that major American news media would do some, pardon the expression, actual reporting on it. But, like white phosphorus itself, the news media aren't being used so much for illumination these days.